Should Seniors Get Even Cheaper Transit Fares? (Updated)

Updated April 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm:

The text of motions passed regarding this item have been added at the end of the update below.

Updated April 30, 2015 at 9:30 am:

The debate on the motion asking for a report on a pilot project for a $1 off peak seniors’ fare went on at great length at the April 29 TTC board meeting and provided some political theatre along the way.

At its heart, there are interlocking issues in any debate about fares:

  • Should seniors as a class of riders receive discounted fares, and how generous should this discount be?
  • Are other groups of riders equally or more deserving of discounts?
  • Should a “pool”of subsidy related to discounts be allocated to various groups based on needs, or should the scope of such subsidies be increased?
  • How will eligibility for any subsidy be administered?
  • How should any fare subsidies be funded, and what is their priority relative to other transit needs such as improved service and maintenance?
  • Should the standard fare structure be revised to provide benefits to all riders rather than targeted groups?

The proposal for a $1 off peak seniors’ fare came from Commissioner Vince Crisanti, a member of the Ford faction in the previous administration who was not noted for his generosity on the subject of social programs. Moreover, when he did sit on the TTC board (before the coup d’état that ousted many of the Ford crew), his knowledge of transit matters could not be described as encyclopaedic. To be fair, at this point the proposal was only a report request – tell me whether it would be feasible to have a pilot program to test the lower fare – and one might expect the whole thing to disappear if the result proved impractical, especially from a financial standpoint.

The problem, of course, is that everyone wants cheaper fares for one or more deserving groups, or even for all riders as Mayoral candidate Tory advocated, without getting into the questions of whether this is the best use of transit dollars or how a net new subsidy would fit into the allegedly tight city budget situation.

Public deputations on the issue, of which there were few despite the large crowd of seniors in the audience who arrived as a group, concentrated on support for the lower fare. In one case, the presentation by TTCRiders ran into a basic problem that their primary desire is to help low-income riders, but they have been pulled into the $1 fare issue as a jumping off point for their larger cause.

Questions from board members were generally civil, although there was a common thread of “how should we pay for this”. One deputant tartly replied that if the city can afford to eat the sunk costs of cancelled LRT projects and build the Scarborough Subway Extension, then availability of revenue is not the issue.

Toronto Councillors love to pretend that any discussion of new services or expenditures must be a zero-sum game with higher costs in one area balanced by reductions in others. This ignores the considerable taxing powers of the City that go unused thanks to pandering to motorists (the vehicle registration tax) and to the no-new-taxes philosophy that hobbles modern political debate.

The best moment came in a testy exchange between an old Chinese lady, speaking through an interpreter, who was harangued by Commissioner Denzil Minnan-Wong with a series of questions ending up with, to paraphrase, how can we pay for fuel if we let people ride for free? After a short pause, the reply came back: “that’s a stupid question”.

For far too long DMW and others have grandstanded at the expense of citizens who just want to exercise their right to speak on public issues, and chairs of meetings (including the TTC’s Chair Josh Colle) have failed to rein in such abuse. That one response burst DMW’s balloon, and will long be remembered.

Colle himself noted that he had come to the TTC a few years ago with a similar incentive – helping seniors with lower fares – but has since learned that as a group, seniors are rather well off. The real issue is to identify those who are in need regardless of their age.

Commissioner Alan Heisey proposed a motion asking for a report on a variety of fare options to come forward in October 2015 as input to the 2016 budget process. This would allow TTC staff to explore a range of new or revised fares, and in particular whether technical capabilities or limitations of the Presto fare card would affect the implementation.

The decision on future subsidy levels will be up to Toronto Council, but the TTC board should already have taken a position on the matter rather than simply inheriting a campaign promise as they did with the free rides for children in the 2015 budget.

Voting on the items took a bit of diplomacy as nobody wanted to actually vote against Vince Crisanti’s proposal. In the end, it was amended to request a “briefing note” by June, and then Heisey’s much broader motion was passed. A briefing note does not come back to the TTC agenda and simply updates members on information from staff. A report becomes the subject of future debate.

