Cherry Street Day One

The first day of revenue service was beautiful and warm, ideal for tourists and photographers, although service on the 514 Cherry was quite spotty at times with cars running bunched and off schedule.

For anyone trying to find a 514, there was the added challenge that the TTC export to NextBus has not been set up correctly, and the “main” route appears to be from Queen and Broadview to Dufferin Loop with a spur down Cherry Street. This fouls up predictions for stops on the “spur”, and the clever rider must know enough to look nearby on King to see when a car might show up. Then there is the small matter of the claim that the car goes to “Cherry Beach” which I mentioned in yesterday’s post.

An additional issue was the absence of a low floor car among the five scheduled vehicles, although 4421 was running as an extra all day. The problem appears to be that the TTC neglected to flag crews for this route as requiring Flexity training, and so the operators generally can only drive the older high-floor cars. With 4421 running as an extra, it does not appear on NextBus and anyone needing an accesible vehicle faces an indeterminate, long wait while the car makes its 80 minute round trip. This extra will also be crewed with operators on overtime, rather than as a piece of work integrated into the normal schedule.

Yes, we all know there are not yet enough Flexitys to flesh out all of the service, but like 509 Harbourfront, the 514 could be operated with a few cars sprinkled in (well spaced, please) between the CLRVs as a first step. The TTC made a big point of flagging this as a new accessible service, but have been back peddling saying “when we get more new cars”. That’s not what Chair Josh Colle said in the press release two days ago:

“The 514 Cherry Streetcar will reduce congestion and provide more frequent service along the central section of TTC’s busiest surface route, the 504 King. The new route will be served by the low-floor streetcars, which will provide a more comfortable experience for our customers, and add a new east-west accessible route.” – TTC Chair Josh Colle

4421 was the first car out of Dufferin Loop providing an early trip at about 7:30 am, while 4044 was the first car from Distillery Loop at 7:45.

Another aspect of the route that is not working is the “transit priority” part of the signal system. Yes, there are transit signals, but they cycle through whether a streetcar is anywhere in sight or not. This is particularly annoying at King & Sumach which is a multi-phase signal that now includes eastbound and northbound “white bar” call ons for streetcars. These operate whether they are needed or not, and steal green time that could be used for King Street itself where the 504 cars spend considerable time awaiting their signals.

Although the TTC took several stops served by the 514 (and 504) out of service on June 19, they did little to flag this situation at the stops. Old pole cards, some falling off or visible only from one direction of approach, were all that told people the stops were not in service. The usual TTC signs for out of service stops, so commonly seen for construction projects and diversions, were nowhere to be found, and many riders were waiting at the stops (which were served by considerate operators). Some of the streetcars continue to announce these stops, and they remain in the stop list on NextBus and on the TTC’s schedule pages.

Finally, the shelters installed on Cherry Street are of a smaller type that was supposed to have been discontinued as they provide no “shelter” at all. An example is in the photo at Front Street below beside the former Canary Restaurant.

A lot of this may seem like small change, but collectively there is a lack of attention to detail especially on a new route’s launch where current, accurate info should be the easiest to provide. These are the details that annoy riders because the system and its “customer service” cannot be relied on.

The line is quite photogenic, and the real shame is that there is so little of it. When or if the planned Waterfront East streetcar and the link of Cherry under the rail corridor and into the Port Lands will happen is anyone’s guess.

Finally, there has been some discussion on Twitter about the absence of a stop northbound on Sumach at King. The reason for this is evident when one looks at a Flexity sitting where the stop should be: the sidewalk lip is some distance from the car and does not provide the sort of platform one would expect. This creates a safety hazard were this used as a stop, and probably interferes with operation of the wheelchair ramp. In the absence of a stop (and without a sympathetic operator), north to eastbound transfers (514 to 504) must be made at the next stop west on King at Sackville. This is not the most intuitive arrangement for riders, and the configuration of the sidewalk at Sumach should be corrected as soon as possible.

Kvetching About 512 St. Clair

The opponents of the 512 St. Clair streetcar right-of-way don’t miss any opportunity to slag the line. The TTC doesn’t help when it does not fully explain what is going on with this summer’s construction projects, and paints the work primarily as “accessibility” and “new streetcar” related.

A common complaint in Toronto is that nobody co-ordinates construction projects. Well, for those who bother to pay attention to the announcements of such things, co-ordination on a large scale is happening, and St. Clair is part of it. Many projects fit together like a jigsaw puzzle this summer.

  • St. Clair Station bus and streetcar loops require structural repairs that will take from now until late in the year. This has nothing to do with accessibility (the station already is accessible), nor with overhead changes for new streetcars (new pantograph-friendly overhead has been in place since 2011).
  • The ramps leading into St. Clair West Station Loop were not rebuilt during the line’s shutdown a few years ago (this is the only part that was, for some reason, omitted). They are the original installation from the Spadina subway opening and require reconstruction.
  • St. Clair West Station is not accessible, and work on this will begin this summer. However, that has nothing to do with the shutdown for all bus and streetcar routes serving the loop.
  • The overhead within St. Clair West Station must be converted for pantograph operation, but this is work that would typically be done overnight, or at most over a weekend.
  • Presto conversion of St. Clair West Station can be conveniently done while the station is closed, but did not strictly require it.
  • Reconstruction of small sections of the islands on St. Clair is required for proper operation of the low floor cars’ boarding ramps, but these island also require electrical fit-outs for Presto. This work is similar to that was done on Spadina.
  • Track construction at College & Bathurst prevents streetcar operation including access to St. Clair (although if this were the only issue, it would be handled by storing cars at Hillcrest or on the line as has been done in the past). The controlling factor is the ramp construction at St. Clair West. The Bathurst trackage will re-open in mid-July.
  • Work on College Street West by Toronto Water and as part of local street improvements for the BIA requires partial street closures. This has been co-ordinated with TTC trackwork at Bathurst and at Lansdowne.

