King Street Pilot: Public Meeting on May 18, 2017

The study for a pilot of changes to the central portion of King Street has reached the point where a recommended configuration is ready for public view and then on to Council.

Turnout for the first meeting at Metro Hall was huge with a substantial spillover into a second room, and so the coming session will be held in larger quarters.

Thursday, May 18th, 2017
6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
InterContinental Toronto Centre, Ballroom
225 Front St W, Toronto
(Front St W. & Simcoe St.)

Project Website

A media briefing is planned in advance of this event, and I will post details of the new proposals when they are available.

A Contrary View of Ontario’s 2017 Budget

With the release of Ontario’s budget for 2017, City Hall launched into predictable hand-wringing about all the things Toronto didn’t get with the two big-ticket portfolios, transit and housing, taking centre stage. Claims and counterclaims echo between Queen Street and Queen’s Park, and the situation is not helped by the provincial trick of constantly re-announcing money from past budgets while adding comparatively little with new ones.

There was a time when budgets came with projections of three to five years into the future, the life of one government plus some promise of the next mandate, but over time the amounts included within that period simply were not enough to be impressive. Moreover, in a constrained financial environment, much new spending (or at least promises) lies in the “out years” where “commitment” is a difficult thing to pin down, especially if there is a change in government.

Toronto has “out year” problems, but it has even more pressing concerns right now, today and for the next few years. Very little in the provincial budget addresses this beyond the authority to levy a hotel tax, and a gradual doubling of gas tax grants for transit over the next five years. These add tens, not hundreds, of millions to a City budget that runs at $12 billion.

The transit tax credit for seniors will cover eligible public transit costs beginning in July 2017 with a refundable benefit of 15 percent. Whether all seniors actually deserve this credit is a matter for debate, but an important difference from the soon-to-disappear federal credit is that Ontario’s is “refundable”. This means that even if someone does not have enough income to pay tax, they can still receive the credit. The devil is in the details, however, and the degree to which this will be available to casual, as opposed to regular transit users remains to be seen. The term “eligible costs” is key. (The federal credit includes restrictions on eligibility.) In any event, a tax credit does nothing for transit budgets because it adds no revenue either directly to the transit agency or to the City which provides operating subsidies.

There are two major problems with both Ontario’s support for transit and Toronto’s politically-motivated budgets:

  • In both cases, the focus is on capital projects, building and buying infrastructure, with little regard for the cost of operating new and existing assets.
  • Past decisions on transportation spending have locked billions of dollars into a few projects for short-term political benefit at the expense of long-term flexibility.

Toronto perennially assumes that there will be new money somewhere to backfill the shortage in its capital budget. The Trudeau economic stimulus plan was the most recent magical relief Toronto expected, but it came with dual constraints: Toronto gets a fixed amount over the life of the program, and Ottawa will not contribute more than 40% to any individual project. Toronto had hoped that Ontario would chip in, possibly at the 30% or even 40% level, leaving the City with a manageable, if challenging, task of finding money to pay its share for the backlog of projects. The Ontario budget is quite clear – Toronto is already getting lots of provincial money and at least for now, there’s nothing new to spend.

Ontario is hardly innocent in this whole exercise having meddled for years with Toronto’s transit plans, most notoriously in Scarborough where the whole subway extension debate was twisted to suit political aims. After leading Toronto down the garden path on the SSE, Ontario has capped its project funding leaving Toronto to handle the cost of its ever-changing plans.

Queen’s Park loves to tell Toronto how much provincial money is already spent for Toronto, if not in Toronto, and the distinction gets blurry. GO Transit improvements, for example, will bring more service into Toronto benefiting the core area business district, but they will also improve commuting options for people outside of the City itself.

Before the fiscal crash of 2008, when Ontario was running surpluses, the typical way to handle project funding was to hive off surplus funds at year end into a trust account. That is how the provincial share of the TYSSE was handled. By contrast, Ottawa operates on the pay-as-you-play basis, and only turns over subsidies after work has been done. Each approach suits the spending and accounting goals of the respective governments. In a surplus situation, one wants the money “off the books” right away, but in a deficit, the spending is delayed as long as possible. Further accounting legerdemain arises by making the assets provincial to offset the debt raised to pay for them.

To put all of this into context, here is a review of projects proposed or underway in Toronto.

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An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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TTC Updates Flexity Roll Out Plan (Updated)

The TTC has issued an updated plan for implementation of the new Flexity streetcars.

This is taken from a Briefing Note that details recent revisions to the plan plus details of the service to be operated on 512 St. Clair once it is fully converted to the new cars.