The motions as they were passed are:

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How (Un)Reliable Is My Service

This article updates my ongoing compendium of TTC route performance statistics to include the first quarter of 2015.


The numbers reported by the TTC represent performance relative to the planned headways (time between vehicles), not to scheduled arrival times on routes:

The percent means that proportion of vehicles that were within +/- 3 minutes of the scheduled headway. More specifically that when each vehicle passes a ‘timing point’ it is compared to the vehicle in front of it that last crossed that same point. [From TTC Route Performance report]

In my version of the table, the TTC data are arranged in route number order with values for each quarter. Where there are blanks in the table, there was no data in the corresponding TTC quarterly report.

Also shown are the maximum, minimum, average and standard deviation values for each route’s statistics. This gives a sense of how much these values have moved around. A high standard deviation flags data that have widely varying values.

Of the 179 routes reported, 87 have higher ratings in 15Q1 than their averages for the nine quarters reported to date. To put it another way, about half of the routes did better than average for the first part of 2015, while about half did worse. If the extremely bad winter were a factor overall, one would expect a less balanced situation. On the streetcar lines, only three of eleven routes bettered their averages in 15Q1 (King, Lake Shore and St. Clair), but many of the differences are small with five of eleven falling within one standard deviation.

Headway reliability numbers are consistently bad on the 14x Downtown Express routes, and this implies that these infrequent services have a problem with running on time. What is not known is the measurements times and locations used to produce the stats for these routes and whether the service is at least on time where it collects passengers.

Similarly, headway measures for the 3xx Blue Night services are unimpressive, and what matters much more for these routes is on time performance and reliability of connections between routes, such as they exist.

The TTC claims that it will be introducing new “Journey Time Metrics” later in 2015, but there are as yet no details of what exactly these will measure. In parallel, there are moves to change the service reliability standards so that they look at routes end-to-end, not simply at their central points. (This was described in a presentation at the TTC board meeting in March 2015 (see p7 of TTC Modernization).

The TTC has yet to settle on a reporting mechanism that takes into account the difference in rider needs depending on the nature of a service. When a route is supposed to provide “frequent service”, the important point is that it be reliable. A 5 minute headway is not “frequent” if this actually means three buses every 15 minutes. When service is less frequent, then waiting times for off-schedule vehicles are a huge annoyance and on time performance is key. Short turns, of course, play havoc with both of these measures for riders who need a route beyond its common turnback points. Plans to measure the proportion of service that actually arrives at termini will highlight these problems.

Underlying all of this is the absence of a clear goal, a definition of what constitutes “good” transit service. Too often the goal has been to constrain cost increases and make the best of whatever resources the TTC has at hand.

Finch West LRT Soon, Sheppard East Not So (Updated)

Updated April 28, 2015 at 8:20 am:

The decision to push construction of the Sheppard LRT out to the 2020s was taken quite recently as shown by two separate reports.

In today’s Globe & Mail, Oliver Moore reports:

According to Mr. Del Duca, the delay on Sheppard was because of the difficulty of trying to do too many big projects at once. “The plan right now is to have the procurement begin for the Sheppard East LRT after we complete the Finch West LRT,” he said.

There was no firm timeline available for the Sheppard line. If it starts on its new schedule and takes about as long as Finch to build, it should be ready some time after 2025.

This timeline is sharply at odds with the information given to a reporter in the provincial budget lock-up on Thursday. The government’s position then – given on background and not for attribution, under the rules of the lock-up – was that the Sheppard line would open about a year after Finch. Mr. Del Duca’s spokesman did not return a message Monday seeking clarification of what had changed.

On April 27, over an hour after the LRT announcement, one of my readers, seeking clarification from Metrolinx received the following email:

From: Metrolinx Customer Relations <>
Date: April 27, 2015 at 10:43:26 AM EDT

Dear [x]

Thank you for contacting us about the status of the Sheppard East LRT.

The Sheppard East LRT is fully funded and approved. The Sheppard East LRT underpass construction at Agincourt GO Station has been completed.

