The Metrolinx Board met on December 11. Items of interest on the agenda included:
- A proposed GO Transit fare increase
- The fare structure for the Union Pearson Express service
- A review of the Regional Express Rail project
- An update on the status of major capital projects
The GO Transit fare increase is designed to provide a 5% more revenue effective February 1, 2015. As I have already discussed in a separate article, the actual magnitude of the increase varies considerably with longer trips seeing a smaller increase than fares for short ones. This has been a pervasive pattern in GO fares for over a decade that is only partly redressed by a “tiered” approach to fare increases in recent years.
Union Pearson Express Fares
The fare structure is, to no great surprise, not “affordable” in the sense of day-to-day travel for the distance involved. Metrolinx makes virtue of this by positioning the UP Express as a premium service in a league with other cities:
With the launch of Union Pearson (UP) Express in
spring 2015, Toronto will join the ranks of other
world class cities with an express rail service
between downtown and the airport. [Report p. 1]
Missing from this statement is the acknowledgement that many “world class cities” also have lower-cost routes to their airports that provide better coverage for access along their routes at fares within the tariff of normal transit operations. Notable by their absence from comparisons with other cities are any North American airports because none of these offer a premium express service.
The basic fare was rumoured almost since the project’s outset to be over $20. An early name “Blue 22” referred both to the running time and the fare level. What we actually have is a compromise, of sorts:
- The adult single fare is $27.50. This can best be described as the “tourist” fare in that only the unsuspecting, inexperienced visitor would actually pay it.
- Presto users will pay $19.00.
- Lower single and Presto fares apply to students, seniors and children.
- Special fares apply to groups, airport employees and organizations with frequent travel requirements.
There is also a $55 “Family” fare, but it is not available on Presto, and Presto itself does not support charging multiple riders to one card so that a casual user could enjoy the Presto discount of a fellow passenger.
We will not know the actual “average” fare Presto receives until it has been in operation long enough to report passenger and revenue statistics.
Of course the magic question will be “can I buy a Presto card at the airport”, something that will be of greater importance as the local TTC network converts to Presto. Local fare options such as limited time passes should be available at the airport, not as a separate transaction when a rider first encounters the TTC.
In an unexpected show of common sense, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority has eliminated its planned $1.85 surcharge on fares, an amount intended to offset expected losses in parking revenue. The GTAA seemed unaware that a stated intention of the UP Express (and indeed of Metrolinx as an organization) is to reduce car travel.
Riders who are looking for reliable, frequent transportation to or from the airport should recognize that UP Express is a more appealing option than the alternatives, particularly in high-traffic times. UP Express should reduce car trips, benefitting both road congestion and the environment. [Report p. 2]
An ideal (if impossible) state would be one where nobody had to drive to the airport at all. Metrolinx regards Pearson Airport as one of its two most important “mobility hubs” alongside Union Station, but one would never know this from the leisurely progress on even a plan to serve that hub, let alone actual service.
Fares are adjusted by distance, with lower fares for trips of only 1 or 2 stops along the 3-stop line. These short trips will cost substantially more than a comparable GO Transit fare.
Presto fares to Union Station:
- UP Express from Bloor: $11.40
- UP Express from Weston: $15.20
- GO Transit from Kitchener: $16.10
- GO Transit from Guelph: $13.20
- GO Transit from Acton: $11.50
- GO Transit from Weston: $5.35
- GO Transit from Bloor: $5.20
Amenities specific to airport travellers are of little value to a non-airport rider, and the service from Weston or Bloor to Union is unlikely to draw much demand, notably at Bloor. The transfer connection from Dundas West Station involves a substantial walk outdoors just for the privilege of a high-priced ride that will almost certainly take longer (including walk and wait times) than continuing on the subway. In some circles, this is considered a marketing challenge and I look forward to the breathless copy in UP Express adverts. A “DRL West” it is not.
Meanwhile, the TTC will add its own 192 Airport Rocket to the subway map giving riders at least a hint that an alternate route to the airport exists.