As of mid-2016, plans were somewhat different for the conversion of routes to the new cars:

  • By the end of 2016: 510 Spadina, 509 Harbourfront, 514 Cherry, 511 Bathurst, 505 Dundas and 501 Queen (part)
  • By the end of 2017: 501 Queen (complete) and 504 King
  • By the end of 2018: 512 St. Clair and 502 Downtowner (part)
  • During 2019: 502 Downtowner (complete), 503 Kingston Road and 506 Carlton

The 512 St. Clair line has moved up in the sequence with conversion beginning in September 2017 and finishing (assuming Bombardier’s deliveries stay on schedule) in February 2018. This route is now overcrowded and needs more capacity. The only way this can be provided is with more and/or larger cars.

The planned service level will use fewer cars, although they will be much larger than those now in service on St. Clair, with the result that greater capacity will operate on the route. The scheduled capacities shown below are based on 74 passengers/car on the existing CLRVs and 130/car on the new Flexitys.

It is worth asking here how many other TTC routes are in this condition, and why a report detailing the degree of the shortfall was not an essential  part of the budget when Toronto was told that the TTC’s planned service was adequate to meet demand.

What does exist in the Capital Budget (albeit in the detailed “Blue Books” which are issued after the budget is finalized) is the fleet plan. Although the timing of route conversions has changed, what remains constant is the planned peak vehicle requirement for each route.

In the table below, the CLRV and ALRV figures are the PM Peak scheduled service for various dates when these routes were operating entirely with streetcars and with no diversions.

Date CLRV ALRV Flexity Capacity Ratio
501 Queen / 508 Lake Shore Mar 2016 6 33 34 1.1 (*)
502 Downtowner Sept 2015 7 8 2.0
503 Kingston Road Sept 2015 6 6 1.8
504 King May 2017 33 7 24 + ALRVs (*)
505 Dundas Jan 2017 19 19 1.8
506 Carlton Jan 2017 29 24 1.5
509 Harbourfront May 2017 8 N/C
510 Spadina May 2017 16 N/C
511 Bathurst Sept 2016 11 11 1.8
512 St. Clair May 2017 22 18 1.4
514 Cherry May 2017 9 N/C

Notes:

  • The actual capacity change on Queen will be greater than 1.1 because many of the “ALRV” runs are now operated with the smaller CLRVs although there has been no adjustment in the schedule to reflect the reduced capacity of the route.
  • The capacity change for King will depend on how many of the 30 ALRVs that will be overhauled for service until 2024 are assigned to this route. The fleet plan indicates that these ALRVs will have to be replaced in a future order. If the TTC were to operate 24 Flexitys plus 20 ALRVs, this would add approximately 65% to the route’s capacity. Other gains might be obtained through transit priority measures now under study, but the actual quantity remains to be seen.

The total of Flexitys in the table above is 177 vehicles which, allowing for 15% spares (a relatively low level for the TTC which uses a higher number for its bus fleet) brings the total to the 204 vehicle fleet now on order. A five percent increase in the spare factor is equivalent to 10 more cars.

Additional cars will be needed to handle ridership growth, replacement of the ALRV fleet, and new routes in the Waterfront. The Fleet Plan provides for 15 Waterfront vehicles, but this number was based on a smaller version of the LRT network than may eventually be built considering the Unilever site development and plans for the Western Waterfront line.

The Fleet Plan notes that the 264-car combined capacity of Leslie, Russell and Roncesvalles will be exhausted by 2027 when a new carhouse will be required. This would not likely be a large facility and could be more of a satellite storage yard. The TTC will have to begin thinking about its need for more streetcars and storage within this decade.

TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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Reconstruction of The Queensway and Humber Loop (Updated October 20, 2017)

Updated October 20, 2017: Construction photos have been added for work on Lake Shore east of Louisa Avenue, and on The Queensway east of Humber Loop. A block-by-block list of the construction status for The Queensway has been added.

Updated September 19, 2017: Construction photos have been added for work on Lake Shore between Symons Street and Mimico Avenue, and on The Queensway at Windermere.

Updated August 31, 2017: Construction photos have been added for work on Lake Shore near Symons, and on The Queensway.

Through the spring and summer of 2017, the TTC will be rebuilding all of the track and overhead on The Queensway from the beginning of the right-of-way east of Parkside Drive to Humber Loop, and the loop itself.