Preliminary design and engineering work will be happening over the next few years. Construction is expected to begin in 2017 and be completed by 2021.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact us.


[x] Customer Service Representative
GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx

One wonders just what triggered a change so last-minute that it was not communicated to Metrolinx’ own “communications” team. The Minister claims that the delay is because there is only so much construction work that can be undertaken concurrently, but this seems to have more to do with avoiding a politically difficult decision.

A much more honest position would be to say simply that “we’re waiting for the results of various studies now underway on transit for Scarborough”, but leadership, or even a bit of common sense on anything transit-related in that part of town seems to escape the Liberals at Queen’s Park.

Original article from April 27 at 12:11 pm:

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The TTC Board Contemplates Policy

A rather unusual meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission’s board took place on April 15, 2015 with an agenda devoted entirely to policy discussions and some navel gazing on just what the board is supposed to be doing. There were four presentations, of which two are available online:

  • Matt Fullbrook from the UofT’s Rotman School of Management spoke on Board Governance
  • Beverly Romeo-Beehler, the City of Toronto’s Auditor General, spoke on Key Aspects of Board Governance with strong emphasis on risk management
  • Robert Wong of Toronto Hydro spoke on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Andy Byford, TTC CEO, spoke about his Five-Year Plan

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Union Station York Concourse Opens April 27, 2015

The new GO Transit York Concourse at Union Station will open for business on Monday, April 27. After years of construction and an ever-changing maze pf construction hoarding, the new concourse will show off what the Union Station Revitalization project is all about.

Anyone who travels through Union Station knows the old, crowded GO Transit area under the East Wing of the station. Passengers rushing for trains jostle with queues in the fast food court and the ticket area. The York Concourse opens up space under the West Wing that formerly housed baggage services and parking, an area that for most users of the station simply didn’t exist because much of it was off limits to the public.

The new concourse will add about 50% to the available passenger space and will open up circulation between the waiting areas and the tracks above, not to mention adding new ways to get into and out of the station.


This map looks north with the existing Bay concourse at the right hand end of the station. On either side of Bay Street are the old freight teamways which are now pedestrian paths under the rail corridor and access to tracks above.

In the middle of the station is the Via concourse which is not affected by this work. To the west (left) is the new York Concourse.

Both the Bay and York concourses will remain open until after the Pan Am Games this summer, and the Bay Concourse will then close for a renovation to match the new York Concourse with a target reopening date early in 2017. Concurrent work will include completion of the new lower level shopping concourse in two stages (under Via in 2016, and under the Bay Concourse in 2017), as well as heritage restoration of the Great Hall and the East Wing of the building.

The goal is to have three times the space GO Transit has today to serve at least twice the passenger volume.

Also opening will be new accesses to the station and tracks including the first phase of the NorthWest PATH link across Front Street (eventually to extend north to Wellington Street) and the York East Teamway providing another set of stairs up to track level and access to the station itself.

The photo gallery below is from a media tour on April 24, 2015.

Ontario’s 2015 Budget and GTHA Transit Projects

To no great surprise, Ontario’s budget for 2015 included a lot of transit spending, although the degree to which this is new money rather than old repackaged announcements is a tad vague.

The transportation portion of the budget, “Moving Ontario Forward”, begins on page 42 of the main budget document (which is page 74 of the linked pdf). The financial information can be confusing because projects are grouped in various sections depending on their source of funding.

To support Building Together, Ontario’s long-term infrastructure plan, investments of more than $100 billion over 10 years are underway, including $50 billion for transportation infrastructure. This is above the commitment to make $31.5 billion in dedicated funds available through Moving Ontario Forward.(p. 38)

In other words, there are now two pools of funding: the original $50b announced for the first parts of  The Big Move, and a further $31.5b for recently green-lit projects. The original $50b is going toward various projects including:

  • UP Express
  • Mississauga Transitway
  • vivaNext Rapidways
  • Eglinton Crosstown LRT
  • Finch and Sheppard LRT projects.

