This article is the second section of my critique of the December 2013 review of the Metrolinx Big Move Plan written by Michael Schabas for the Neptis Foundation. It should be read in conjunction with Part I and following sections.
3. GO Transit
Schabas observes that although The Big Move cited an improved GO Transit network as a first priority, that priority has not been embraced.
Our analysis confirms the original conclusions of The Big Move: there are massive benefits to be gained from upgrading the GO Rail system into a two-way system offering fast and frequent all-day services. Indeed, the financial benefits of reduced operating costs and higher fare revenues could offset most or all of the costs. Compared with the subway extension and LRT schemes, the capital costs are actually fairly modest. Taking account of the time savings and other benefits to transit riders and road users indicates very high benefit:cost ratios. Unfortunately, GO does not seem to have recognized this opportunity. [Page 25]
As I mentioned in the first article, at the time The Big Move was published, GO was still a separate organization from Metrolinx and the two would not be consolidated until a year later. Even then, GO tended to pursue its own agenda partly thanks to funding constraints, and partly because some of the Metrolinx schemes were not practical, especially in the short term.
As Schabas notes, the 2009 Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) and the 2010 GO Transit Electrification Study came to different conclusions about the viability of electrification on the Lake Shore corridor. In this context, it is important to remember that even a project with a favourable BCA will not necessarily be built depending on competing demands for capital and political priorities.
Schabas then makes a curious comment:
GO management and provincial decision makers hesitated to take on a massive investment that the study seemed to show to be barely worthwhile in economic terms and which would, apparently, need to be funded mostly by public investment. [Page 26]
There is a basic reason why electrification would be a public rather than a private investment. For portions of the route that GO Transit does not own, it would be difficult if not impossible to create a private ownership (except by CNR) structure to offload the capital costs and debt from provincial books. Moreover, if the benefits were only marginal and included imputed values of time saved, not just real dollars and profits, these could not be used to attract private capital.
This brings us to a fundamental problem with transit financing as it was seen by Queen’s Park in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis. At all costs, there would be no new net public debt. New facilities would either be built and operated on a turnkey basis through public-private partnerships, or assets built with public money would stay in provincial hands where they would appear on the books as a counterbalance to any new debt. This has produced no end of problems with The Big Move including the need to resolve ownership of LRT corridors built in the middle of public roads.
No doubt one reason some at Metrolinx would prefer totally grade separated lines is that they could be more easily hived off to a private owner.
With the recent publication of the Transit Panel’s report, Queen’s Park appears to have a new view of debt: borrowing is fine provided that there is a dedicated revenue stream to pay it down in a reasonable time, 30 years tops. This change in outlook would allow projects to be undertaken with large capital investments up front so that the benefits can be obtained as soon as possible.
What remains is the problem that soft benefits such as travel time saving cannot be monetized (unless fares are increased, a counterproductive measure). We can’t pay off a faster trip unless the “extra” time generates real, not imputed, value and that value is subject to tax.
Any discussion of GO priorities must be seen with these two factors in mind: GO prefers incremental expansion with whatever money is available, not “big bang” construction projects; and the spending rate for capital projects was constrained by a “pay as you go” outlook that avoided debt.
As for a GO master plan, sadly that depends a great deal on what the Minister and Premier want to announce from time to time. Kitchener-Waterloo has service not because it was in the plan (indeed the scope of The Big Move was cut back to exclude KW in the final version), but because Dalton McGuinty announced it. GO scrambled to “make it so” on a very short deadline. With the recent announcement of massive upgrades to transform GO into an all-day 15 minute service throughout its territory (again a political event, not a proposals that had gone through the mill of public review at Metrolinx), we are at the other end of the scale. The “master plan” is to build everywhere with little concern for the specifics of each route.
Schabas then claims:
The initial enthusiasm for upgrading the GO Rail system, which was “Priority Action #1” in the Big Move, dissipated quickly. Money that could be spent to turn the GO Rail system into a true regional metro, with frequent all-day services, has been diverted to LRT projects, mostly in the City of Toronto, at least for the “First Wave” of projects. [Page 27]
This misrepresents both the content and the structure of The Big Move. “Action #1” does not imply “do this first”, and the network to which it refers is the entire Big Move, not just GO Transit. Although this would include all-day GO service, it would also include the rest of The Big Move including the LRT projects. The nine “Big Moves” are:
- Build the regional rapid transit network.
- Higher order transit connectivity to Pearson Airport from all directions.
- An expanded Union Station.
- Complete walking and cycling networks.
- Transportation demand management.
- An information system for travellers.
- A region-wide integrated fare system.
- Build a system of connected “Mobility Hubs”
- A comprehensive strategy for goods movement.
If one wishes to review Metrolinx’ achievements, one would be pressed to show major advances on some of these points while others have received substantial funding and show good progress. They obviously have different costs and time frames, but these items were treated as equals in The Big Move.