In all of this, if one wants to knock the TTC, one might ask “why were the islands not done sooner” and “why were the ramps at St. Clair West left so long”. As for the islands, that’s partly a head-scratcher for accessibility, but Presto is a net new requirement. I suspect that the work could be done in under two months, but co-ordination with the other projects makes for one shutdown, not two. The ramps are another matter, and I have never heard an explanation of why this work was not done during the previous shutdown.

As for the replacement bus service running in mixed traffic, yes, that is going to be annoying. TTC does not want to use the streetcar right-of-way understandably because of narrow clearances with the overhead poles and the meandering path the lanes take. Those poles (notably absent on Spadina) were put in despite many questions to the TTC (including from emergency services) about the need for this design. What was really happening was that there was a boffin in the consulting firm working on the new streetscape who wanted the street lighting poles (which traditionally held up the TTC’s overhead) to be spaced further apart than TTC requirements. In the fullness of time, this wasn’t how the street was built (because the illumination level would not have been adequate), but meanwhile the TTC insisted on its own centre median poles except where buses share the right-of-way west of Bathurst.

It wasn’t a technical requirement, it was the combined stupidity of the street designer and the TTC’s sticking with a design that they no longer required. The result we have is a streetcar right-of-way that cannot host temporary bus service.

There is a lot to complain about with the TTC, and I am often criticized for writing more about the negatives than the positives. However, this is a case where a great deal of work has been collected into one set of shutdowns, and that is precisely the sort of thing the TTC and City should be doing.

Toronto Faces Hard Transit Choices in 2017 Budget

On June 22, 2016, Toronto’s Budget Committee will consider the City Manager’s opening salvo in the 2017 Budget Process. This report signals a dark time for transit funding on both the Operating and Capital fronts.

Operating Budget

On the Operating side, the starting point for the budget is an assumed “inflationary” increase in the residential tax rate of 2% in line with Mayor Tory’s stated policy. This will yield $52 million in new revenue, small change beside an overall $11 billion budget. Property taxes account for about 1/3 of the City’s total revenue, and so a 2% increase in the tax represents only a .67% increase against the overall budget with the balance to come from other sources. Also, because of the ongoing rebalancing of commercial and residential rates, the commercial tax goes up by only .67% (one third of the residential rate). This pattern will continue until about 2020.

Other revenue growth comes from increased assessment (mainly new buildings) and the Land Transfer Tax.

The largest single jump in expenses lies with the TTC’s budget, $178 million. This combines the effects of service improvements (some of which carry over from 2016, but now for a full 12 months), increases in base costs for materials and labour, and the implementation of new services or functions that bring unavoidable new costs. These include the transition to Presto and the ramping up of operating expenses for the Spadina subway extension due to open late in 2017, but with pre-opening costs that will accrue earlier.

Costs broken out in the report include:

  • $136 million for base TTC costs (existing operations and provisions for growth)
  • $42 million for Presto, annualization of changes made in 2016, and effect of new assets coming into use (the TYSSE)

Presto was supposed to be cost-neutral, but during the transitional period, the TTC will bear many costs of the old fare collection system as well as all of the cost of the new one. It remains to be seen whether this will ever balance out considering the TTC’s plan to redeploy Station Collectors for Customer Service purposes within stations. TTC staff have not produced a detailed report showing the costs and savings of old versus new systems, identified whether available savings are being achieved, or when they might occur.

An additional pressure on the TTC is the projected shortfall in 2016 fare revenue of $25 million. This could be offset by deferral of service improvements intended to handle growth, but also intended to reduce crowding and make the system more attractive. A detailed report on ridership is expected at the TTC’s July 11 Board meeting. The City Manager provides for $12 million as the cost of lower 2017 revenue compared with 2016, and this is additional to the $178 million above.

The City Manager recommends that Council select one of three options:

a) Across the Board budget reduction target of -2.6% net below the 2016 Approved Net Operating Budget for all City Programs and Agencies; or
b) A budget reduction target of -5.1% net below the 2016 Approved Net Operating Budget for all City Programs and Agencies and a 0% net increase budget target for Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto Police Service and Toronto Community Housing that maintains 2017 funding equal to their 2016 Approved Net Budget; or
c) A budget reduction target of -3.8% net below the 2016 Approved Net Operating Budget for City Programs and Agencies; a budget reduction target of -4.1% for the Toronto Transit Commission to absorb incremental debt servicing for its capital costs and a budget reduction of a 0% increase for the Toronto Police Service and Toronto Community Housing that maintains 2017 funding equal to their respective 2016 Approved Net Budget.  [p. 3]

In the TTC’s case, it is important to remember that the “Net Operating Budget” is much smaller than the total budget because of City subsidies. For 2016, the subsidy was made up of:

  • $493.6 million from the City (which in turn includes $90 million of Provincial gas tax)
  • $1.0 million from the City’s TTC Stabilization Reserve

If the subsidy is flat-lined for 2017, this would set it at $493.6 million plus whatever other reserves might be available. A 2.6% reduction translates to $12.83 million, and a 4.1% cut would be $20.24 million. This would be on top of the TTC’s need to find $178 million for 2017 operations, and the $12 million provision for lost fare revenue.

