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.]

The Menu

Presuming that a meeting is actually arranged, the greatest challenge for members of either Board who actually want to learn something lies with Management’s love for presentations. These are the enemy of real dialogue because they usually consume well over half of the available time, and are structured to point discussion in a way that favours established policies. It’s rather like a chef who spends hours telling you about the wonderful meal you are going to have, only for you to discover that there’s no time to eat it, and you leave after a few bread rolls and a half-finished bottle of wine.

Whatever the topics to be discussed, background materials (extant reports, etc.) should be provided in advance with the expectation that at least some of the Board members will actually read them. This will be a challenge for some, I know, but we can hope for the best. Discussion and questions should arise from an informed beginning rather than treating the meeting as a “Regional Transit 101” session. Indeed, nothing should prevent the submission of questions in advance much as City Councillors routinely make inquiries of staff for response in Council agendas. (The only danger here is the inundation of members with reports on the assumption they will never be read, a not uncommon bureaucratic technique.)

This is not to say that there is no role for management, but getting at information sometimes requires asking questions they would prefer not to answer, possibly because there are political issues beyond the purely technical side of things, or because they are more deeply committed to specific policies than they would like to admit.

Fare Integration

There are three long-standing issues regarding fare integration:

  • Nobody knows exactly what it will look like,
  • Metrolinx has long favoured some variation on fare-by-distance, and
  • Queen’s Park does not appear to be open to any scheme that will increase provincial subsidy.

Leaving aside, briefly, the question of just what scheme might be implemented, the gaping hole in all of Metrolinx’ published work to date is the absence of any details on how a new system would affect riders. That is not to say “riders” taken globally by the millions, but at the detailed level where some might pay more, some less. We hear a lot about “fairness”, but this concentrates on a small minority of GTHA transit riders who cross the 416/905 boundary on “local” services such as YRT and MiWay, not those on GO Transit.

Metrolinx concocted a hybrid scheme where “rapid transit” would be considered a premium fare service with fares charged by distance (possibly with a flat rate for short hops), and this would include both GO and TTC Subway operations. More recently, “LRT” has come into the list, although nobody has managed to explain why “BRT” is still absent. In short, the question is just what makes a service “rapid transit” and deserving of a higher tariff.

A pure fare-by-distance scheme also lurks in Metrolinx plans, and this would affect all journeys regardless of mode or quality.

But can any rider find out how these schemes would affect them? Is there a menu of typical journeys with before and after farecards for comparison? Certainly not in public, and I suspect that such a document would terrify any politician representing suburban ridings and wards.

Meanwhile on the TTC side, there may be a working paper on new fare options such as time-based transfers (the “two hour” fare), but this never sees the light of day because TTC Chair Colle (and by implication Mayor Tory) think that it would cost too much. The trade offs such as simplification (particularly for Presto) and benefits to riders who take many short-hop trips are obvious, but they are submerged beneath the usual rhetoric about fare subsidies and tax fighting.

Metrolinx treats time-based transfers as a local option, not as a fundamental part of its fare models, even though this is used throughout the 905’s local systems and the change would be a big selling point for Presto. But this does not fit into their bias for distance-based fares.

This is a good example of a topic where the problem of getting information lies as much with what is not “on the menu”.

“Do you have steak?”

“Steak is too expensive. We have only studied fish.”

“But I want steak. How much will it cost?”

“You really should try the fish.”

This is a central problem in many public agencies – policy debates are difficult if the underlying information never appears. Back in the days when David Miller was on the TTC Board (before he was Mayor), he attempted to get a report on how the TTC might encourage ridership. It took quite a long time for the “Ridership Growth Strategy” to appear, and, amazingly, it turned out that improving the TTC was not going to bankrupt the City. Actual implementation took quite a while too as there was always some other priority that got in the way, including budgets. Maybe next year. All that vanished with Rob Ford, and improvements are only now gradually reappearing under John Tory, albeit on a more modest scale than his press statements claim.