To say that money “has been diverted to LRT projects” is false: GO had not even begun planning on many of the proposed expansion schemes when Transit City was announced, and a major one (the Georgetown corridor) will be finished long before any Toronto LRT routes open. Moreover, it is an example of the denigration of LRT sprinkled through the Neptis paper with its implication that much more extensive GO expansion would have happened if only we didn’t waste our money on those LRT lines.
By Schabas’ own account, GO has never embraced electrification, and even upgrades to the diesel network have come slowly. It’s a real stretch to suggest that some pro-LRT plot is responsible for the slow pace of change at GO.
It is no secret that, regardless of technology, the Eglinton-Crosstown line would take a huge bite out of funding resources for a tunnel through its central section. Politically, this line was vital to show “progress” on the centrepiece of new rapid transit within Toronto. Other LRT lines were pushed back in the plans, and there is good reason to doubt they will ever be built thanks to delays at Queen’s Park and the LRT-vs-subway politics of Toronto Council.
… until the GO Rail system is upgraded, there is little chance of delivering the Metrolinx objectives. The regional rail system is the “backbone” of the GTHA public transit system. LRT and BRT services have a local and feeder role, but are too slow to compete with the road system for longer-distance trips within Toronto and throughout the region. [Page 26]
As I have said many times, it is not the purpose of the LRT services to complete for longer-distance trips. If we build rapid transit only to serve regional trips, we will ignore the substantial demand for local transit. On this Schabas and a lot of early planning at Metrolinx part company with me.
With this sideswipe at LRT and BRT out of the way, Schabas turns to the electrification study. He covers much of the same ground as objections raised during the study’s workshops by various advocates: GO took a very conservative approach that rested too much on what diesel power could do without fully exploring the benefits of electrification.
The study did acknowledge some benefit from the (slightly) faster acceleration possible with electric locomotives, and noted that this feature would attract more passengers and allow fewer trains to carry the same peak capacity. But they made no other changes to take advantage of the opportunities electric traction opens up. EMUs were rejected before the final screening of options, because GO found that they cost about 40% more than locomotives combined with un-powered bi-level cars and could not see any offsetting benefits. [Page 28]
Among the shortcomings of the study, Schabas notes:
- The failure to consider the benefits of frequent service with shorter trains during the off-peak (such as would operate to the airport) on the Lake Shore corridor.
- The assumption of an instantaneous changeover of fleets from diesel to electric rather than a staged implementation.
- The primary comparison was between diesel and electric locomotives hauling existing bi-level coaches in full-length trains.
- More frequent and faster service would attract more riders whose fares would partly offset higher operating costs.
The electrification study purported to start with a huge range of alternatives (basically every conceivable permutation of every option) , and quickly whittled this down to a much smaller set for further study. This process was a sham intended to to give the impression of an exhaustive search.
Statements made at public meetings established that some members of the study team were out of touch with the range and longevity of electric operations (I could not help remembering some of the half-baked comments in the GO-Urban days), notably with concerns about whether electric trains would work in snow. This is precisely the type of remark guaranteed to undermine the credibility of a process however well-intentioned it might have been.
It is ironic and disappointing to read:
After reviewing an earlier draft of this report, Metrolinx staff told us that they now recognize that different rolling stock strategies might generate better business cases, but at first chose to test only a standard operating plan in the electrification study. They are now studying further strategies, and are looking specifically at electrifying the Georgetown corridor and possible use of EMUs for the Union Pearson Express service. [Page 35]
This is precisely what was suggested at the study workshops, but rejected as it did not fit into a preconception that only locomotive-hauled trains would be suitable.
On ridership, Schabas observes:
Carrying passengers is, of course, GO’s primary purpose and increasing ridership should be the main objective of any investment scheme. For some reason, the GO Electrification Study Summary Report does not give an explicit figure for the additional ridership that might be attracted by electrification, with faster and more frequent trains. This would seem to be the most important criterion, alongside cost, in evaluating any scheme. [Page 32]
Despite this, he works backward from other published figures to determine that the added ridership would be only 4% (or a mere 2.5% relative to the 2031 base case). That’s a rather sad increase considering that GO Transit has already seen a 30% rise in off-peak riding on Lake Shore with a move to half-hourly service. To be fair, however, the off-peak demand was very low, and 30% is not a huge achievement on that base. It is much smaller relative to all-day demand including the peak.
Even at a 30 minute frequency, riders have less concern about “just missing the train”, and this would be further reduced at 15 minutes. The real benefit is that GO trains could attract better shoulder-peak riding from those whose schedules are unpredictable or just don’t fit into the conventional commuter pattern. On routes with no off-peak service at all, the change would be breathtaking.