Note that this is only the subsidy for the “conventional” transit service. Wheel-Trans faces its own pressures from building demand and new mandated eligibility criteria, and there is no indication of how the City, which funds almost the entire WT operation, plans to pay for this.

Of the proposals, the third is most troubling because it requires a shift of capital debt costs from the City to the TTC Operating Budget. For 2017, this would take $25 million out of money available for service or require an offsetting fare increase. It is ironic that one tenet of the City Manager’s budget direction is:

The “offloading” of expenses to other City Programs and Agencies will not be accepted. [p. 13]

Clearly the transfer of capital costs now borne by the City generally to riders does not count as “offloading” in his mind.

The preliminary City budget includes $12 million for additional TTC fare revenue which, in an era of low or no ridership growth, would translate to a comparable increase in existing fares. The probable TTC fare revenue for 2016 is $1.15 billion [TTC CEO’s Report May 2016, p. 47]. A $12 million bump implies a 1% fare increase, or only a few cents per ride. If there is to be any fare increase, this is an impractical amount. Based on projected ridership of 544 million, the average fare for the year will be $2.11. At the very least, the increase would be 5¢ on the adult fare (corresponding less on discount fares) yielding at least 2.5% more revenue, not 1%. This is still small change compared to the shortfall.

The effect of an ongoing low tax policy is that actual spending per capita, adjusted for inflation, would fall by 8.6% over the coming five years. Many accounting tricks that have papered over the holes in past budgets are no longer available.

It will be difficult to find the necessary savings to keep spending in line with revenue growth without relying on one-time revenue sources or other unsustainable measures such as the deferral of necessary expenses. While the City has faced budget challenges in the past, mitigating measures which helped balance the budget previously are either not expected to reoccur (e.g. large MLTT revenue growth, social assistance savings) or are no longer feasible (e.g. deferring TCHC pressures, deferring capital projects). As a result, the level of expenditure restraint anticipated for 2017 will require all City Programs, Agencies and Accountability Offices to bring forward 2017 Budgets that reflect innovative and transformative service delivery and service adjustments in order to meet the fiscal, service and tax expectations of Council.  [pp. 10-11]

New “revenue tools” are in the news again, although just how aggressive Council will actually be to pursue them is quite another matter. The last time this came up, Council rejected every single new revenue source available to them. The closer we get to the 2018 election cycle, the more averse Council becomes to anything that smells like a “tax grab”. Such is the legacy of the Ford era where City revenue is only considered as a wasted tax, as gravy, not as enabling much needed and valued services.

The City Manager notes:

It should be noted that revenue tools currently under study may not be available for the 2017 Budget process and should not be considered as providing any significant relief for 2017. Should any become available for use, they must be considered as a bridging strategy to sustainable operating budgets only. New revenue sources must be considered for the sizable unfunded capital needs that have been identified as critical to maintaining reliable City service delivery and meeting city building and other strategic objectives.  [p. 14]

A change in the budget process for 2017 will place the decision (or at least a preliminary one) on the size of a TTC subsidy (and possibly other TTC policies) before Council much earlier than in past years.

In prior years, the City Manager and Deputy City Manager & Chief Financial Officer have set the operating budget target as the key guideline for budget preparation for all City Programs and Agencies in advance of budget preparation. These targets have been met with varying degrees of compliance and impact. Beginning with the 2017 Budget process, City Council must approve operating budget targets for all City Programs, Agencies and Accountability Officers.  [p. 11]

In effect, the Budget Committee and Council will decide how much the TTC will get before the TTC Board and its Budget Committee even meet to consider the issue.

For many years, transit policy debates have been hamstrung by a lack of information about policy alternatives. What would it cost to add service? What would be the effect of a change in fare structure? Where is the outlook for TTC riding, service and role as par of the GTHA’s transportation network? The next Board meeting is scheduled for July 11, and the TTC’s Budget Committee has cancelled all three of its planned meetings to date in the TTC calendar. So much for an active, public discussion of transit options.

Is the Board afraid to address these issues, possibly exposing a rift between what transit might be and the Mayor’s lacklustre support for improvements, or are they simply too lazy to do their job?

A significant requirement in the City’s budget process is the provision of a five-year fiscal projection. The TTC has resisted providing such information for years, and to the degree it even complied with the request, the numbers were the most basic pro-forma calculations simply scaling up existing costs and revenues with no provision for new programs or policy changes. Of particular importance is the matter of the net operating cost of the Spadina subway extension for which the TTC has yet to produce a number as part of its future budgets.

Capital Budget

The bad news doesn’t take long to appear:

Given the limited funding for City services, there is no additional financial capacity to fund any new capital works in 2017. As a result, City Programs, Agencies and Accountability Officers must submit 2017 – 2026 Capital Budget and Plans on a status quo basis. This requires capital plan requests to adhere to the 2017 – 2025 Capital Plan’s annual debt funding approved by Council as part of the 2016 Budget process, and projects be added in the new tenth year, 2026, that can be accommodated within current debt targets as provided by the Deputy City Manager & Chief Financial Officer.  [p. 2]

As mentioned above, the City is not even prepared to take on additional costs of TTC-related debt, and want to push this onto the Operating Budget where it will compete with service improvements and any fare discount policies that might be proposed.

New revenues may appear, notably from Ottawa, to assist with transit financing, but there are two major issues:

  • The first tranche of federal money, the already-announced $840 million, is for “state of good repair” works needed to keep the lights on, not to build new lines or enhance services.
  • The federal money does not represent 100% financing of anything, and if the City adds a new project to the list using federal funds, it must find matching funds of its own from a pool that is already empty.