- Total Pearson demand (annual): 40 million
- “In Scope” demand (catchment area of UP Express): 11.9m
- “Mature” ridership by 2020: 2.5m
The “in scope market” for this service is estimated at 11.9-million passengers annually in 2020 out of about 40-million total volume at Pearson Airport. At nearly 30%, that is considerably more than the 17% of Pearson users who are known to originate downtown. Clearly, Metrolinx is expecting a substantial contribution from areas beyond Union.
Looked at another way, if downtown is responsible for 17% of 40m trips, or 6.8m, then UP Express will capture less than half of this market.
Exhibit 2 on page 3 of the report gives some idea of how the passenger volumes expected on Presto were calculated. It shows the high percentage of airport-bound traffic UP Express is expected to capture, notably at the inconvenient Bloor/Dundas West connection. One wonders whether the authors of this projection have actually visited the location, or if, like the SmartTrack boffins, this is planning-by-Google-Maps.
Assuming 18 hour/day operation, the UP Express will provide 144 one-way trips between Pearson and Union. At a capacity per 3-car train of 180, this is a total capacity of about 26,000, but it is simply not possible to run at 100% all of the time, especially for counter-peak directions. The annual volume translates to about 8,300 riders per day (taking weekends as one “day” worth of demand). Metrolinx expects UP Express to begin at about 65% of the 2020 demand level and ramp up by 2018.
The UP Express will carry 6.25% of the trips to and from Pearson. That’s a start, but there is a long way to go before this will make any dent in traffic congestion or pollution.
Regional Express Rail Update
Much work is now underway looking at the details of all GO corridors including issues such as potential ridership, service levels and infrastructure requirements. This is long overdue, and will establish what is actually possible, what RER can achieve, and where the major roadblocks might be. This is well beyond the level of drawing lines on a map with little regard for feasibility or relative importance.
Part of the exercise is a “Business Case Analysis” that will include a full life cycle review of capital and operating costs, ridership and other benefits over a 60-year span. Because future years are discounted to a “present value”, they don’t weigh as heavily, but at least Metrolinx recognizes the long-term value of the major investment and change in GO’s operating philosophy that RER represents.
The analyses have not been published, and based on past efforts this can be worrying because much depends on the value assigned especially to “soft” items such as the value of future benefits and the assumptions built into ridership projections.
That said, Metrolinx hopes for:
- A three-to-four times benefit:cost factor
- GO ridership expanding from 200k daily today to 450k by 2031
- GO’s share of trips over 10km tripling from 3.6% today by 2041
- Congestion and crowding relief for roads and transit lines
The analysis to date is based on the existing network and fare structure. Future work will review the effect of adding stations and of fare integration with local systems.
With an eye on the political calendar, Metrolinx will structure the roll out of construction and new services so there is a new service to announce every year for the coming decade. Many ribbons will be cut. One hopes they have learned from Transit City what happens when entire projects go into limbo. Such a plan will also challenge Queen’s Park to commit to multi-year spending, not just vague promises of “billions” in the hopper for more transit.
In the first quarter of 2015, Metrolinx hopes to deliver the “service concept” for the RER corridors to Queen’s Park. Whether this will be done publicly is not clear. However, any discussions and planning for the future of RER depends on these concepts defining service frequency, hours, and projected ridership. In turn, these would dictate infrastructure needs for the corridors and fleet plans for the network as a whole.
The electrification component both affects and flows from the roll out plan. Certain parts of the network must be converted first simply to provide access to maintenance facilities. Some areas are critical because they are common to two or more corridors. At some locations, staging of major civil works such as rail-rail grade separations should precede electrification. This is all a complex juggling act.
Metrolinx plans extensive public consultation, and this really needs to engage affected neighbourhoods and groups at a level where real input is possible. Some works will be disruptive, and some nimbyism is to be expected. However, the way consultation is managed goes a long way to the success or failure of proposals. To that end, the more information is available early in the process, before designs and decisions are set in concrete, the better. There will always be a desire to move faster, to show “results”, but this can be undone by a sense that the bulldozers arrive tomorrow, and resistance is futile.
SmartTrack is part of this study in the sense that it partly duplicates RER requirements in two corridors — Stouffville and Weston. The word “congruence” is used to describe the two plans, although issues remain including how the RER and SmartTrack services would be integrated, including their fare structures, what stations would be added for either service, and what is to be done with the Eglinton West spur on the SmartTrack line.
