The TTC Board received an update from City and TTC staff on the status of major transit expansion plans in Toronto at its meeting of September 28. The presentation was largely delivered by Deputy City Manager John Livey with backup from Mitch Stambler, TTC’s Head of Service Planning. Also at the table, but notable for her silence, was the Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat. A contingent from Metrolinx, another agency studying transit expansion, was in the public gallery, but they did not participate in the presentation or discussion.
This session was a prologue for a report coming to Toronto’s Executive Committee on October 20, 2015, but a great deal of detail remains to be fleshed out. This proved frustrating for the Board members on two counts. First, the lack of detail prevented the TTC from making informed comment on the plans, and second, the process itself has largely bypassed the TTC Board and concentrated work at the City and Metrolinx.
To some extent, the TTC has itself to blame for this situation. During the Ford/Stintz era, meaningful policy debates at the TTC were rare, and the TTC ceded responsibility for large scale planning to the City of Toronto under Keesmaat’s department. At the political level, staying informed about issues is a comparatively new desire by Board members (not to mention some members of City Council) when the issues are more complex than a dumbed-down subways-subways-subways mantra. They have a lot of catching up to do.
Detailed reports on four major projects will come before the TTC and Council over coming months, and these will inundate members with not only a great deal of information but force some hard decisions about just which projects, and at what scale, the City should pursue. These are:
- The Relief Line
- The Scarborough Subway Extension
- Waterfront transit
- GO/RER, SmartTrack and TTC service integration
The situation is complicated by parallel work at Metrolinx, an agency with very different goals from the TTC and the City, and by the inevitable political wrangling over the relative importance of projects. Whether any reports coming forward from staff will be trusted, especially in an environment where Councillors and the Mayor routinely dismiss “expert” advice that does not suit their biases, remains to be seen. Equally difficult will be the question of whether the reports are spun, in advance, to suit specific outcomes rather than presenting “just the facts”.
One difficulty already lurking in the wings is the question of demand modelling. The University of Toronto together with City Planning is developing a new model for GTHA travel. This is much more ambitious than current models in that it covers the entire region and models travel over the entire day, rather than focussing on AM peak flows. The model also allows for route and mode choice by incorporating considerations of fares and line capacity (crowding). At this point, the model is still being calibrated and validated, a process that uses known historical data (from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey) to confirm whether the model generates flows that accurately mimic what actually happened. (The TTS is conducted every five years by UofT on behalf of municipal and provincial agencies, and the next set of data will reflect demands in 2016.)
Draft results for the new projects and network will not be available until October 2015, and a report on details will not come to Council until the first quarter of 2016. One suspicion is inevitable given this delay: is the “calibration” intended to produce a desired outcome? That’s a tricky question both because it speaks to the independence of the process and also to the way in which the model is used. For example, a model may well reproduce past behaviour perfectly, but that’s a known target and the context for it (then-existing transit, road and land use configurations) are a matter of record.
Future modelling depends not only on the nuts and bolts of the model itself, but of the assumptions put into its configuration. A well-known example of flawed modelling was for the Sheppard Subway in which unduly rosy assumptions about job numbers and locations gave the subway a projected demand well above what it actually achieved. The further one goes into the future, the cloudier the view becomes, and the presumed distribution of population and employment can involve political as well as basic economic dimensions. If, for example, the concentration of jobs in the core area and the polarization of high and low income housing concentrations continues, this has profound effects on future demand. Moreover, such concentration may not suit politicians who view their own turf as the rightful place for future growth.