The City Manager concludes:

The path forward requires both expenditure and revenue strategies; City Council needs to recognize the true costs of delivering its services so that services may be adequately funded. It is equally important to establish realistic financial and performance targets aimed at areas of growth versus those for reduction. The City cannot achieve fiscal sustainability through expenditure reductions alone. The City requires revenues that increase annually to help fund City services and hence it is not sustainable or realistic to constrain total revenue increases. [p. 15]

Budget Schedule

Operating base budgets are to be submitted to the City Manager by June 20 (two days from when I write this). A further submission including suggested expense reductions and any requests for new spending is required by August 2, 2016 [see Appendix 1, p. 22].

To date in 2016, the TTC Board has not had any discussions about budget or overall priorities for where the TTC is going as an agency. Budget subcommittee meetings, including one planned for June 16, have been cancelled, and a full Board meeting to discuss policy directions on April 7 was also cancelled. There are no public documents indicating what the TTC’s priorities might be, or even discussing options for future services, fare structures and priorities for the use of new capital subsidies. That issue was supposed to have been on the June 16 agenda according to CEO Andy Byford at a recent provincial funding announcement, but the info has yet to surface.

The Board will meet once, on July 11, before the August 2 deadline, and it is simply not possible to absorb the implications of the options or discuss policies in a single meeting. Even those of us who know TTC budgets in detail need time to absorb all of the information, and I count few of the Board members in that number.

In the midst of a debacle over the rising cost of the Scarborough Subway (whatever one’s position might be on that project), the absence of a wider context of the TTC’s future as a transit service, and of other calls for scarce subsidy dollars, is a dereliction of the Board’s duty.

514 Cherry Opening Ceremonies

The 514 Cherry streetcar had its official opening on June 18, 2016, although regular service will begin on June 19 at 7:45 am. The route will operate between the new Distillery Loop near Cherry and Mill Streets in the Distillery District and Dufferin Loop at the western entrance of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.


This is only the beginning of what should be a much larger network in the eastern waterfront, but work on that stalled thanks to the previous administration at City Hall. The impetus to restart on a serious basis will be funding of the Don River realignment and the active development of the land south of the railway corridor. Some idea of the potential network is shown in the following illustration from the Gardiner Expressway realignment study.

Cherry Street will be realigned south of the railway and will cross the Keating Channel on a new bridge including provision for streetcar track. New track along a realigned Queens Quay East will meet up at Cherry and provide the link to Union Station. Also shown (dotted) below is the proposed southerly extension of Broadview Avenue including streetcar track from Queen to Commissioners Street (out of frame below this illustration). Track on Commissioners would link east from New Cherry Street at least to Broadview and thence to Leslie Street and the southwest corner of Leslie Barns.


For the occasion, five streetcars were on hand:

  • Flexity 4421, the newest of the cars in service
  • ALRV 4225
  • CLRV 4140
  • PCC 4500
  • Peter Witt 2766

4421 laden with many passengers and a few politicians set off from Distillery Loop after the usual speechifying such occasions bring, and made a round trip to Dufferin Loop. On its return, the original four cars were still waiting, but in due course the whole parade set off back to the carhouse.

An amusing note from our journey was that the car stopped at (and even announced) most of the stops along King Street that are scheduled to be taken out of service on June 19. This will be the only time that a 514 Cherry car served those stops. No, we did not have a photo op at each one to mark its passage.

Already there is word that operators are displeased with the absence of a loo at Distillery Loop. It’s a shame the Canary Restaurant isn’t still in business at Front Street where streetcars stop right at the door. I suspect this would have been a favourite layover point.

The TTC appears to be slightly confused about the location of the eastern terminus of 514 Cherry. According to the schedule website, this would be Cherry Beach Loop which is somewhat further south across both the Keating Channel and the Ship Channel, a lot sandier, and notably without any track. Not even any Swan Boats.



The Scarborough Subway Fiasco

For the benefit of out-of-town readers who may not follow the moment-to-moment upheavals in Toronto politics, the lastest news about the Scarborough Subway is that it will cost $900 million more than originally forecast, and the Eglinton East LRT line has gone up by $600 million.

Updated 10:45pm June 17: The increase in the Eglinton LRT line’s cost may only be $100m, not $600m. Awaiting further details to confirm this.

No details of the components of these increases have been published yet, but here are the current (as of 6:45 pm on June 17) media reports:

  • The Star: Mayor John Tory accused of ‘political posturing’ as Scarborough transit plans balloon by $1 billion
  • The Globe & Mail: Scarborough subway cost rises by $900-million
  • Torontoist: The Bad Decision on the Scarborough Subway Extension Gets Worse

Earlier this year, the much-touted “optimized” plan for Scarborough changed the subway scheme from a Kennedy to Sheppard line stopping enroute at Lawrence and Scarborough Town Centre (STC), to a one stop extension whose terminus and only station was to be at STC. Money saved by shortening the subway would be directed to the Eglinton East LRT project linking Kennedy Station to University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. [See Scarborough Transit Planning Update]

At this point, the total project cost remained within the original 3-stop subway project’s estimate of $3.56 billion (as spent dollars including inflation) of which the City of Toronto’s share would be $910 million financed primarily by a 1.6% Scarborough Subway property tax over 30 years. The remainder would come from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, but their contributions are fixed and any overruns are on the City’s dime.

Material from this report reappeared in a March update on the overall transit network [see Developing Toronto’s Transit Network Plan: Phase 1] and in the May-June presentations to various public consultation meetings. At no time was the possibility of a cost overrun for the Scarborough network mentioned.