There is a sense of delicacy at this point because some of the planning behind SmartTrack was, to be blunt, superficial. If the design must survive “as is” for political reasons, this will seriously interfere with the larger project. Staff from Metrolinx, the City and the TTC are already meeting to work out the issues, but until there is a public presentation, we will not know which options have been excluded.
The most obvious question is the future of the Eglinton LRT’s western extension which would be an equally valid way to serve the airport district while avoiding difficult construction challenges in Mount Dennis posed by SmartTrack. Also at issue will be the effect of RER/SmartTrack on demand patterns for the Scarborough Subway and on a future Downtown Relief subway line. There is a separate study for regional relief underway, but this is obviously closely linked to any plans for the GO network.
A further update will come to the March 2015 board meeting.
Major Capital Projects Update
The two separate teams managing capital projects within Metrolinx and GO have now been consolidated into a Capital Projects Group
The Eglinton-Crosstown tunnels are now completed from the Black Creek launch site east to Allen Road. A new launch shaft will be built east of the subway at Eglinton West Station, and the boring machines will relaunch from this location in March 2015.
Meanwhile, in Leaside, the launch site is under construction and the boring machines will be assembled for digging to start west to Yonge in the spring.
Both tunnel projects will reach Yonge Street in late 2016. The next stage will be station construction around the completed tunnels and outfitting the track, signals, power and other facilities needed to operate service. The contract award for this work is expected in mid-2015.
vivaNext Rapidway construction continues with phased openings planned through 2019.
At Union Station, work on the new trainshed atrium is substantially completed. Inside the station itself, Metrolinx expects to outfit the new west concourse with a target opening for “early 2015”. Once GO operations shift to the west side of the station, the east side will be free for demolition and reconstruction.
Much of the infrastructure expansion in the Georgetown South corridor is substantially complete as is work on the Union Pearson Express stations and airport spur. The first test UP train operated to the Pearson station on October 1, 2014.
Design work continues on the Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects, but both of these have a low profile, and the future of their funding is uncertain given competing claims on available money and continuing political hostility to LRT. Whether Queen’s Park will forge ahead with these lines, or simply allow them to languish, remains to be seen. With early contracts scheduled to be awarded in 2015, clarity is required from all parties.
The Hurontario-Main LRT project is another that does not have a clear path forward. Although the recent election left council with a pro-LRT faction in Mississauga, Brampton now wants alternatives to be studied including underground construction.
One of the surprising things I found during the last year or so was that in order to get the cooperation of the GTAA — the airport authority, MetroLinx had to agree to add a substantial surcharge to every UP Express fare, to compensate the GTAA for the loss of revenue from flyers using the GTAA’s parking lots.
Surely all government agencies should be discouraging motor vehicle use?
Steve: The GTAA has now rescinded the surcharge.
With regard to your suspicion that the MetroLinx leadership aren’t actually transit users themselves, and approve station plans without making a site visit… Someone taking a taxi can be picked up from their home, and dropped off right near their gate. If one adds up walking from the TTC’s Union Station, or the GO portion of Union Station, to the UP Express platform, and add walking from the UP platform at the airport to the departure lounge, and then walking to one’s gate, the traveler taking the UP Express has to walk hundreds of yards more than the traveler who takes a taxi. Add in walking to one’s neighbourhood transit stop, and the UP rider probably walks over an extra kilometer — with their luggage. If they don’t know their way they are walking for for an unpredictable amount of time — maybe an extra half hour beyond what a flyer who takes a taxi spends.
And if you are traveling with a spouse, or a friend, and share a cab? The UP ride is even less competitive.
If the capital cost were paid for by taxpayers this premium fare structure is totally unjustified. If MetroLinx contracted out operation to a private company, and expects that private company to recoup and repay the capital costs couldn’t they have specified a repayment schedule that didn’t require a disproportionately high fare?
Steve: This was originally to be a private operation, but the numbers just don’t work. The taxpayers paid the whole shot for this thing, and the high fares will only cover operating costs not capital.