On the Finch and Sheppard projects, the Budget has this to say:

The Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects, which will provide reliable and improved transit service on these busy corridors. The Finch West LRT will run along Finch Avenue between Humber College and Keele Street, and the Sheppard East LRT will run along Sheppard Avenue from Don Mills Station to Morningside Avenue. The procurement process for the Finch West LRT project is expected to begin later in 2015. (p. 39)

Additional investments not tied to specific project groups of funding streams include:

  • The PRESTO fare card.
  • Region of Waterloo’s ION LRT/BRT rapid transit project.
  • Ottawa’s Confederation LRT line.
  • Toronto’s streetcar fleet renewal.
  • The Scarborough Subway Extension.
  • Various highway projects. (pp. 40-41)

Moving Ontario Forward: Asset Optimization and Dedicated (Redirected) Taxes

This process began with the 2014 budget and, basically, involves land sales to fund infrastructure costs. In 2014, the target amount was $3.1-billion, but this has now been increased to $5.7b. The projects supported from this source include:

  • Accelerate service enhancements to the GO Transit network, which will lay the foundation for Regional Express Rail (RER);
  • Launch a new Connecting Links program, which provides funding for municipal roads that connect to provincial highways;
  • Develop a new program to expand the natural gas network, which would help more communities generate economic growth; and
  • Enhance regional mobility by investing in Metrolinx’s Next Wave projects of The Big Move, such as the Hurontario–Main Light Rail Transit project in Mississauga and Brampton, and rapid transit in Hamilton. (p. 43)

A further $25.8b (unchanged from the 2014 budget, see list on pp. 44-45) comes partly from tax revenues that are explicitly directed to the Moving Ontario Forward program. Some of this money is not yet in hand, notably contributions expected from the Federal Government.

A big chunk of Moving Ontario Forward is the GO Regional Express Rail (RER) scheme that has already been announced. The map in Chart 1.7 (at page 47) shows RER service to Oshawa, Unionville, Aurora, Bramalea and an unnamed point somewhere east of Hamilton, as well as service improvements on the Milton and Richmond Hill lines, plus the portions of the Stouffville, Barrie and Kitchener corridors beyond the RER limits. This is similar to information in the recent RER announcement, but with a notable difference regarding electrification:

The Province is also enhancing train service on all lines, including fully electrifying the Barrie, Stouffville and Lakeshore East corridors. (p. 47)

The description of RER service is also intriguing:

Regional Express Rail will deliver electrified service, at about 15-minute frequencies, along the following routes:

  • Lakeshore East and Lakeshore West corridors, between Oshawa and Burlington;
  • Union Station to Unionville on the Stouffville corridor;
  • Union Station to Bramalea on the Kitchener corridor, including UP Express; and
  • Union Station to Aurora on the Barrie corridor. (p. 47)

Given that the UPX will itself operate on a 15-minute headway, I hope that this description is merely a drafting error that has conflated two separate services in one corridor.

The Budget goes on to say that beginning in 2015-16, trains will be added on all corridors during various periods. This is an operating cost, not (in the main) a capital cost, and it is unclear whether this is coming from the “Moving Ontario Forward” pot or from general budgetary allocations to Metrolinx/GO.

Funding Partnerships

The budget is quite clear that Ontario is not going to build every project solely with provincial money.

The GO system, strengthened by the Province’s investments in RER, including on the Stouffville and Kitchener lines, will provide the backbone for a regional network. This network will also be the foundation for the SmartTrack proposal in the City of Toronto. Additional funding is needed to support key elements of this proposal, such as new stations along the route and an extension along Eglinton to the busy airport area. The SmartTrack funding proposal entails contributions of about $5.2 billion in new funding from partners, including the City of Toronto and the federal government. (p. 49)

At this point, Queen’s Park is not getting into a technology debate about the Eglinton West branch of SmartTrack and still describes this line as an airport service. However, as we will see later, the “Eglinton Extension” has been hived off as a separate budget item, and it is to be entirely funded with “partnership” money.

