York Region Wants a Subway, Overstates Available Capacity (Updated)

Updated July 6, 2016 at 5:10 pm: “Yonge Subway Now” has updated their website to remove the double counting of capacity improvements, and to clarify that their claims about subway capacity apply to the peak point south of Bloor Station. The revised text is included in the main article.

Although in theory there will remain 4% of free capacity on Yonge south of Bloor in 2031, this is hardly the sort of margin we should be planning for. The Relief Line’s demand projections show that it has a major effect if it runs north to Sheppard, and it will have to be in place sooner rather than later to avoid deadlock on the Yonge line.

A related problem is the question of station capacity to handle passengers with trains arriving about 30% more frequently than they do today.

York Region has wanted a subway to Richmond Hill for years, and there is even a completed Environmental Assessment and its Addendum for this project.

Today, July 5, 2016, a new website extolling the virtues of this project went live. It contains the usual things one would expect about the growing need for transportation and how a subway will improve the region’s future. Unfortunately, it also contains a misrepresentation of available and future subway capacity.

But what about overcrowding you say?

  • Metrolinx’s Yonge Relief Network Study analyzed options for crowding relief to the existing Yonge Subway line by examining new local and regional travel opportunities and improving mobility across the GTHA. Key findings include:
    • Significant relief to the Yonge Subway line will be achieved through already committed transit improvements, including:
      • TTC’s automatic train controls [adds 29% capacity];
      • New subway signals [adds 10% capacity];
      • New six-car subway trains [adds 10% capacity];
      • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [adds 5% capacity]; and
      • Regional Express Rail/SmartTrack/DRL will add even more capacity.
    • With the above capacity improvements in place the Yonge Subway line will be running under capacity when it opens and beyond 2031.
    • The Yonge North Subway Extension only adds 9% demand at peak period.

Updated July 7: The text above was the original version. The page now reads:

But what about overcrowding you say?

  • Metrolinx’s Yonge Relief Network Study analyzed options for crowding relief to the existing Yonge Subway line by examining new local and regional travel opportunities and improving mobility across the GTHA. Key findings include:
    • Significant relief to the Yonge Subway line will be achieved through already committed transit improvements, including:
      • TTC’s automatic train controls [adds 29% capacity];
      • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [diverts 1,300 riders to free up 5% capacity]; and
      • Regional Express Rail diverts 4,200 riders to free up 15% capacity.
    • With the above transit improvements in place the Yonge Subway line will be running under capacity when the extension opens in 2031.
    • The Yonge North Subway Extension has a projected ridership of 14,000 to 22,000, but is only expected to add 2,400 demand during the AM peak hour, at the peak point south of Bloor.

Let’s start off with the increased capacity for the Yonge Subway. The Metrolinx report cited here says (p 15) that the existing capacity is 28,000 passengers per hour per direction, and that by 2021 this will rise to 36,000.  That’s roughly a 29% increase, and is possible because of the new signal system which includes automatic train control. This will allow trains to run closer together, roughly every 110 seconds in place of the current 140 seconds.

Capacity of the new subway cars is already included in the 28k value as these trains have been exclusively providing service on the Yonge line for a few years. They no longer represent a marginal improvement that is still available. The design load for service planning (average loads over an hour, not peak loads on a train or car) for the new trains is 1,100 passengers. If trains run every 140 seconds, that is equivalent to 25.7 per hour or a capacity of about 28k/hour. Moving to a 110 second headway gives 32.7 trains/hour or a capacity of 36k/hour.

Traffic diverted to the TYSSE (Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension) at 5% of current capacity represents 1,400 per hour. This is in line with the value shown in the Metrolinx study (see chart below).

GO/RER has only a modest effect on the Yonge corridor because the Richmond Hill line is not part of the RER network, and other routes paralleling Yonge (the Barrie and Stouffville corridors) are too far away to have a meaningful impact. There is also the issue of the fare differential between GO/RER and the TTC which could discourage some riders from travelling on GO.

SmartTrack was originally claimed to be capable of subway-like service down to a 5 minute headway (12 trains/hour) that would serve Unionville and Milliken stations. However, we now know that “SmartTrack” will really be just a few more GO trains (part of the already planned RER improvement) stopping at a few more stations within Toronto, not the “subway like” operation some in York Region might have expected.

The Metrolinx study includes a chart showing the interaction of demand and capacity changes to 2031.

YongeNorthDemandProjection

The current 2015 demand is shown as higher than the actual capacity (31.2k vs 28.0k) based on the level of overcrowding now experienced on the line. The light blue dotted line shows the capacity before the new signal system is activated, and the solid blue line shows the added capacity. Even this will not be sufficient to handle the projected growth to 2031 absent other changes.

The TYSSE and other changes  are expected to shift 1,300 per hour from the Yonge line, and a further 4,200 would be attracted by GO/RER. This mostly, but not completely, offsets the anticipated growth so that by 2031 the “base case” demand is 32.3k, slightly higher than the demand today, but in less crowded conditions thanks to more trains/hour.

The Yonge North extension adds only 2,400 peak hour passengers and brings the line up to 96% capacity. Note that this is the peak hour average, and there will be some overcrowding due to variations over the hour.

This leaves no room for growth, but it also shows the paltry additional demand expected on a very expensive subway extension. Indeed, this makes the Scarborough extension to STC positively shine by comparison with 7,300 peak hour riders. The projected demand on the Richmond Hill line appears to be lower than the existing ridership of the SRT!

But things are really not that bad.

Those 2,400 are net new riders attracted by the subway in place of existing bus service. Total ridership will be a combination of then-current bus passengers feeding into Finch Station plus the 2,400 new riders.

Metrolinx shows that the “long” version of the Relief Line to Sheppard produces a sizeable reduction in projected demand on both the Yonge line and for the Bloor-Yonge transfer movements.

YongeReliefDemandEffects

If Metrolinx, Toronto and York Region are really serious about providing capacity for future extension and ridership growth on the Yonge Subway, then construction of a Relief Line is absolutely essential despite its cost.

Meanwhile, York Region should update its website to provide accurate claims about future changes to subway capacity. Blatant inaccuracy such as we see here are the marks of hucksterism designed to sell a project, not a professional representation of what is actually needed.

Update: The new version of the website addresses these issues, but I must wonder why the incorrect information appeared there in the first place.

Reviving the Scarborough LRT Proposal (Updated)

Updated July 5, 2016 at 8:00 am: Revised drawings for Kennedy Station have been added showing better detail of the the LRT lines and a temporary bus terminal. Minor textual changes have been made in the article including an observation that the scope of replacement costs for removing the existing SRT structures will vary depending on the timing of shutdown and the degree to which existing structures are adapted/recycled.

Updated at 8:45 am: The potential sources of cost overstatement for the updated LRT option have been summarized.

With the recently announced increase in the projected cost of the Scarborough Subway Extension, the question of reverting to the original LRT plan for Scarborough has surfaced again. It is no secret that I favour this plan, but the political environment has been so poisoned that discussion of the options is, mildly speaking, difficult. When the Mayor feels that he must imply racism in critics who are simply trying to advocate for their view of a better transit system, Toronto politics are at a new low. However, the implications of the LRT plan must be addressed on their merits, not on simplistic political comments unworthy of the Mayor’s office.

On June 29, the TTC issued a briefing note regarding the cost of the LRT option in the context of current events. The question here is whether the claims and assumptions behind this note are legitimate and represent what could be achieved with a “best effort”, as opposed to presenting a less attractive picture to give the impression that the LRT represents an unacceptable downside.

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