The other two magic questions are:
1. Is this $19 PRESTO fare part of a plan to increase the overall sale of PRESTO card?
2. From a typical tourist. “So why did I buy a $27.50 fare on the plane/with my ticket/earlier when I could have only paid $25 ($19+$6)? How else am I going to be gouged in this city?”
Regarding the RER there are so many unanswered questions and a frustration in having to wait for the answers.
Then there is also that frustration all transit users experience in not being able to get around easily because of a lack of available useful information. It really seems that the expectation is now on the public to do the research in advance, to monitor service issues, and to travel with their own app for information because the GTAA and transit agencies are not going to provide it in an easy or timely manner.
It’s actually pretty common for people to take a train into a city centre, then walk or cab it from there – luggage or no luggage. This is particularly notable for New York, where people flying into Newark take NJ Transit to Penn Station. I’ve made that trek several times and walk for several blocks with a bag in tow. I imagine that a quick ride into downtown plus a walk/cab will be perfectly palatable to many visitors.
(Note: the above does not take into consideration the substantial difference in fares between UPX and NJ Transit, but simply the convenience factor)
Steve: But the people coming in on UPX will be the cream of society as this is a high-priced service of international renown. I am not sure they will even have bags, but travel somehow unencumbered by luggage.
I’m sure all the well-heeled business travellers using UPX have “people” to carry whatever luggage they might have.
Given SmartTrack’s fairly obvious flaws and ill-conceived and unrealistic station locations and service levels, I can’t see it lasting much longer in its current form. No doubt it will just get rolled into GO RER (whatever that ends up being) and Tory will claim victory and that will be that. What GO RER really needs is fare conversion between GO and the TTC. Even if GO is still more expensive for within the 416, if the fare included a TTC transfer it could become very competitive. Meanwhile the DRL will remain in limbo, something Tory lambasted Chow about for several months before he came up with his napkin-based scheme.
Yes, Presto does support this, but only for the fare class of the cardholder (adult, child, student or senior).
This is of minimal help to most families.
Steve: According to the Presto website, payment for multiple passengers (Companion fares) varies from system to system, and requires that you “tell the driver” before tapping on. On GO Transit, you have to talk to a Customer Service Agent and get, wait for it, a paper ticket indicating that a second fare has been paid. Sounds like a cobbled-together “solution” to me, not a fundamental part of the system’s design.
One comment: the UPX fare doesn’t look so bad to me. If the day arrives when we have full GO service to KW, I could easily see taking the GO train to Weston and transferring over to the UPX to the airport. It will certainly be less expensive than the airport shuttle services (which always manage to pick me up first and drop me off last), and it will be cheaper than all but the shortest stays in the parking lots around the airport.
One Question: How much predesign for electrification was built into the Georgetown South Project?
Steve: They claim that everything has been designed with electrification in mind. I will believe this when I see wiring going up at “new” infrastructure without major alterations.
Another possibly valid way to commute to the airport reasonably quickly (slower than UPX, but faster than car/Airport Rocket during peak hour) is to catch a SmartTrack to near Eglinton/Weston, and do a short UPX hop from Weston. A prudent plan would to be build an interchange station for SmartTrack/Crosstown/UPX when the right time comes (and eliminate the Weston station).
Steve: Even better would be for the Crosstown LRT to serve the airport via Eglinton as originally planned. SmartTrack’s Eglinton link is a nightmare and will, I hope, be dropped from the plans provided that political interference to match the Tory campaign platform is held at bay. I suspect that at least one of Tory’s advisors has a lot of ego invested in the SmartTrack route and will attempt to keep it in the plan, no matter what.
I think that it is time that Metrolinx annexed TTC to form better regionally co-ordination of transit.
Steve, would you boycott the Scarborough subway given that it is being built against your wishes? With limited resources not everyone’s wishes can be satisfied and so the Scarborough subway is a reasonable compromise and you and your followers are about the only ones still dwelling on re-opening the already settled debate.
Steve: Of course I would not boycott it any more than I boycotted the SRT. As to “limited resources”, how they are used is quite selective, especially when it comes to levying a special tax that would not have been required without the subway.