Another role for “partnership” funds lies in improvements to the Richmond Hill corridor with flood mitigation. It appears that Queen’s Park regards this as part of the larger bundle of projects that relate to core area capacity relief that should have money from more than one government. Whether Ontario would contribute anything is uncertain, and probably the subject of a future budget announcement if others come to the table.

The Next Wave

The Metrolinx “Next Wave” includes several projects that have not proceeded beyond lines on the map, but for which the province will continue planning and design work:

  • Dundas Street Bus Rapid Transit, linking Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington;
  • Durham–Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit;
  • Brampton Queen Street Rapid Transit;
  • Toronto Relief Line; and
  • Yonge North Subway Extension. (p. 51)


In addition to RER, the Province will work with related municipalities to move towards implementation of the Hurontario–Main Light Rail Transit project in Mississauga and Brampton, and rapid transit in Hamilton. (p. 51)

Exactly what “rapid transit in Hamilton” might be is not specified.

The status of various projects is summarized in the following chart (p.52).


As noted above, the SmartTrack elements of this plan at a cost of $5.2b are left for others to finance, and the Eglinton Extension is shown separately with 100% “new partner” requirements. An obvious place where Mayor Tory might save substantially would be to return to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT option for this segment, but we are unlikely to see any shift in his position until evidence from studies now underway shows just how impractical his SmartTrack scheme is in this regard.

What’s In and What’s Out

Notable by its absence is any reference to Waterfront transit which appears to be left in Toronto’s (or the tripartite Waterfront Toronto’s) hands. There is a generic reference to the proposed works at the mouth of the Don River, but nothing specific.

The status of route and technology selections in Scarborough is not touched both because this is a hot potato, and because legitimately Queen’s Park can point to studies now in progress that will sort out the potential role of various lines. Any move away from the subway option will not happen without a shift in Toronto Council’s position, and that is only likely if the project’s cost escalates well beyond the currently projected level.

Further enhancements to GO, notably on the Milton and Richmond Hill corridors, are topics for another day. In particular, Richmond Hill is unlikely to get serious attention until Queen’s Park and Metrolinx wrestle with the combined issues of routes serving the core area from the north and which infrastructure improvements make the most sense as a package.

No other Toronto rapid transit schemes are listed including perennial pet projects such as the Sheppard West and Bloor West subway extensions, nor is there any talk of enhancing the ongoing funding via gas tax revenue that contributes, in part, to the operating subsidy. Moreover, the question of funding accessibility is still clearly in Toronto’s hands.

The Budget doesn’t give Toronto everything it wants, and puts the City on notice that it has to come up with its own funding to address various problems, even if there might be a bona fide call on Queen’s Park for some areas.

At a minimum, there is more definition to what the government claims it will do in coming years. The challenge will be actual delivery, something for which the Liberals at Queen’s Park don’t have a good track record.

Ottawa’s 2015 Budget Transit Funding: Smoke and Mirrors

The federal government has announced a transit fund for coming years and given the impression that this is new money over and above whatever cities might receive today. It’s not, and folks like Mayor Tory who see this “fund” as a way to underwrite their pet projects like SmartTrack will come up short.

The detailed budget paper shows where the transit money actually comes from (jump down to page 187 of the linked pdf), and includes the following chart.


Of the $53b promised over the 10 years 2014-2024, much of this already exists in the budget:

  • Gas tax: $21.8b. Toronto already receives about $150m annually from this source and has built the funding stream into its future capital spending projections.
  • Existing infrastructure funding: $6b. This is self-explanatory, and is not new money.
  • GST Rebate: $10.4b. This is another existing program, and it’s not really a payment to municipalities, merely a foregone source of federal revenue.
  • P3 Canada Fund: $1.25b. This is an existing program, although some of this may be new money. However, it is small change in the overall scheme of transit needs, and is subject to a “merit-based” allocation.

The new “Public Transit Fund” is not a block grant program, but will be based on “merit”, a concept with which Toronto is all too familiar thanks to the machinations of various transit  lobbies and politicians. Moreover, Ottawa looks to deliver projects through a combination of P3s and municipal financing backstopped by federal funding over the life of a project. This effectively defers the cash outlays to future years when a completed project would be paid for like a mortgage. This fund is expected to ramp up to $1b annually, but not immediately, and it is far from clear how much this would actually bring to Toronto or the GTHA.