The public, transit riders and taxpayers alike, cannot assess whether a fare scheme is reasonable and acceptable unless they understand the options. We often hear about “fair” fares, but this generally translates to two fundamental points:

  • My fare is too high, and
  • Let’s make transit cheaper for the poor (but not if it costs too much).

Toronto will implement a “fair fare” program, but its target market is small initially. Even as (and if) this grows it will be of no benefit to students or seniors whose existing fare discount will be extended to new groups of subsidized riders. There is no additional discount for poor seniors and students.

In a back-handed way of saying that distance-based fares might not be a bad thing, there are claims by some that poor riders tend to make shorter trips and they would benefit from the resulting cheaper fare. This superficial analysis ignores a basic, long-standing request from advocates, that the high cost of multi-hop trips be reduced by changes to the transfer rules. The behaviour is called “trip chaining” and the idea is that someone should not be penalized for a stopover or for doubling back provided that this happens in a short period. A basic question nobody seems to ask: are more short trips (and trip chains) taken by the poor because they don’t have a car?

The flip side of this is the problem that poorer riders are forced to live further from their common destinations such as jobs and schools. This is an issue not just in Toronto but in all cities with a prosperous core area. It is ironic that a distance-based fare would be a great benefit to the comparatively well-off “downtowners” who can afford to live close to work.

Meanwhile, GO claims to have fares made up of a base charge plus a distance fare. However, their actual fares are greater for shorter trips than such a formula would actually produce, and substantially cheaper for long ones. There are valid (or at least defensible) reasons for this, but GO continues to subsidize most heavily those who travel the greatest distance. And they get free parking too!

Bureaucrats (and I say this as a retired public sector manager) are loathe to give out too many options because this “confuses” the politicians. A further problem is that bureaucrats are often told not to present certain options and to downplay their viability if anyone asks.

Both the TTC and Metrolinx Boards deserve a full public airing of transit fare structure options. The Metrolinx study has been underway for years, and the TTC has cited a “cost” of time-based transfers for at least two years. The options, however, never surface for real debate.

SmartTrack

Can we be honest here? SmartTrack does not exist. The Emperor’s new clothes are at best a few rags with a faded blue and green logo. However, far be it for either Metrolinx or TTC staff to say this, and a joint Board meeting is unlikely to hear this sort of thing out loud either. Both agencies continue to pretend that SmartTrack is a real thing, and Council has even “committed” a chunk of change to building several new GO stations that will have the SmartTrack brand.

There will not, however, be SmartTrack trains, only the already-planned GO service level stopping, maybe, at Toronto’s stations, which are rather fewer in number than claimed in mayoral election literature.

That’s assuming the stations can actually be built, and Metrolinx reports on this warn of difficulties at some sites. Other locations have low forecast demand, and City Council may face hard decisions about capital spending when the final designs come in. The City is, of course, on the hook for any extra operating costs GO will face thanks to the extra stations.

The wild card in all of this is the idea that SmartTrack will operate with a “TTC” fare. The deeply cynical among us might observe that by the time ST actually begins running, that “TTC” fare may not be what it looks like today, and that’s where the Fare Integration discussion comes in. If GO, ST and the subway are all part of a new “rapid transit” fare zone, then ST might be a TTC fare in name only.

Related to this is the matter of how much Metrolinx will charge Toronto if there is any sort of cross-system fare subsidy. There has been no discussion of this problem with all reports focusing on capital costs, not ongoing operations.

While the two Boards are mulling the ephemeral SmartTrack concept, they should also understand how GO’s Regional Express Rail (RER) and electrification plans fit into the overall rail network’s planning.

Just because there is a line on a map doesn’t turn it into a high capacity corridor. Part of SmartTrack’s folly was to assume substantially greater available rail corridor capacity than actually exists, or at least exists at a price Queen’s Park is willing to pay. These constraints, both on a corridor-by-corridor basis, and for the major node at Union Station, are poorly understood (consider how much debate there has been on the topic just on this site).