Meanwhile, ridership estimates for Scarborough were revised downward quite drastically with a projected AM peak hour demand of 7,300 inbound from STC station. About half of this would be existing SRT riders and the rest would be net new to the transit system. The May presentation makes a point of defending the lower numbers, but here is what City Planning staff said only a few months earlier in their March report:

Preliminary ridership forecasts … indicate:

  • The options are capable of capturing significant ridership. Daily users range from 115,000 to 147,000 in 2031. Morning peak hour, peak point, peak direction ridership ranges from 13,700 to 17,700.
  • Assuming the McCowan 3 option, the introduction of SmartTrack would reduce ridership on the subway extension to about 109,800 daily users and 12,600 peak hour, peak point, peak direction riders assuming 15-minute SmartTrack service in 2031. Assuming 5-minute SmartTrack service daily users would be about 88,200 and peak hour, peak direction, peak point ridership would be about 9,800 riders. In either case, the peak point ridership would be comparable or higher than that observed today near the terminal points of existing subway lines, with the exception of the Yonge line in the vicinity of Finch station. [p. 32]

During his election campaign, John Tory trumpeted SmartTrack as the one line that would solve every problem claiming very high peak and all day ridership based on service probably three times better than we will ever see. SmartTrack is now proposed with trains every 15 minutes, not every 5, and this has a huge effect on ridership both on ST and on neighbouring lines as the numbers above show.

Planners have been twisting themselves into pretzels trying to justify building a subway with the lower projected demand saying it wouldn’t really work at the higher level because there would be no capacity further downstream for existing riders (similar to the problem we now see south from Finch Station). That’s all very well, but the same planners sold Council with the subway concept by touting the much higher estimates that “justified” subway construction as ridership would be at the edge of what an LRT line could handle.

These two arguments cannot both be right, and it is quite clear that planning numbers either were gerrymandered or that they were simply the product of unreliable analysis. Either way, all future projections are suspect especially if they change conveniently to suit the political needs of the day.

Throughout all of this, there has been no change, until today, in the cost estimates, the other vital factor in deciding between transit options. To put this in context, other studies have turned on amounts in the low hundreds of millions to justify choice of a “cheaper” option, while other projects languish because they are “not affordable”. $1.5 billion is no small change.

Technical issues have now come to light that render the original cost estimates meaningless. According to the Globe:

An analysis in Scarborough showed that the topography would require deeper tunnels in some places. The stations themselves would have to be 45 to 90 per cent deeper than thought, raising their construction costs immensely. And the high water table of the area would require more concrete than expected.

This is not something that was discovered last week. Mayor Tory attempted to pirouette around the cost problems with the idea that somehow the “private sector and others” could find a better way to do things. However, the TTC’s CEO Andy Byford, in a restrained comment, demured. From the Star:

TTC CEO Andy Byford said a third-party already helped with the engineering estimates to look at creative solutions for tunnelling or station design.

“I welcome the suggestion of having a third party at least review our costs because we want to make sure that we’re being as efficient as possible,” Byford said, adding: “I want to deliver the Scarborough subway for the best possible price.”

But asked if it’s realistic to expect hundreds of millions of dollars could be shaved off the costs, Byford said: “I think that would be a challenge.”

Indeed, Byford is now in a difficult position because his political neutrality on the subway vs LRT question cannot survive. Any new money to build the more-expensive plan will have to come at the expense of something else. Already, the TTC Budget Committee meeting where a preliminary “wish list” of funding requests to Ottawa was to appear (Byford said as much during the announcement at Greenwood Yard of DRL funding) was cancelled, and we have no idea just what projects TTC management, let alone the Board, feel should vie for funds. At some point, Byford may have his “Gary Webster moment” at City Council where he should openly state a professional opinion. (The reference is to Byford’s predecessor who was sacked by Rob Ford for having the temerity to oppose the subway plan.)

Nothing has been published beyond the Mayor’s comments to the media, and if there was a prepared statement, it still is not available on his website.

The tunnelling issue noted above is one part of the cost, but there are likely to be others as I have already discussed on this site. The key point is that the TTC has many interlocking projects that must proceed before the Scarborough Subway can open.

There are five projects in the future on BD which have serious interdependencies:

  • T1 replacement
  • ATC
  • Scarborough extension
  • New storage facility
  • One-person train operation

Some are below the line and some are above the line. However, the dates and order of projects don’t align, so to minimize changes and maximize efficiencies the correct order should be:

  • New storage facility (ready for permanent 6 car consists)
  • New trains (ready for ATC)
  • ATC or OPTO (with ATC and OPTO ready trains)
  • ATC or OPTO
  • Scarborough extension

[Email from Mike Palmer (Deputy Chief Operating Officer, responsible for subway operations)]

The new storage facility will likely be near Kipling Station. It will be designed around the physical requirements of the new 6-car trainsets, and it will provide concurrent storage for the new and old fleets.

ATC (Automatic Train Control) is a prerequisite for the Scarborough extension which would be built using that technology. Conversion of the existing line to ATC would, strictly speaking, not be required before the SSE opens, but no T1 trains (the existing fleet) could operate on the extension without an expensive and short-lived retrofit. Hence the need for a new fleet sooner than might otherwise have occured.

OPTO is one person train operation. This cannot go into effect until the trains all have suitable cab equipment to allow an operator at the front of a train to monitor the entire train without assistance from a guard at the rear end.

That’s quite a shopping list as a pre-requisite to the SSE, and the TTC has yet to incorporate these projects fully in its capital budget “above the line” (ie: as funded projects). It is not clear whether the TTC Board or members of Council are aware in detail of these issues either, or how much they might contribute to the added cost for the extension.