Whether the private sector actually has the capital and wishes to invest, let alone whether they could do so at a cost competitive with crown borrowing, is a question best not asked. As for municipalities, the borrowing would still be on their books and affect their debt ratios, even with “guaranteed” federal funding to pay this off. To what degree those future debt payments would crowd out net new spending would depend on prevailing economic conditions at the time.

I am more than happy to see money flow from Ottawa to municipal projects, but the budget hype implies a much higher level of new spending than will actually occur. We are a long way from funding the many badly-needed transit projects in the GTHA, let alone seeing a reliable federal contribution on a par with provincial or local governments.

Bombardier Recalls Workers, Staffs Up For Production at Thunder Bay

tbnewswatch reports that Bombardier has recalled all employees temporarily laid off earlier in 2015 (more than 80), and hired 50 additional to work on its Light Rail Vehicle and Bi-Level car production. Both of these have been delayed with supply-chain woes.

I look forward to an updated delivery schedule for the TTC’s Flexitys, and will report on this as soon as news is available.

Ontario Funds 100% of the Hurontario-Main LRT

The Ontario government has announced that it will fund 100% of the proposed Hurontario-Main LRT line, although they would happily receive contributions from other partners such as the Federal government should it be so inclined.

If the Hurontario-Main project proceeds as expected, detailed design will get underway soon, construction will begin in 2018, and revenue service would start in 2022. Whether there  might be staging options for the route would likely come out of the detailed design work. The line has its challenges and intriguing design choices including side-of-the-road running and mixed streetcar-like operation where road space is scarce. Will the province champion this project over local objections, or does this line face years of carping about the “St. Clair disaster” and other fictional effects of LRT?

The Transit Project Assessment for this route was approved in August 2014, but the debate remained on who would pay the estimated $1.6-billion cost. Ontario is already funding 100% of the Eglinton-Crosstown project in Toronto, and a chorus of “me too” understandably arose in Mississauga and Brampton.

A provincial commitment at this level raises obvious questions about and comparisons to the stillborn Toronto projects on Sheppard, Finch and the Scarborough RT replacement. These lines are all but dead thanks to a lack of provincial leadership on LRT not to mention the vote-buying embrace of the Scarborough subway option. If that subway proves too rich for Toronto (or for an increased provincial contribution), the LRT scheme might reappear, but that’s a very long shot. As for Finch West, as an isolated route it could have trouble finding a political market unless it is extended beyond the originally proposed Humber College terminal.

Another obvious question is the future of LRT proposals elsewhere that have only partial provincial funding, or no money at all. Has 100% provincial funding become the new standard and goal for transit expansion in the GTHA? How will this affect planning for other routes, not to mention the substantial demands for better local transit operations to feed expanding regional networks? Queen’s Park still appears to be making up policy as it goes along, and refusing to engage in the larger question of how all of the transit we need will be paid for.


GO Transit RER/Electrification Plans Announced

The details of GO Transit’s service improvements and electrification leading to the rollout of the “RER” (Regional Express Rail) network were announced today by Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca.

The plans will please some and disappoint others, but there is little to surprise anyone familiar with the details of GO Transit’s network and the constraints of the rail lines around the GTHA.

RER rollout by line

RER rollout details

If there are “winners and losers” in this announcement, the benefits clearly fall (a) on lines that are completely under Metrolinx ownership and control and (b) on lines that do not already have full service, that is to say, there is room for growth.

Electrification is planned for most corridors by 2022-2024 starting with the Kitchener and Stouffville routes in 2022-23, followed by Barrie and the Lakeshore in 2023-24. The announcement is silent on the UPX service on the Kitchener line and whether the inner portion of the corridor will be electrified as a first step for UPX before 2022. (I have a query out to Metrolinx on this topic.) These dates have implications for rolling stock plans including purchase of whatever new technology — electric locomotives or EMUs — will be used for electric services, and, by implication the eventual fate of the existing fleet.