A problem here is to disentangle the benefits of:
- adding off-peak service where it does not now exist,
- operating more frequent off-peak service, something that can be achieved without electrification,
- operationally linking routes that now terminate at Union as through services on a common headway (e.g. Richmond Hill and Barrie), and
- the benefits of shorter and faster trains.
The recent provincial announcement bundles a great deal of this together. The goal is laudable – better service for all – but we need a rollout plan that will bring benefits as soon as possible to the most riders. What is particularly missing is any update on capacity studies for Union Station in light of the effect of frequent service on various GO routes. The 15 minute off-peak headways won’t strain the station, but much more frequent peak service will. Schabas has not allowed for this in his cost estimates nor recognized the knock-on effects if the passengers will not all fit into Union.
This is not to say that better service is a bad idea, but rather that we must go into such a scheme recognizing where there are system limitations. It would be odd to spend billions on electrification and yet be unable to handle the passenger loads at Union this implies.
Schabas cites GO’s calculation of travel elasticity in which the time saved on a faster electric train accounts for only a small part of a door-to-door trip. This explains GO’s conclusion that the overall saving is slight and therefore the effect on ridership would be small. What is missing, of course, is the benefit of the shorter wait time although this should not all be claimed as a benefit of electrification. Coupled with a claimed elasticity of -1 (every 1% decline in off-peak travel time will produce a 1% increase in ridership), Schabas notes:
According to the Passenger Demand Forecasting Handbook, going from a 60-minute frequency to a 30-minute frequency is equivalent to about a 10-minute reduction in journey time, on a typical 60-minute journey. On the GO Lakeshore route, this is about the same as a 16% reduction to the average journey. So introduction of half hourly all-day services should bring a 16% increase in non-peak riders. [Page 33]
(A point that is lost in the shuffle here is that station access by auto during the off-peak is very dependent on parking availability which tends to be low, on having someone drive you to the station, or on local bus service that is as frequent as the trains.)
Schabas reports that the initial effect of the 30-minute off-peak headways was a 15% bump in ridership (in line with the claim above), and recent comments by Transportation Minister Glen Murray give a 30% figure. The problem with any ridership projection is that the effects of change can be non-linear if a new service has a better perceived value than its numeric magnitude.
Continued growth is not surprising and it would accelerate with a move to 15-minute service to the point where, just like the Toronto subway, GO carried more passengers during the off-peak than during the peak periods.
Outside downtown Toronto, most GO stations are surrounded by large parking lots, often in industrial areas with few jobs or other destinations within walking distance. Many stations do not even offer frequent regular bus connections to local destinations. We see this as a chicken-and-egg problem. At the current level of service, this situation is likely to persist. But with improved service and more people using it, change begins to make economic sense. Station car parks can be redeveloped at higher densities. Feeder bus services can be improved. Already, GO has attracted impressive all-day traffic onto the Lakeshore line. With coordinated planning policies, and a proactive operating strategy, GO can do the same on the rest of the network. [Pages 34-35]
This certainly appears to be the attitude underlying Queen’s Park’s recent dedication to frequent service on all routes within a decade.
Schabas claims that the cost of electrification on the Lake Shore could be entirely paid for from additional fare revenue and cost savings of operating shorter off-peak trains. While this is an attractive argument, it is a dangerous one because it could commit GO revenue streams to debt service using revenue and savings it does not actually have. You cannot spend imputed savings (the difference between the projected cost of EMU operation and what otherwise would have been spent on diesel-hauled trains) because you never actually “spend” at the higher rate in the first place. As for the revenue, that depends on passengers actually showing up to ride, something that requires feeder services that have not been costed into the equation.
Unlike the Queen’s Park announcement, Schabas argues for electrification where the level of service warrants it, but that overall service improvements should proceed. I agree. The worst thing we could see is a “promise” high-jacked by a lengthy debate about “who goes first”, the operational effects on each line and the financing of an overall electrification project. This is not a pre-requisite to all-day service on 30-minute headways anywhere.
4. The Union-Pearson Express
Any discussion of the UPX must take account of the difficult history of this line rather than simply treating it as a recent, well thought-out scheme.
The original idea dates back to the days of a Liberal government in Ottawa when David Collonette was the Minister of Transport. His dream was that an airport link stopping only at Union and Pearson would be built and operated by the private sector, one of those magical arrangements in which a public benefit appears without any apparent cost. SNC-Lavalin took on the project, but they would not stay the course.
In time, the Feds washed their hands of the project, and ever-eager Ontario, under then-Premier McGuinty, took up the challenge. The line became a Pan Am Games project – how, after all, could Toronto welcome the world without a direct rail link to downtown from the airport? (Never mind that many of the games venues were nowhere near downtown or even in Toronto, or that the athletes and officialdom would travel on private buses or limos to their accommodation.) Don’t be the last city in the world without an air-rail link!
