My review of John Tory’s transit plans, notably SmartTrack, has just gone up on the Torontoist website. Please leave any comments there.
A separate article by David Hains about Tax Increment Financing appears there as Part Two.
Last year, the TTC built new track on Cherry from Eastern Avenue south to the rail corridor that, eventually, will host a new streetcar service in spring 2016. Why so long you ask? The south end of the line sits in the Pan Am Games’ Athletes’ Village and won’t be ready for service for two years even though most of the track will already be in place. The opening will co-incide with the period when purchasers of condos (originally used as athletes’ quarters) will start moving into the neighbourhood.
New photos will be added to the end of this article as the project progresses.
In a previous article, I wrote about the crisis in system capacity across all modes – buses, streetcars and subways – and the danger that Toronto may face years without meaningful improvement in transit capacity.
This is a campaign issue, but one that is embraced only by one major candidate, Olivia Chow, and even then, not very well.
Full disclosure: Early in the campaign, I was approached by the Chow team to advise on what became her better bus service plank, but I certainly didn’t write it for reasons that will soon be obvious.
Her transit plan includes support for LRT lines, GO electrification and the first stage of a Downtown Relief subway line. It also includes this commitment regarding bus service:
A better transit plan starts investing now, with buses. Because 60% of TTC rides involve a bus and as the TTC says, the only way to expand transit now is with buses. So Olivia will invest to boost bus service right away, investing $15 million a year.
When we stack a paltry $15m up against the billions in rapid transit plans, it looks rather puny and gives the impression we are trying to get more service on the cheap. How can small change by transit budget standards stack up against the massive spending schemes of rapid transit networks?
Where did the number come from? Back when the Ford/Stintz crew started to dismantle the Miller-era service standards, the anticipated saving was only about $14m/year. However, reversing the cuts is not quite as simple.
When you cut transit service, you can reduce costs simply by letting old buses wear out and not replacing them, by reducing the operator workforce through attrition, and by cutting plans for a new bus garage (needed for a bigger fleet) out of the capital budget. That’s precisely what happened.
To undo the damage, we need more buses, more garage space and more operators. Some, but by no means all, of the cost will come out of the $15m, but there is much more involved.
McNicoll Garage has a pricetag of $181-million (of which only about $80m has been funded as of 2014), and it is required simply to handle growth in the bus fleet with no provision for better service standards. Yet another garage will be required to support better service, although in the short term one garage will do for both purposes. Also, by 2020, some bus services will have been replaced by rapid transit lines, but we don’t really know how much because the future of various schemes is uncertain.
(Some of the chaos in fleet planning dates from the cancellation of Transit City, and still more from shortsighted cutbacks of the last few years.)
New buses cost about $700k apiece. With current peak service at around 1,500 buses (not including those used for construction service), a 10% bump in fleet capacity means 150 new vehicles at a cost of $105-million.
At the very least, in the next few years, the TTC would face the following capital costs over and above what is already committed:
Moreover, the McNicoll project must be accelerated for completion before 2019, the current schedule. The idea that Toronto would see no additional peak service for five years is a disgusting testament to the ill-informed folly of the Ford/Stintz era.
Late in May, John Tory launched his “SmartTrack” transit line, the centrepiece of his “One Toronto” plan. Media reps gathered for a preview at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and the launch was handled almost entirely by Tory’s staff. All of the background papers are on the One Toronto website, and little has been added since that event.
Even then, in the early days of the campaign, there was good reason to distrust Tory’s grasp of his own proposal, let alone a willingness to engage in debate, when he made the briefest of appearances for a canned statement to give the media clips for the news broadcasts, but answered few questions.
I was modestly impressed that at least a Mayoral candidate was not just thinking at the ward level for a transit proposal, but felt the plan was rather threadbare — a single line to solve almost all of Toronto’s problems.
Wearing two hats that day – as both reporter and activist – I was scrummed by the media for comments, and the Tory campaign chose to lift one phrase out of context as an “endorsement” for SmartTrack that remains online.
Steve Munro, Toronto Transit Blogger, said, “This is very much a refocusing of what transit in Toronto should be.”