As an historical note, in the days before the TTC contemplated a move to ATC, fleet planning was based on the premise that all cars for both lines were interchangeable. The result has been that because the YUS is now fully operated with TR trains and Sheppard is being converted, there is a surplus of the older T1 equipment whose only remaining use is on the BD line. With conventional signalling, the SSE could have opened using this equipment, but that’s not how it will be built, and the fleet plans are in disarray as a result.

Why the LRT line has grown in cost is a mystery. It is unclear whether this arises from design changes or estimating errors, although the scope for such error is much less with a surface route. Either way, the magnitude of the change is substantial, and as with the subway, threatens the credibility of a plan that was sold to Council only months ago. By extension, any other plan the City might put forward is also suspect.

Through all of the consultation, we have heard very little about SmartTrack beyond the probable location of its stations and the likely service level. What we do not know is how much it will cost to build the surviving chunk of the route from Mount Dennis to Unionville. Indeed, there is reason to question going beyond the Toronto border considering that the GO/RER plan will itself bring frequent service to the same area. What we do know about ST is that it will poach riders from parallel routes, and that service expansion beyond a basic 15-minute level involves expensive reconstruction of the rail corridor to provide more capacity. Contary to what Tory’s “experts” told us, the track is not just sitting there for the taking by his signature service.

Of the original $8-billion, some has been saved by discarding the Eglinton West segment, now proposed to be part of the Crosstown project, but we really do not know how much Toronto will have to pony up to implement the ST service.

If nothing else, this whole fiasco should be an object lesson to professional staff who tailor their plans and professional advice too closely to a political agenda. When that agenda is ill-advised, but pushed forward through sheer pig-headedness, the quality of planning cannot help but be tainted along with the credibility of the planner. This is a dangerous game.

Toronto, somehow, survived the Rob Ford era and there was some hope that a credible transit plan might be cobbled together under the new Tory regime. However, Mayor Tory has proved as intransigent about acknowledging he is wrong, that circumstances do not support his plan, as his predecessor. If Toronto had time and money to spare, we might say “this too shall pass”, but we have neither.

Propping up the egos of various politicians, including the notorious Scarborough crew at Council and Queen’s Park, is getting expensive. This is complicated by the fervour with which they exhort subway supporters to demand what Scarborough “deserves”. That too is a dangerous game as there are crazies out there with less than healthy wishes for those who advocate something other than a subway. It’s Trumpism on a local scale – giving license to treat subway critics as people who don’t matter.

During his election campaign, John Tory dismissed SmartTrack critics as naysayers who simply wanted to oppose things for the sake of it. That was bullshit then, and it is today with his comments about those who question his continued support for the subway plan.

On a personal note, I have been fighting for better rapid transit in Toronto suburbs, yes, with an LRT network, something all of the planners once supported, for over forty years. A lot got in the way including provincial interference in technology choice, and economic or political downturns that snuffed out hopes for good transit funding. A lot of Scarborough was farmland when this process started. They are still waiting.

King Street Service Update: June 2016

The City of Toronto is about to launch its review of how King Street “works”, and Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has an op-ed in the Star, It’s time to reimagine Toronto’s streetcar ‘King’.

Both for personal interest and as part of my work for the TTC and City of Toronto on the behaviour of streetcar routes, I have been following the 504 King route for some time using TTC vehicle tracking data. This article updates the consolidated stats in anticipation of the King Street project with data to May 2016, and looks in detail at some of the current information from that month including vehicle speed profiles.

For information about the creation of these charts, please see Methodology for Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.

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Analysis of Services on Wilson Avenue (Part I)

Wilson Avenue is served by many bus routes and branches, and this arrangement has been through two major reorganizations since fall 2015. In these articles, I will review the changes and the quality of service provided at various locations along the route.

Until March 27, 2016, service on Wilson Avenue was provided by 96 Wilson and 165 Weston Road North with most trips originating at York Mills Station.

In October and November 2015, both routes became part of the 10-minute network, and their schedules were reorganized accordingly. Blended service is provided in off-peak periods on the common section of the routes on Wilson Avenue between Weston Road and Yonge Street.

In March, this was changed to split off routes 118 Thistle Down, 119 Torbarrie and 186 Wilson Rocket as separate entities but on the same routes as the original branches of 96.

  Before                                      After

  96A Wilson YMS to Carrier Drive             Unchanged
  96B Wilson YMS to Claireville               Unchanged
  96C Wilson YMS/WS to Thistle Down           118 Thistle Down from WS
  96E Wilson WS to Humber College Express     186 Wilson Rocket from YMS
  96G Wilson YMS to Sheppard & Torbarrie      119 Torbarrie from WS
  165A Weston Road N YMS to Steeles & Weston  Unchanged

  YMS: York Mills Station
  WS:  Wilson Station
  • The 186 Wilson Rocket operates weekday peak and midday periods from York Mills Station whereas its predecessor 96E was peak only from Wilson Station.
  • All Thistle Down trips are now to/from Wilson Station only.
  • Service to Torbarrie remains peak only and its eastern terminus is now Wilson Station, not York Mills Station.
  • Additional 165 services operate into York Region with various destinations including seasonal service to Canada’s Wonderland.
  • The 96A and 96B services are identical over most of the route branching primarily at their outer ends just beyond Humber College, terminal for the 96E/186. The 96C/118 service branches off at Albion Road, and the 96G/119 west of Jane Street.

An obvious question here is whether all of this shuffling made any difference in the service beyond giving the various sub-routes their own numbers.