As projected costs rose and the economic viability of a premium-fare point-to-point service fell, SNC-Lavalin sought financial assistance from Queen’s Park for this no longer quite so profitable undertaking. McGuinty had the good sense to show them the door – what part of private enterprise and risk didn’t they understand, after all – but then made a crucial error of assuming the project, as is, for the provincial government.
I won’t rehash the fights over just what the UPX should be, and whether it could better have been designed as a limited stop service at a much lower fare premium than the originally mooted $22 or so. In the end, the line has grown at least two more stops – one at Bloor to connect with the BD subway, and one at Eglinton to connect with the Crosstown LRT. The fate of a station a few kilometres up the track in Weston is uncertain. (It may exist temporarily before the Eglinton Crosstown line at Mt. Dennis becomes a much more important station location in 2020.)
Schabas embraces the UPX because it has a positive “Net Present Value”, that is to say that it will make money even allowing for the capital investment. That’s a bit of a stretch on a few counts.
- We already know that the Provincial Auditor’s review found the whole scheme wanting and questioned the viability of the plan (just as the private sector “partner” had done before).
- At a one-way fare over $20 from Union, there is no hope that this route would perform any local benefit, nor would it attract commuters to the airport district. Schabas suggests that this could be overcome with reduced fares for regular users, but by doing so he undermines his own cost analysis.
- Buried in Appendix A3, we find that the presumed average fare is $15. This barely covers a reasonable allowance for lower fares at stations closer to the airport, let alone a substantial discount for airport workers (to $4.60 per trip for 40 trips/month). You can’t have it both ways: either the riders are cash cows, or we are giving away the service to make it more politically attractive.
- The cost (or foregone revenue) of other incentives to UPX use are not included in the calculation.
- Also in Appendix A3, we find that the “value” of a diverted road trip is set at $10. In other words, not only would a UPX rider contribute $15, on average, in fare revenue, the benefit calculation would include a further $10 because of the presumed reduction of auto traffic to the airport. Unfortunately, as I have said before, we cannot claim profits or pay off debt with the imputed value of a diverted trip. This is not real, bankable money.
- Benefits to riders of the UPX who formerly took the downtown express bus are calculated relative to the cost of that service. Again this is a “saving” that does not accrue to the UPX itself and cannot be counted as part of the “profit” of the service. Moreover, riders diverted from the bus contribute little to relief of road traffic.
- The 192 Airport Express bus, a regular fare service from Kipling Station, is not mentioned at all although it is very convenient for riders who live along the BD subway. Not all airport users want to go to Union Station, or pay dearly for the privilege of transferring off of the subway at Dundas West to take a more expensive ride (with a non-trivial walking transfer) to the airport.
- There is no mention of the possible role of the Eglinton or Finch LRT routes (or whatever technology one might prefer) as alternative ways for travellers to reach the airport. After all, if a transfer connection to the UPX will be provided at Mt. Dennis LRT station, why wouldn’t a rider simply stay on the LRT line all the way to Pearson?
These and other shortcomings of Schabas’ analysis suggest that his goal is to present this project in the best possible light, and this undermines the credibility of much other work in the paper.
5. Using the GO System to Relieve the Subway
Schabas and I agree on the basic premise that the GO system is underutilized as a means of relieving demand on the subway, but we differ quite substantially in the approach we would take to achieving this goal.
The basic problem is described in this paragraph:
There seems a very good case for using the GO system to relieve congestion on the subway into downtown Toronto from Scarborough, as several transit commentators have already pointed out. Currently there are 41,000 transit trips in the a.m. peak, by subway, from east and northeast Toronto into the downtown core. Mostly these passengers use the Danforth subway and change onto the Yonge line at Bloor-Yonge station.
The Bloor-Yonge station does not have the capacity to handle the passengers comfortably, and adding new platforms would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and cause massive disruption. In any case, the Yonge subway is approaching capacity. Although capacity can be increased with new signalling and longer trains, lengthening the line, including a planned extension to Richmond Hill, will also add substantially to demand. [Page 38]
It is amusing that in making this observation, Schabas does not see the irony that GO improvements could undermine the need for a Scarborough subway, but we will come to that can of worms later.
Schabas prefers to solve the subway problem by offloading passengers to GO at strategic points, notably Main Station, but also possibly Dundas West, Kipling and Kennedy. By contrast, my aim would be to ensure that, to the greatest degree possible, riders who might otherwise clog the subway never get on it in the first place.
There are, broadly speaking, three types of subway rider (current or potential):
- The local “in town” rider who probably lives close enough to a station to walk to it, or has a short feeder bus trip on a frequent route.
- The suburban rider who faces a considerable bus journey just to arrive at a subway station.
- The ex-urban rider who could use GO if service were available, but who instead travels on the TTC because it is (a) cheaper and (b) the only available service.