The scope of electrification will be:

  • Kitchener line: Bramalea to Union
  • Stouffville line: Unionville to Union
  • Lakeshore East: Full corridor
  • Lakeshore West: Burlington to Union
  • Barrie: Full corridor

There are no plans to electrify either the Milton or Richmond Hill lines, nor to substantially improve service on them. In Milton’s case, this is a direct result of the line’s status as the CPR mainline. On Richmond Hill, significant flood protection works are needed in the Don Valley as well as a grade separation at Doncaster. Plans could change in coming years, but Queen’s Park has clearly decided where to concentrate its spending for the next decade – on the lines where improved service and electrification are comparatively easy to implement.

The limits of electrification correspond, for the most part, to the territory where all-day 15-minute service will be provided. This will be the core of the “RER” network with less frequent, diesel-hauled trains providing service running through to the non-electrified portions.

One important aspect of the line-by-line chart of service improvements is that there will be substantially more trips (most in the offpeak) before electrification is completed. This allows GO to “show the flag” as an all-day provider and build into a role as a regional rapid transit service, not just a collection of peak period commuter lines. This will also give local transit a chance to build up to improved GO service over time rather than a “big bang” with all of the changes awaiting electrification.

Over the five years 2015-2020, the Kitchener corridor will see the greatest increase in number of trains, although many of these will not actually run through all the way to Kitchener. The service build-up will finish in 2017.

The Barrie line will receive weekend service in 2016-17 with weekday off-peak service following in 2017-18. The Stouffville line also gets weekday service in 2017-18, while weekend service follows in 2018-19.

Minor off-peak improvements are planned for both Lakeshore corridors in 2018-19.

Peak service improvements relative to today vary depending on the corridor:

  • Lakeshore East: 4 more trains by 2018-19 on a base of 45 (9%)
  • Lakeshore West: 6 more trains by 2019-20 on a base of 47 (13%)
  • Stouffville: 4 more trains by 2018-19 on a base of 12 (33%)
  • Kitchener: 6 more trains by 2019-20 on a base of 15 (40%)
  • Milton: 6 more trains by 2019-20 on a base of 18 (33%)
  • Barrie: 2 more trains in 2019-20 on a base of 14 (14%)
  • Richmond Hill: 4 more trains by 2018-19 on a base of 8 (50%)
  • Total: 32 more trains by 2019-20 on a base of 159 (20%)

Other than making trains longer (where this has not already occurred), that’s the limitation of peak period growth for the next five years on GO Transit. This has important implications for projections of greater transit commuting along the GO corridors, and especially for the shoulder areas within Toronto itself that lie along GO routes, but also face capacity and travel time issues with the local transit system. Unlocking gridlock may be the goal, but the rate of service growth could not be described as “aggressive” especially against the background growth in population and jobs.

This will, or at least should, lead to renewed discussion both of rapid transit capacity within Toronto, and on how GO Transit will address growth beyond 2020. Where should new capacity be provided? What are the realistic upper bounds for various options? How will Toronto deal with demand for expanded suburban subway service to handle growth in the 905?

It is quite clear from the electrification dates that an electric SmartTrack is not going to start running soon, and with frequent all-day service to Bramalea, Aurora and Unionville using diesel-hauled trains operating well before electrification is completed, one might wonder just where SmartTrack as a separate “local” service will fit in.

Beyond these questions lie the more complex issues of travel that is not bound for Toronto’s core. “Gridlock” is commonly cited as the rational for transit spending, and yet this spending does little to improve travel anywhere beyond existing corridors to central Toronto. Demand in the GTHA is not conveniently focused on a few points, not even on Pearson Airport which is a major centre, and single-route improvements do not address the diverse travel patterns of GTHA commuters.

Ontario will spend billions on transit in the coming decade, and sticker-shock has already set in with the huge amount of infrastructure needed. Even this is only a start and the work to truly address travel requirements of the coming decades is only just starting.