And there will be no special tax for the Downtown Relief Line? The fact is that the cost of the Scarborough subway is only a small fraction of the cost of the DRL and so you are looking at a much smaller tax increase for the Scarborough subway compared to a much larger tax increase for the DRL.
Steve: Actually, the tax increase for a DRL will depend on the amount of the City’s contribution to this project. I never said that there wouldn’t be extra revenue required for other lines, simply that the subway in Scarborough triggered one that is already being collected.
As for fractions of costs, the Scarborough subway is about $3.6-billion. The full DRL (Dundas West to Don Mills/Eglinton, or similar) would cost $7.4-billion, but the most severe problems lie to the east and a shorter piece would be built first. Also, of course, the DRL would carry more riders than the Scarborough Subway and have an important network effect on overcrowding downtown. It is not just the cost of a project but its benefits that must be weighed.
Meanwhile, Mayor Tory would divert over $2-billion of future tax revenue to fund his SmartTrack scheme which has a total cost of $8-billion by his estimate.
Nothing to do with the post, but I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Steve: And to you and all of my readers too!
@Keith, while there may be few questioning the Scarborough subway, I would note the final agreement that must underlie it seems to be taking some time, as does the start of the EA process. High frequency RER will affect subway ridership. Additional loading at the ends of the subway increases the need for a DRL to allow these riders to get their final destination.
It could be the notion of how the various service proposal will interact and load the existing network is being quietly considered.
Will the service concept that’ll be released next year give us any sense of what type of electric trainsets they may use? Is it possible they’ll take a cheaper route to meet budget constraints? Would this route see extra costs in the future because of poor planning? (I’m thinking of what happened on the Union loop of the 511 but this might be a bad comparison.)
Steve: I really don’t know. At this point, they are talking at a very high level. Until I see some public participation with facilitators and “experts” who know at least as much as the audience, it will be hard to gauge what is going on behind the scenes. In the meetings re “Regional Relief”, the degree to which staff didn’t want to talk about details was quite disheartening. I hope that the RER studies will be more open and informed. They really don’t have time to say “that’s a nice idea, but we’re not looking at that yet”. Inevitably what happens is that suddenly, it’s “that’s a nice idea but we’ve already done that part”.
If you get the impression that I deeply distrust how public participation is run by most agencies in Toronto, you would be correct.
Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to everyone!
@Malcolm N: High frequency RER certainly would affect the subway ridership. But 15-min frequency does not qualify as high frequency in this context; not enough total capacity to make a big dent in the subway ridership.
Steve: Much depends on how well connected the RER/SmartTrack service is to the TTC and what the fare arrangements are. If it’s a free transfer, and a substantial time saving, it will bleed off some demand, otherwise people will use the subway because it’s likely the first service they will encounter in a trip westward. If you were on a bus connecting at, say, Sheppard/McCowan station, why would you bother to ride over to the RER/ST station east of Kennedy unless it provided a really attractive alternative (free transfer, faster trip)?
The situation would be different for someone living further north, especially outside of the 416, where using the subway was not as simple an option. In that case, RER/ST would intercept trips that might otherwise head west to the YUS.
Bombardier has built dual power locomotives for New Jersey Transit and AMT in Montréal. If Metrolinx takes a phased approach to electrification on the Lakeshore and Kitchener lines, as outlined in the electrification study, it would make sense to have trains that can run on both diesel and electric; otherwise the electric-only equipment would be forced to run only as far as the completed phase, e.g. Etobicoke North for phase 1 on the Kitchener line, and they would still have to run diesels for the longer-haul trips out to the end of the line.
If they do opt for dual power, once electrification is complete on a line the dual power locos could then be swapped over to the next line being electrified.
Steve: The “service concepts” might initially be high level proposals for things like where the short turns (implied end of electric territory) might be, and what headways would be operated at least in the medium term. Obviously this has to be fleshed out with an equipment plan, but I would be surprised to see this in a first cut. A related issue would be the roll out scheme for the corridors because this would affect things like route hookups (east/west) and the pace at which electric equipment would be required.