The first group is not a market for GO because their trips are short, they would probably have to travel out of their way to use GO, and the extra fare could not be justified given the relative inconvenience.
The second group depends on the subway, but faces increasing competition from the third group as we can see daily at locations such as Finch and Sheppard stations where the “local” subway is filled with “regional” commuters.
The third group should, to the degree possible, never get on the subway in the first place, at least not until they have used GO to reach downtown. GO service patterns and fares work against this.
Schabas proposes a shuttle service from Danforth Station to Union that could offload passengers from the Danforth subway at Main Station. The real question here is where did these riders come from in the first place? If from northern Scarborough, why are they not on a service in the Stouffville corridor. If from eastern Scarborough, why not on the Lake Shore? On the Yonge and Spadina subways, why not on the Richmond Hill and Barrie GO lines?
The answer is simple: most of those lines don’t have much service on them, and GO fares are disproportionately high for shorter trips. Moreover, within Toronto, the bus network is not organized to feed GO Transit even presuming a joint TTC/GO trip could be made at a reasonable cost.
Schabas proposes an underground connection between Main and Danforth Stations where trains coming from a western service (the Georgetown line) would terminate instead of at Union. This proposal makes several assumptions:
- Space is available for a platform and turnaround track.
- Trains can be turned quickly enough to achieve a headway of 5-10 minutes.
- A reliable supply of trains from western branches to feed an eastern shuttle is available.
- Track time is available on top of the through services to Lake Shore East and Stouffville.
There is no description of how the PM peak service would work, but presumably it would be the reverse of the AM pattern.
I will not get into the problems of turning trains around as these have been discussed at length here in other threads, but there is a basic issue with current operating regulations (federal) about the process of reversing trains.
Schabas presumes that this service would divert about 10k riders, or 200 passengers off of each of the roughly 50 trains over the two peak hours if the rate were sustained over that period. That’s a stretch as any transit planner knows there is a peak-within-peak and the maximum value is rarely held for the full interval. We would likely see 5k in the peak hour, and 7.5k over the peak two hours.
If the Danforth Shuttle operated every 10 minutes, one GO train would collect riders from about four subway trains, or 800/train at peak. More GO service might attract more riders, but there is a limit to how much service can be operated and how many would make the trek from one line to the other.
Although there are 41k riders going from the northeast to downtown (Schabas’ quoted value), only those whose destination is close to Union will be attracted by this scheme.
There is also the small matter of comparative journey times. The transfer from subway to GO will take about 10 minutes (2 from the train to the mezzanine, 3 to walk 250m to Danforth station, and an average 5 minute wait for a 10-minute GO service). Add in a 10 minute ride to Union and access time from GO to the destination in the core, and a trip time of 25-30 minutes would be common. Unless Bloor-Yonge Station is so crowded as to be impassible, this is comparable to the time one would consume merely by staying on the subway. The question obviously would be whether the extra fare and the extra walks just to use GO would be “worth it” for riders to avoid Bloor-Yonge.
Schabas goes to some lengths to justify his proposal when he would do better to emphasize the benefit of much more frequent GO service in diverting riders who originate in the outer parts of Toronto and in the 905 (a topic he covered in an earlier chapter).
Other questionable parts of his analysis include:
- A presumption that the large mezzanine at Main Station anticipated a future GO connection. This is completely false. Originally, this station straddled the fare zone boundary with suburban “zone 2” buses sharing the surface platform with “zone 1” bus and streetcar routes. Fare control was at the mezzanine level, and its size reflects the simple fact that this is a large box station and the vertical accesses are at its outer edges.
- Metrolinx is already working on passenger diversions at other subway stations. Well, no. Dundas West is not planned as a direct subway-to-GO connection, even though plans for this have existed for decades. The “link” at Dundas West will be a covered walkway ending on the east side of Dundas opposite the subway entrance. This will require the addition of a traffic signal at Edna and Dundas simply to get pedestrians to the subway entrance without J-walking. Connections at Kipling and Kennedy would not offload the subway unless we can convince those who now take bus feeder routes into them to use GO as an alternative access to downtown. Again, there are issues with transfer times and service frequencies on GO offsetting much of the saving in travel time one might have.
- Schabas completely misses the “Big U” concept of improved service on the Stouffville and one of the western corridors as a way to get longer-haul riders into the core without loading them onto the subway.
- There is no comment on the status of unused lines that are in The Big Move, but languish in the 25-year plan, notably the CPR corridor through northeastern Scarborough to North Pickering.
Again, we are faced with an analysis that is full of holes, and this affects the credibility of other parts of the report.
The Danforth Station proposal is a “solution” looking for a problem, and a much better alternative is suggested elsewhere in the report – run better GO services to handle long-haul trips rather than dumping them on the subway. Using GO for short-haul shuttles close to downtown wastes track time in the congested Union Station corridor and violates the basic premise that GO should be a regional carrier.