For those who want the short version, the service is a bit better, but still not very good, and it certainly does not meet the TTC’s goal of providing reliable service at terminals, let alone along the way. Wilson provides a good example of inferior service for riders notably when there is an attempt to blend multiple routes and branches. There is no individual location or time to point at, but rather an overall lack of rigour in provision of service throughout all of the routes at all times and days of the week.

There is no sign through any of the data here of an attempt to manage headways (or equivalently, to keep buses “on time”). In some periods and locations, many overlapping services could usually guarantee a bus to somewhere a rider is going. Inbound on Wilson, any bus will take you at least to Wilson Station, and most will go beyond to York Mills. However, for individual branches, simply letting the service operate as it might produces a much less satisfactory result with unreliable service, wide gaps and bunching.

These are services that would benefit from explicit “time point” dispatching with vehicles expected to leave points enroute, notably those where services merge as well as points where an enroute layover to achieve an even headway could easily be handled. A range of +1 to -5 minutes relative to the schedule on this route gives far too much latitude.

In Part II of this article I will examine running times in comparison with schedules for these services if only to deal with the usual “if only we had more running time” argument that has become the standard response to unreliable service.

The schedule summaries for these routes and periods are at the end of this article for reference.

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Scarborough Subway Ridership and Development Charges

The Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reports that City Council has approved a confidential settlement with BILD, the Building Industry and Land Development Association, to avoid an Ontario Municipal Board hearing that could lead to rejection of the Bylaw implementing the Development Charges intended to pay for the Scarborough Subway. The matter was before Council in confidential session on June 7, 2016.

Staff miscalculations on the ridership of the Scarborough subway will leave taxpayers on the hook for millions more, after city council voted to settle a dispute with developers.

According to a secret report before council on Tuesday, the contents of which were shared with the Star, the city’s lawyers advised councillors to accept a settlement with the group representing developers, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD).

The settlement, which reduces the amount builders will have to pony up to help finance the subway, is expected to cost the city as much as $6 million in lost revenues.

If the settlement is for only $6 million, the City should consider itself lucky because the calculation underlying the DCs is based on flawed ridership estimates and an out of date network design. Moreover, the original authorization appears to double count subway revenue with both a special Scarborough Subway Tax and Development Charges to recover the same costs.

Recent news of a 50% reduction in expected Scarborough Subway ridership from 14,100 to 7,300 passengers in the AM peak hour reignited political debate on the viability of the subway scheme. However, these numbers are not just hypothetical indicators of how the line might perform, they are integral to the calculation of Development Charges (DCs) that would help to fund the City’s share of this project.

See also my previous articles:

The formula to calculate development charges is complex, but at its heart is one key measure: how much of a new transit project will benefit existing properties versus future development. If the primary role of a new subway is to improve the lot of current riders, then only a minority of its cost can be recouped by DCs (and thus from future purchasers of new properties).

Toronto allocates DCs on a city-wide basis rather than assigning each project only to the neighbourhoods it will directly serve. These charges already help pay for many projects as shown in the introduction to the study establishing the level of new charges for the SSE.

The Council of the City of Toronto passed a Development Charges (DC) By-law, By-law 1347-2013 in October 2013, for the recovery of capital costs associated with meeting the increased needs arising from development. The effective date of the Bylaw was November 1, 2013. The recovery of DCs is on a City-wide basis and relates to a wide range of eligible City services:

  • Spadina Subway Extension
  • Transit
  • Roads and Related
  • Water
  • Sanitary Sewer
  • Storm Water Management
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Library
  • Subsidized Housing
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Development-Related Studies
  • Civic Improvements
  • Child Care
  • Health
  • Pedestrian Infrastructure

For commercial property, there is some justification to this because increased mobility makes travel to jobs simpler well beyond the location of any one project. For example, the Scarborough Subway might be held out as a way to stimulate growth at the Town Centre, but it would also reduce commute times to other parts of Toronto, notably downtown.

For residential property, especially for the large proportion of new development downtown, this link is less clear, and DCs on new condos can wind up funding transit projects of little benefit to the new residents.

This split is part of the eternal battle between sharing the cost of public services across the city and charging them locally or by user group.

In the case of the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE), the split between new and existing beneficiaries was determined by the change in ridership projected with the subway project. The benefit was allocated 61% to new development and 39% to existing riders. The ratio is high because, at the time of the calculation, the projected peak hour ridership for the SSE was estimated at 14,100 compared with a base value of 5,500. Both of these numbers are suspect.

The base value was factored up from actual SRT ridership of 4,000 per hour to 5,500 to represent the load the subway would have had were it to exist in 2015. That value of 4,000 is equivalent to a load of about 240 per train when the peak service was 17.14 trains/hour (3’30” headway) as in 2012. However, by 2013 service had been cut to 13.33 trains/hour (4’30” headway) to reduce equipment requirements on the aging line. That is the service operating today, although a further cut to 12 trains/hour (5’00” headway) is planned for June 20, 2016. Some of the demand that would be on the SRT travels via alternate routes, some is packed into fewer trains, and some has probably been lost to the TTC. What the ridership might be today were the RT not capacity constrained is hard to tell, but it should certainly be higher.

The high value for future subway ridership combines with the low value for presumed current demand to load much of the SSE’s cost onto new development.

The situation is complicated by two competing ridership estimates:

The contexts for the three estimates differ, and this goes some way to explaining why the numbers are so far apart:

  • A line to Sheppard will attract more ridership than one ending at the STC.
  • A subway station at Sheppard, in the absence of improvements to the GO corridor such as RER and SmartTrack, will attract ridership from Markham just as Finch Station does from the Yonge corridor north of Steeles.
  • Removal of the station at Lawrence East, coupled with new GO corridor services, will reduce demand on the subway.