What I was talking about was the need to look at the region and at trips to points other than the corner of Bay & Front and times other than the traditional commuter peaks. As to the specifics of SmartTrack, I was rather less complimentary.
In brief, SmartTrack would see electric multiple unit (EMU) trains operating primarily on GO Transit corridors between Unionville on the Stouffville line and Mount Dennis on the Weston corridor (the Kitchener-Waterloo line). At Eglinton and Weston, the line would veer west along the former Richview Expressway lands to the Airport Corporate Centre, but not to the airport itself.
The route would charge regular TTC fares with free transfers to the existing system, and with frequent all-day service at peak levels of every 15 minutes. Over its 53km it would have 22 stations, and might, according to the campaign, carry over 200,000 passengers per day.
Updated Sept. 9, 2014 at 12:50 pm: NOW Magazine has published an article by Rob Salerno detailing the problems with the right-of-way on Eglinton West that John Tory’s SmartTrack plan assumes is available, as well as questions about the need for both a frequent service on the Stouffville GO corridor and the Scarborough Subway.
Toronto is beset by a love of drawing lines on maps. We have stacks of rapid transit studies going back to the horsecar era. We have competing views of regional and local transit. We have the pandering “I have a solution for YOU” approach tailored to whichever ballot box needs stuffing. Almost none of this gets built.
Fantasy maps abound. The difference between the scribblings of amateur transit geeks and professional/political proposals can be hard to find.
Common to both is the sense that “my plan” is not just better, it is the only plan any right-thinking person would embrace. Egos, both personal and governmental, are literally on the line. Once pen meets paper ideas acquire a permanence and commitment that are almost indelible.
If transit networks were cheap to build and operate relative to the resources we choose to spend on them, transit would be everywhere and blogs like this would be reduced to debating the colour scheme for this week’s newly-opened station. Transit is not cheap, and the debates turn on far more complex issues than which shade of red or green is appropriate for our two major networks.
Another election with competing views of what is best for Toronto brings a crop of proposals. I hesitate to say “a fresh crop” as some schemes are long past their sell-by dates. Candidates may strive to bring something new to the discussion, but these attempts can discard good ideas simply to appear innovative. Perish the thought that we might embrace something already on the table when we can wave a magic wand and – Presto! – the solution to every problem appears in a puff of smoke, a well-timed entrance and an overblown YouTube video.
Moving people with transit is not simply one problem with one solution. Nobody pretends that a single expressway could cure all the ails of Toronto and the region beyond. A single highway – say, a “401” in a Toronto that had only recently paved Sheppard Avenue – would be recognized for its limitations. But once a plan is committed to paper – even the dreaded coffee-stained napkin, let alone election literature – resistance is futile. At least until the next election.
This article reviews several dreams for new and upgraded transit, and tries to make sense out of what all these lines might achieve.
As I was reading through all of this, I felt that some of my critique will sound rather harsh, and inevitably I would be challenged with “so what would you do”. If you want to see my answer, jump to the end of the article, remembering that my scheme is not a definitive one.
Although some of my comments touch on proposals of various Mayoral candidates, I will leave a detailed review of those for a separate article. A good regional plan is more important than any one campaign, and the debate on what we should build should not be dictated by this week’s pet project, whatever it might be.
Updated September 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm:The Nextbus site now displays wheelchair symbols on route tags for the Flexities running on the 510 Spadina line.
Updated September 2, 2014 at 12:45 pm: Thanks to Darwin O’Connor for the URL that takes us to a page on his website showing where the new cars are located in real time.
Original article from August 31, 2014:
August 31, 2014 marked the reopening of the
511 (oops!) 510 Spadina streetcar between Bloor and Queens Quay, and the introduction of the first two of Toronto’s new fleet of Bombardier Flexity streetcars.
Regular service had been operating since 5:00 am, but the official ceremony took place at Spadina Station at 10:00 with the usual speechifying by sundry officials and politicians. Particularly gratifying were remarks by TTC CEO Andy Byford praising the people who had designed and built the new cars. Politicians show up for the ribbon cutting, but it’s the folks who have spent years to bring us these new cars who did the real work.