[This article continues in Part III with discussion of subway and LRT schemes.]
[This article was edited on April 25, 2014 to correct typos, make some minor stylistic changes, and to clarify the status of a Weston UPX station.]
The main quantifiable benefits from electrification are mostly lower operating costs, rather than additional passengers/revenue from shorter journey times. However, there is the intangible benefit that (say) 6-car EMUs every 15 minutes cost only slightly more than 12-car EMUs every 30 minutes (the difference is crew only). So electrification makes the marginal costs of more frequent service lower.
The whole short/medium/long-distance hierachy is something that is missing. Arguably, the medium-distance projects (BRT/LRT/subways) should be municipal projects, but their capital cost requires the province’s money. However, the province won’t say “we’re building this LRT to benefit Toronto and Toronto only” – it has to make some some claims about regional (i.e. non-Toronto) benefits. Oddly, this doesn’t apply to roads (e.g. 407 east extension…).
Maybe I misinterpreted this statement:
But I didn’t think there were plans to add a transfer for the UPX on the crosstown line? I don’t see any mention of this on their website, has it changed? The Weston station is mentioned.
Steve: Officially they are still talking about Weston, but that is a sop to the extremely active local community who are aggrieved about all of the construction work. At the fare that likely will be charged, few Weston residents will actually ride the service. Meanwhile, the Crosstown site clearly shows a link between GO and the Eglinton line at Mount Dennis Station. It is hard to believe that the UPX would not stop here too.
On GO Transit, I think there is a huge public overestimation of the value of GO train service, and an underestimation of the value of high frequency GO bus service. Too many people think that “all-day GO Train service meant high frequency (15 minute) service when it would really be hourly or half-hourly (at least according to earlier plans before the April 29th announcement).
As amazing as a totally new GO service may sound (especially after Glen Murray started talking up “RER” service using EMU trains … the cost of changing all of GO Transit’s infrastructure (new trains, exclusive tracks, additions to stations and of course adding electrification) will be massive … and I’ve very little confidence right now that future governments (including the Liberals presuming they can avoid a Spring/Fall election or are re-elected) will resist the temptation to back away from the massive commitment introduced by Murray. Will HSR and 15 minute service be the first to GO?
On the Union-Pearson Express, it is interesting to see how the project has evolved and I expect that it will continue to evolve as its service limitations begin to show up. Whether the demand for additional services from other directions (Mississauga, Brampton, the 427, Finch and Eglinton corridors) will increase or not remains to be seen … but I think it would be fair to say that most of the people bound in the direction and vicinity of Pearson Airport are actually bound for points “near the airport”, not “at the airport.” A lot will also depend on whether or not Metrolinx actually builds that mobility hub at the Matheson/Eglinton/Renforth triangle.
On Danforth GO and shuttles … I think you have clearly outlined the weaknesses in assuming that GO can somehow be used to offload demand on the inner core of the subway by transferring TTC passengers on to GO trains (or the flipside, GO passengers onto the subway outside of the core). There are many changes that need to be made before TTC passengers will seriously consider GO … and it is most likely that these passengers will be from the outskirts of the city (Kipling and Kennedy) rather than the outer shoulder areas (Bloor/Dundas West and Danforth/Main St.). This will increase the cost of any GO Shuttle and decrease potential revenues for “shuttle service” … unless users are willing to pay double fare like on the downtown express buses. I do see some potential for people using a Kipling-Agincourt service as a way to get across the city but this is very dependent on CP Rail and the availability of funds to build the necessary infrastructure.
I suppose that the only interim change that we will see is a desire to get more trains on the Lakeshore East and Stouffville corridors to stop at Danforth and Scarborough junctions, plus the Big U service to Kennedy and Agincourt.
This raises another question that hasn’t been asked … does the DRL need to use TR trains or could it be built using EMUs as part of a ‘Big U’ network. I wonder if Metrolinx may find a way to make this happen, to make the accounting appear positive, make it look like the regional express is being built (while the government carefully and quietly backs away on the 15 minute frequency commitment) and gives them control over the operations of the line.
Steve: If the DRL is built with EMUs, especially with double-deckers compatible with the rest of future GO operations, the tunnel would need to be considerably bigger than what a subway requires. We really need to accept that there is a “little U” (the DRL) which has a separate function and technology from the “big U” (GO).
In section 4, we seem to be missing some text. It ends as:
“…course., but their interest waned as”
Steve writes so well that when any of his words are missing we are all deprived.
Steve: That was a typo (one of many I have to fix). The sentiment of which that was a fragment is actually transferred nearby, and I neglected to erase a phrase that was no longer needed.
You imply that I may inhabit a dangerous state where I could say almost anything, recite Dadaist verse, even claim to be a supporter of Rob Ford and the Conservative Party, and people would parse every word as true received wisdom. I will have to edit more carefully in the future lest I lead my readers astray!