This project also includes the reconstruction of the bridge over the Humber River which will be done in three stages:

  1. March to June: Work will take place in the middle of the bridge; TTC tracks and deck will be removed.Bearings on the bridge will also be replaced. A new bridgedeck will be constructed including waterproofing and paving.
  2. June to September: Work will take place on both the north and south sides of the bridge, with traffic moving to the centre of the bridge. New sidewalks, parapet walls, light poles and metal railings will be constructed. A new bridge deck will be constructed including waterproofing and paving.
  3. September to December: Work will consist of installing replacement TTC streetcar tracks. TTC will reinstate overhead electrical wiring to support service when it resumes. The top layer of asphalt will be installed along with permanent road lane markings.  [From City of Toronto Construction Notice, March 3, 2017.]

This post will be a repository for photographs of the construction work as it progresses.

Reconstruction west from Humber Loop on Lake Shore Boulevard to Dwight Ave (the point where Lake Shore straightens out for its run west to Brown’s Line) will follow later in the year.

The segment east of Parkside to Roncesvalles is planned to be rebuilt and reconfigured as reserved transit lanes during a project in 2019 that will also include replacement of all special work at Queen/King/Roncesvalles including the carhouse entrances.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday May 7, 2017

The May 2017 schedules will bring many changes to bus and streetcar routes across the city. The majority of these fall into three groups: construction-related changes and diversions, seasonal changes mainly related to the end of spring term at post-secondary institutions, and changes in the type of equipment assigned to routes.

Construction and Equipment Type Changes

On 501 Queen, buses will replace streetcars over the entire route from Neville to Long Branch. Two services will operate from Neville with one ending at Park Lawn Loop and the other running through to Long Branch. This restores the route structure as it was before the service west of Humber Loop was split off from the central part of Queen.

The 501L Long Branch buses will operate via Windermere and Lake Shore Boulevard as the 501L Queen bus does now. The 501M Marine Parade service will be replaced by the 501P Park Lawn buses which will operate westbound on the same route as the 501L, but eastbound via north on Park Lawn and east on The Queensway.

The 301 night service will operate as a through bus route from Neville to Long Branch.

To provide enough buses for 501 Queen, streetcars will return to other routes:

  • 504 King will be entirely operated with streetcars, with many runs using ALRVs (the two-section cars) displaced from Queen.
  • 503 Kingston Road will be operated with streetcars, and will be extended west to Charlotte Loop because Wellington Street is under construction. (502 Downtowner will remain a bus operation.)
  • 511 Bathurst will return to streetcar operation initially with ALRVs, but will transition to low-floor Flexity service as new cars become available.

Although 501 Queen will operate with buses through the summer, possibly to Thanksgiving, the planned intersection replacements at Coxwell and at McCaul will not occur during this period as there is too much other work concurrently according to the TTC’s Brad Ross. The dates and service arrangements for these two projects have not yet been announced.

The 505 Dundas car, which as I write this, is about to begin a diversion via Bay, College/Carlton and Church bothways for water main construction, will shift to a longer diversion via Carlton, Parliament and Gerrard beginning in May when the Dundas/Parliament intersection is rebuilt. The 65 Parliament bus will also divert around this work via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Shuter.

Temporary schedules were implemented in March for 510 Spadina and 506 Carlton in anticipation of extra traffic from a Queen diversion that was not implemented (510) and for overhead work on Gerrard that has been deferred (506). These routes revert to their normal schedules in May.

The 514 Cherry streetcar will now be scheduled for all low-floor service, and the weekday midday headways will be widened from 10 to 15 minutes.

In order to avoid unpredictable traffic conditions for Metrolinx Crosstown construction, the evening interlines of routes 5 Avenue Road & 56 Leaside, and of 51 Leslie & 61 Avenue Road North, will be discontinued. These routes will operate independently at all hours.

The schedule for the 34C Eglinton East service to Flemingdon Park will be revised to give operators more layover time at Eglinton Station due to construction conditions.

The bus loop at Royal York Station will be closing for about 18 months for reconstruction, and this will eliminate the loop now used by four routes. Services will be interlined on 73 Royal York & 76 Royal York South, and on 15 Evans & 48 Rathburn. The 315 Evans night service will be extended to Islington Station.

Construction at Coxwell Station has completed, and the interline of 22 Coxwell & 70 O’Connor will cease.

Seasonal Changes

Service will be improved on weekend evenings on 509 Harbourfront. This route is now designated as a low-floor route and will be operated entirely with Flexitys.

A Sunday PCC service will operate as an unscheduled extra on the 509 subject to availability of a car and operator from about noon to 5:00 pm.