There is no guarantee that the land use, job and population assumptions underlying the three estimates are the same, especially when the highest number was produced in the context of boosting the importance of STC as a growth centre.

What we are left with, however, is the likelihood that the level of DCs allocated for the Scarborough Subway project were based on the most optimistic scenario for new ridership, and a network configuration quite different from what will actually be built. If the calculation had been done on the basis of lower ridership numbers, the DC revenue available to fund the Scarborough Subway would have been considerably lower.

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A Cat’s Cradle of Transit Plans (Updated)

Updated June 6, 2016 at 11:30 pm: The chart of the demand profile for the Eglinton East LRT has been updated by City Planning to correct an error in labelling where inbound and outblound values were reversed. The new chart has been placed into this post, and the link to the source pdf has been updated below.

Public consultation sessions are coming to an end on the “motherlode” of transit projects (as they were described earlier this year by Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat). This process will soon bring a consolidated set of reports and recommendations for Council. So far, the presentations have been subdivided between various projects.

A major challenge for politicians, the media and the general public is to sort out all of these schemes and to understand how they all fit together. This is not just a question of how we will finance all of the projects, but of how each project and the choices made for it will affect everything else. Where typical studies in Toronto might have wrestled with whether a new line should go under street “A” or “B”, and where the stations might be located, today’s work requires understanding of how the network will evolve over time and how it will work as a whole in a few decades.

The process is complicated further by having municipal (City Planning & TTC) and provincial (Metrolinx) components, and the secretive nature of Metrolinx studies means that some vital information about its projects is not yet public. The Metrolinx reports are expected to appear on their Board’s agenda for June 28, and this implies public availability sometime in the preceding week.

The consolidated City reports should be available on June 21 when a briefing session is to occur at City Hall a week before the June 28 Executive Committee meeting.

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A Boost for the Relief Line

This afternoon, June 1, there was a small miracle at the TTC’s Greenwood Yard. Assorted politicians and transit management gathered for an announcement of transit funding, of new transit funding, and for that perpetual orphan of Toronto’s political scene, the (Downtown) Relief Line.

Steven Del Duca, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, announced that Metrolinx would be given “more than $150 million” to work with the City and the TTC on advancing planning and design for the Relief Subway Line to bring it to “shovel ready” status.

This is a substantial commitment of financial support, but more importantly of political support. Del Duca was joined by Mayor John Tory in singing the Relief Line’s praises as a necessary part of growing capacity on the transit network building out from earlier improvements through GO/RER and SmartTrack.

According to Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (whose Twitter session is in progress as I write this), study of the RL will focus initially on Phase 1 (Danforth to downtown), but will then shift to the northern and western extensions. The northern extension is of particular importance because, according to Metrolinx demand projections, it will have a major effect in offloading demand from the Yonge Subway and the Bloor-Yonge interchange.


[Source: Metrolinx Yonge Relief Network Study p. 31]

With both the Mayor and Queen’s Park supporting the RL, and with provincial funding of the design work, the Toronto City Council gridlock over transit priorities can be “relieved” for at least a few years. The RL will not have to compete with other schemes for City funding, and with Metrolinx holding the purse, Council will not be able to divert the money to pet “relief” lines for suburban Councillors. Indeed, the whole suburbs-vs-downtown argument, which is born in part by a desire to be at the front of the line, need not pollute the RL study.

The Metrolinx role is also important because the RL (aka the “Don Mills Subway” to many on this site) needs time to be presented for what it can do for suburban Toronto were it to run north at least to Sheppard & Don Mills via Thorncliffe Park. Many riders would have a completely new route to downtown comparable to the service now provided by the Spadina Subway, and this would be completely separate from the existing congested system. Capacity released on the Yonge line would be available to riders from the proposed Richmond Hill subway extension, and the reduction of transfer traffic at Bloor-Yonge could eliminate the need for an extremely expensive and complicated expansion of platform and circulation capacity there offsetting some of the Relief Line’s cost.

Del Duca acknowledged the considerable work already done by the City and TTC on this file. Indeed, had it not been for the TTC’s Andy Byford with support from City Planning raising the alarm about the need for a Relief Line, nothing would have happened.

Some comparatively short term improvements will provide “relief” on the Yonge line, but these will be backfilled by pent up demand over the next decade.


[Source: Metrolinx Yonge Relief Network Study p. 20]

Smart Track may shave another small amount off of this, but notwithstanding the Mayor’s enthusiasm, the City’s own demand projections published as part of the Scarborough studies show that SmartTrack has a very small effect at Bloor-Yonge.

Tory is still somewhat confused about just what Smart Track’s effect will be considering how much it has been scaled back since his election campaign. He was happy to talk about track work now in progress in Scarborough (on the Stouffville corridor) as being part of Smart Track, when in fact it is the double-tracking work for improved GO service that was in the works before he even ran for office. And he still talks of this as if it were an $8 billion project when a great deal has been lopped off of the project’s scope.

Finally, the TTC CEO Andy Byford is happy just to see money coming his way from all three governments on both the capital and operating sides (although, the latter more grudgingly from the City).

As for construction, that’s still some years off, and it will be important to think of the project in phases, not as one megaproject. It will take five to six years to get to “shovel ready” status, and the issue then is how quickly we want to build the line. A lot of transit capital planning lately has been hostage to constrained finances at both the City and at Queen’s Park. By the early 2020s, the Scarborough subway project should be winding down and spending can shift to the Relief Line.

Now in all this excitement, if only someone would treat other orphaned projects like the Waterfront and Sheppard LRTs seriously.