I agree completely that instead of encouraging riders to transfer from subway to GO they should never get on subway in the first place. Kennedy, Finch, and Kipling to downtown are ‘overhead’ trips, end to end travel by riders with no business along the way, and beg for alternate ‘overhead’ service. Intercepting that overhead traffic is the role GO can perform to relieve the subways. The Richmond Hill subway extension must discourage use to downtown; thus dressing up the GO route with a new station at John Street or Steeles, and major route improvements to shave 10 minutes or more off the schedule to Union are in order.
And yes, ironically indeed, a frequent GO service at Kennedy would be better utilized, and thus subway more relieved, if the Scarborough subway was not built.
The Weston issue is interesting. I was always of the opinion that Mr McGuinty capitulated in the face of local protest and agreed to the quite unreasonable and enormous trenching and tunneling work through Weston, as well as the new station, costs of which represent another un-built project somewhere. The work, still nowhere near completion, is, incredulously, beside a major freight railroad at grade and with level crossings, replete with 8000ft trains hauled by up to four high horsepower locos. Dropping the Weston stop on UPX is obvious, the half built platforms another memorial to our transit imbroglio.
With regard to EMU’s, there was one proposal for a Bombardier supplied electric powered version of their bi level car, with sufficient power to haul a second unpowered car. The idea was that all new orders would be for powered cars, which would be grouped with unpowered cars on a 1:1 basis to make up EMU’s of any length, with cab facilities at the outer ends. Thus all existing unpowered cars (400+?) would continue in use as the system expands and slowly changes to electric traction. The powered cars could also be locomotive hauled if electrification did not keep pace. Curiously, such cars could also be made up into 3-car sets and used on UPX, offering 40% increase in seating capacity over the soon to be delivered DMU’s, something that may be necessary quickly depending on the as yet undisclosed fare, but which requires lowering of the brand new platforms at Union and Pearson. I have a feeling this would be cheaper than trying to ‘convert’ the DMU’s to EMU’s, since as I understand it, they are not DEMU’s, they do not have electric transmissions, and conversion is no simple matter. In that scenario, due to platform height, the DMU’s would need a new home and GO would be back to a standardized fleet and low platforms.
Steve, are there any plans for the Milton GO trains to stop at Bloor GO station? It seems ridiculous that the trains pass by the station without crossing. Since the station is under construction, now would be a good time to add platforms on the Milton GO / CP tracks.
Steve: Not sure. I have sent a query to Metrolinx to find out for sure.
Dear Mr. Munro, Thank you for the detailed analysis of this report and you have my nomination for the “Transit Truthiness-Buster of the Year” award. I’ll admit I haven’t read the Michael Schabas report and originally planned to, but then kept hearing about holes in the analysis. One major one is the idea of using a connection between Main subway station and Danforth GO station and then having a train going down to Union station from there. I use to live in Main Square next to the GO station and also worked at Yonge/Wellington for 3 years yet never did I use the GO train to go downtown. The reason was the extra expense plus I heard the GO trains were just as packed as the subway. I could usually get on at Yonge station after one or two trains. As for building that underground connection, that is about 400-500 meters which would be a bit long for a commuter to transfer trains. I also think Mr. Schabas misunderstood the goal of a relief line, thinking it was to relieve the Bloor/Yonge station when it is more for taking pressure off the Yonge line which is overloaded at Eglinton. I also think the Relief Line could also take pressure off the Don Valley Parkway if it is extended to Sheppard or even Finch.
Another thing that made me question the extent of his research was when he wrote a letter to editor in the Toronto Star in February saying the LRT line on Sheppard would take lanes away from cars which is completely false. I reviewed very basic publications from the TTC and Metrolinx about the LRT lines which said Sheppard and Finch would keep the same number of lanes and Eglinton would just look it’s high-occupancy lanes on the above ground portion.
While I agree there should be a detailed analysis, even auditing of transit plans, this document doesn’t seem to do it. Ideally the Auditor-General would have a group that rates the effectiveness of government projects with a special group for transit plans so they aren’t used for vote-buying by politicians who know nothing about the subject.
Metrolinx advises that the Milton service will not stop at Bloor:
There is the problem of high versus low platform height for UPX vs GO. There is supposedly an electric version of the UPX cars and they are “supposed” to be easily convertible: but that remains to be seen. I fear that this will turn out to be a Metrolinx version of the SRT, an unwanted orphan.
Steve, we all know you still have enough skin in the game, but who will be the next transit advocate later in the future? Whom will you appoint?
Steve: Someone whose name is not “Ford” or “Stintz”.