Metrolinx is not renowned for deciding anything quickly, if only because there are policy implications at a high level involved. Ministers want to know when their ribbon cutting opportunities will come along, and I would not be surprised in the least to see some gerrymandering of the plan for political reasons.
The problem is that with a forecast of 14K for subway extension, with 6K of that seeming to come from Markham, adding 4k in the way of train capacity is material. Also, RER, should not be a 15 minute peak service (province discussed 15 minutes all day, which should infer more service during peak). If it is only on a 15 minute basis, especially if it does not service 416 ridership, electrification here becomes hard to justify. Electrification is to allow more frequent stops from better acceleration and new signals and track to permit shorter headway. This service should be at the least on the 10 minutes, to provide the capacity (additional 4 trains per hour from current on peak). This would then be enough capacity to gather a great deal of the riders coming from the north or west (to the proposed north south portion of BDL), or even between the lines. This will be a more direct route, as long as it is frequent enough and significantly faster (which it should be). RER was being discussed as 15 minutes all day not peak. Much will depend on space in Lakeshore east, Union, and how the province implements.
Yes Steve, they will employ their drivers to gather and deliver their luggage to the hotel. These will of course struggle through traffic.
To be honest Steve, having watched my father for many years travelling very much for business (often a couple of days a week), I would say, many will travel with only carry on bags, that either have wheels or are easily carried, where wheeling them for a hundred or so metres to the Royal York (he stayed here often when we did not live in Toronto, so much so, that even after years of not doing so much of the staff still knew him by name), or the Crowne Plaza or the new Delta, or the subway to the Sheraton etc, would not be a show stopper. My father would not have been bothered by this if it would save him significant time (could not bear the wait at the carousel), and I admit I have the same feelings.
The problems with the dual power locomotives are:
1) They cast about $15 million each or 3 times that of MP 40 and,
2) They can only pull 8 cars because they use the prime movers for hotel power.
3) They still have the initial acceleration rate of a locomotive even though they are electric though in electric mode they could accelerate to a higher speed before their acceleration rate starts to drop.
This means you would need 2 locomotives to pull a 12 car train that could be pulled by 1 MP 40 or $30 million worth of locomotive instead of $5 million.
More and more reason to think we are getting two separate services once the RER is put into place … A 15 minute RER in the inner suburbs and peak hour GO commuter services serving the outer suburbs and running express through the inner suburbs and Toronto.
This would of course be an extension of what is currently happening on the Lakeshore corridor, except the local trains would be every 15 rather than 30 minutes.
The interesting question will be if the Lakeshore Corridor is included in the RER … and I have a strong feeling it will be. And though it is early I do wonder if (as an example) that means 15 minute all day service out to Hamilton or if some trains will turn back in, say Oakville. Or perhaps it will be 15 minute combined service with one training running on the north shore and the other running to Hunter & James.
How realistic is the prospect of re-purposing the UPX infrastructure for RER/ST/CallItWhatYouWill?
As it has been built, do you foresee physical or logistical impediments, or merely political ones?
Steve: There are two challenges (at least). First, the UPX is built for high platform cars, whereas the rest of GO is designed for low platforms. This really should not be a case of the tail wagging the dog, and I suspect that equipment planning will be the issue here. Second, the station at Pearson can only handle short trains (with high platforms), and this places a limit on the consists that can serve it. The track structure in general is standard railway construction and would be shared (up to the airport spur) with any trains running in the corridor, so that’s not an issue.
The political problems are more complex because there are huge egos (not to mention the possibility for egg-on-face embarrassments) bound up in RER, UPX and SmartTrack. The latter, for example, would be greatly simplified by dropping its Eglinton West spur and staying on existing GO trackage, and it will be a mark of John Tory (and his advisors’) maturity if he can accept the idea of building something that looks more or less like “SmartTrack” but avoids its worst design flaws. As for UPX, the provincial government went down the wrong path with that when they built it as a standalone, premium service. Reintegrating it with GO will require serious thoughts not just about equipment, but whether vital rail capacity should be tied up for a service most GO riders won’t use. The mentality that claims Toronto needs to be “world class” by having a premium air rail link is the worst kind of boosterism that says more about the people whose careers depend on this sort of project than it does about good planning and leadership.