Services to many campuses will be reduced to reflect lower demand during the summer term on various routes: 38 Highland Creek, 41 Keele, 44 Kipling South, 188 Kipling South Rocket, 60 Steeles West, 75 Sherbourne, 134C Progress/Centennial, 191 Highway 27 Rocket, 195 Jane Rocket, 196 York U Rocket, 198 UTSC Rocket, and 199 Finch Rocket.

Other seasonal changes affect 92 Woodbine South, 121 Fort York-Esplanade and 165 Weston Road North. Note that the 121 will operate to Cherry Beach during all service hours this summer rather than selected periods as in the past.

A Rose By Any Other Name

In anticipation of the TYSSE opening in  late 2017, the name of Downsview Station will change to Sheppard West. This allows the “Downsview” label to shift to the new “Downsview Park” station.

Has John Tory Discovered Life After SmartTrack?

With all the flurry of transit funding and construction announcements lately, Mayor John Tory added his own contribution with a media statement at that busiest of stations, Bloor-Yonge. What prompted such a high-profile event? Rumour has it that Queen’s Park plans to fund the Richmond Hill subway extension in its coming budget, and Tory wants to be sure he defends the existing downtown system against overloading from the north.

(See coverage in The Star and The Globe & Mail)

Specifically, Tory wants to ensure that funding will be available for:

Building new transit lines including the Eglinton East LRT, waterfront transit and the downtown relief line

This is brave stuff, our Mayor rallying his city to the barricades [cue inspirational and very-hummable anthem here] were it not that Tory himself is responsible for much of the confusion and misdirection in transit plans today. His election campaign promoted “SmartTrack”, a single city-wide project that would solve every problem and magically be funded through taxes on new development the line would bring. A “surface subway” would speed riders from Markham to Mississauga via downtown with frequent service at TTC fares. Nothing else (except for a politically unavoidable subway in Scarborough) was needed, certainly not better bus and streetcar service to fill all those spaces in between major routes.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned. SmartTrack has dwindled to a handful of new GO stations to be built on the City’s dime, some of which Metrolinx might have built anyhow, and a few in locations of dubious merit beyond their soothing effect on local politicians. With the demise of a scheme to run GO trains along Eglinton from Mount Dennis to the Airport district, the Eglinton West LRT extension is also on the table, but it stops short of its necessary end, the airport, because Toronto lopped off the outside-416 segment to reduce the cost. Whether Mississauga and/or the airport authority itself will contribute to the LRT remains to be seen.

Tory discovered that surface routes suffered under his predecessor, and vowed more money for buses. Toronto bought the buses, but money to actually operate many of them is harder to come by. The only thing that saved the TTC from widespread service cuts in 2017 was a last minute City budget fiddle to bump the expected revenue from Land Transfer Tax.

Meanwhile in Scarborough, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension vie for the same pool of riders, and it is only the comparatively infrequent GO service that preserves any credibility for the subway extension. Planners who once argued that an east-west line through the Town Centre precinct would better serve future development now compliantly endorse the supposed benefit of a single new north-south station between McCowan and the shopping mall.

Mayor Tory might now think of both ST and the SSE as “done deals”, although there’s a lot of ground to cover before the final cost projections and approvals by Council. Those extra GO stations and the express subway might still cost more than the preliminary estimates shown to Council, but there’s no more money coming from Queen’s Park. Indeed, the two governments cannot agree on how to calculate inflation in the provincial “commitment”, and Toronto thinks more money is on the table than is likely to be available. After all, Tory is in no position to tell a funding government how much they will pay out. Even those numbers are subject to change if the Liberals lose control of Queen’s Park to the Tories, as seems very likely in 2018.

Then there’s Ottawa and Trudeau’s huge infrastructure program, just the thing a politician who is desperate to make everything seem affordable could wish for. Except, of course, that the infrastructure pot isn’t bottomless. Once it is divvied up across the country, Toronto’s share is well below the level John Tory hoped to spend with his shiny new Liberal red credit card. Holding press conferences about the need for projects won’t change the amount of money available, and the federal program requires that municipalities, even big irresponsible ones, must set priorities. Tory’s plans also require Queen’s Park to come in with funding equal to the Fed’s contribution at a time when provincial budgets are tapped out, and Toronto’s ongoing game of holding down taxes rather than pay for its own services and infrastructure plays poorly beyond the 416.

What does the Mayor do? John Tory, the man who had a one-line plan to solve everything, now looks to a world beyond SmartTrack.

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