On the high vs low platform issue, do you have a sense of the practicability of a wheelchair ramp being fitted between the lower and mid levels of a bi-level? My line of thinking is that you could definitively fit high level doors on the mid section, but you still need to get full accessibility, which seems to mean at least one car is going to need either a lift (yeah, not happening) or a ramp between the levels. Certainly something to keep in mind as we move to all day operation if it’s a reasonable retrofit.
Steve: For the change in level involved, such a ramp would require a considerable amount of space because users have to be able to wheel themselves up and down it. I suspect wheelchairs will be confined to the lower level.
The only problem is the upper level is too high for high platforms. What they do in cities with high platforms and tri-level cars is put the doors in the midlevel above the trucks. This is the normal height for a single level car. The one advantage for this is that both upper and lower level passengers would need to use one level of stairs and this would make for more efficient loading. The problem is that the platform has to be at least one foot (30 cm) from the car to let high speed freights pass as they tend to sway a lot. In the US NEC they have a gaunlet track which moves the stopping trains over a foot in order to meet the platform. Another expense and maintenance item that is not needed.
Sad that Milton trains won’t stop at Bloor.
But they do stop at Bloor, only problem is Bloor and Kipling not Bloor and Dundas. I cannot really see a need for the Bloor stop. It would only slow down service for 99% of the passengers.
What I find interesting is he basically point blank says that it does not require reconstruction to that extent. I have a hard time believing that this is based on a detailed engineering review of the state of repair.
Nor is he prepared to make any allowance for other reasons that it might be a good idea to replace. If you could easily replace the vehicles, and the method of propulsion, then I would not have a hard time with the idea of keeping the existing right of way essentially intact. However, the basic method of propulsion itself seems weather sensitive. I do buy some of his argument in terms of buying new vehicles, however, that basically asserts in effect that the line should go no further than it already is, or that Toronto regardless of the issues it has had with this technology will embrace it for further application.
He could champion this technology without disregarding the reality of the Toronto experience.
Steve: I have big problems with Schabas’ assumptions and calculations, and I have been advised that he has prepared a much more extensive critique of my review than has been published. However, I don’t want to turn this into a single topic blog and have left things as they stand. Schabas makes good points when he concentrates on his stated task — reviewing the methodology and priorities of Metrolinx especially as they relate to GO Transit. He runs aground with his “review” of the proposed network and alternative “solutions” that are not, in many cases, credible.
I do have to say some of what I read with regards to GO however was interesting and encouraging.
I do not see redeveloping the parking lots, however, improved local transit service, timed to arrive at the station prior to departures and hold until after would be huge.
A high frequency GO service properly coordinated with local bus, BRT or LRT and an attractive fare structure could be huge, even in the outer 416.
Steve: To the point that Schabas/Neptis talk about GO coming into its own with much more frequent all-day service on a network, not just on the Lake Shore corridor, they are bang on. If we do not make massive improvements in GO, we might as well forget any claims to transit taking a larger role in regional travel. That said, GO cannot serve all demands, and the idea that it would eliminate the need for a DRL belies a very blinkered view of its role, and a failure to understand the very different regional and local travel needs, not to mention operational constraints on the rail corridors.
Yes, for GO to actually attract the ridership that it must, it cannot have frequent local stops. This role must fall to the local transit provider. The Don Mills subway is required to move the traffic within the 416, providing an alternate path into the core for riders coming from LRT, and bus routes say south of Steeles and west of Markham Road. One should reasonably expect there to be continued growth in ridership in part due to intensification within the 416. Not providing this high frequency trunk line will effectively stymie growth for the TTC ridership, once the Yonge line achieves complete saturation (which will not be all that long after we upgrades on Yonge are installed). In my mind it is worth noting that the Yonge and Danforth extensions proposed are not viable without having the Don Mills subway in place, and will likely require a Don Mills LRT as well by or shortly after 2030.
The GO train will be hard pressed to achieve a service frequency of 10 trains per hour (headway of 6 minutes) and that will not attract people on the shorter inner 416 trips who have subway as an alternative, and the additional stops would act as a deterrent to riders from the outer 416 and 905.
I looked at the scans you made of a connection from the east end of the Dundas West TTC station connecting directly to the GO station. It is hard to believe that a connection from the east end of the platform isn’t contemplated. For some reason GO trains travel very slowly in the several kilometers both west and east of Yonge. If I were going to take the Pearson Express I would prefer to skip that slow crawl by boarding at Bloor.
The Pearson platform at Union Station also looks like it will require walking several hundred yards. It seems to be at York, halfway to the SkyDome.
Steve: Yes, those plans have been around for a long time, but the owner of the building through which the entrance would pass is being difficult. As for Union to Bloor, this whole area has been under a slow order during the reconstruction. I think once all of these orders are lifted, people will be amazed at just how fast trains can move. I remember this from my younger days. And, yes again, Metrolinx makes great publicity out of the UPX stations without mentioning how people will actually get to them.