Meanwhile, the perceived importance of a “Relief” subway line adding capacity into the core crawls slowly upward in the political agenda. Even with RER and SmartTrack, whatever it might be, there are severe capacity issues on the subway system, and these will only worsen with demand growth inside Toronto and added by a planned extension to Richmond Hill. The “Downtown” label on a Relief Line was always misleading, artificially reducing the importance of more rapid transit to the core as a regional challenge and benefit.

These are fundamental issues in network planning for the updated “Big Move” and for any assumptions about subway “relief” using the rail network.

Metrolinx is supposed to be working on a revised Regional Plan, and claims to have been meeting with various interested groups. However, there is no published plan yet, let alone the political hot potato of a map showing which projects have implicit provincial support and which are consigned to oblivion.

Again, even assuming that the Metrolinx Board knows any of the details, they are unlikely to discuss them in a public joint meeting with the TTC.

Presto

The Presto fare card system is a classic “built in Ontario” piece of technology that duplicates functionality already in use in other markets. When it was originally implemented, as the official story goes, an alternative was not available, but the same cannot be said for the most recent refresh to “Presto Next Generation”.

Both the TTC and Metrolinx Boards need to understand the capabilities and constraints of Presto including the types of fare structure it can handle, and the capabilities of adapting to new payment schemes in the near future.

Presto plans to support contactless systems such as credit cards and smartphone apps, probably in 2018. This begs the question of the role for a proprietary card, or whether the medium term goal should be to provide a robust, flexible “back end” transaction processing system. This ties directly into the Fare Integration issue because “the computer can’t do it” should not be a phrase uttered in any discussion of new fare schemes. Presto is a technology to enable fare systems more sophisticated than the token+transfer scheme, but Presto should not be an end, or worse, a constraint, on its own.

For example, the concept of a “transit fare account” where usage is accumulated and then charged based on available discounts and promotions (much like a phone bill), should not be restricted to Presto card holders. The card (or device) one uses should be an identifier, nothing more, that links your travel to your account whether this is a Presto card, a bank card, or an app.

The current billing scheme on Presto depends on keeping track of usage on the card itself, and this limits discounts such as monthly fare capping to riders with real Presto cards. Credit card users pay a full fare for every trip. The “on card” storage is also responsible for the annoying delay between an online reload and the appearance of a credit for users because the update is staged, on a daily basis, through the Presto readers which will, in turn, update info on the card.

For its part, the TTC’s implementation includes an attempt to impose its transfer rules on a system that cannot possibly deal with all permutations. Leaving aside the not-uncommon situation where GPS data tells Presto that someone is paying a fare miles away from their actual location, there are many valid conditions that are valid transfer connections, but Presto will not deal properly with them. Riders should not be expected to fathom the rules and exceptions to when they should “tap on” at a connecting station or vehicle.

With systems in the 905 already using a time-based fare, it is clear that Presto “knows” how to manage this for transit riders, and extension into the 416 would be straightforward. This would also simplify cross-border integration if all systems used the same rules for the validity of a “fare”. Presto, for its part, would offer a truly new function for TTC riders who, until now, have little incentive to change, and are in fact actively discouraged from doing so by the TTC if they are passholders.

Time-based fares, of course, are of little interest to those who now travel with a Metropass because they already have unlimited riding. Alternative schemes for equivalent-to-pass billing include fare capping where the maximum charge per day, week or month is automatically part of the fare system. This would apply whether the “purse” is stored on the card (as at present), or if the trip history is stored centrally for later reconcilliation by a billing system.

The TTC’s plans for Day Passes depend on a shift to fare capping, and the same could be done for other time periods. However, this brings a potential revenue problem because riders who today don’t buy a pass thinking it may not be a “good deal” will get pass-level fare pricing simply by their usage pattern.

There is the small matter of the cost recovery demanded by Queen’s Park for their mandated use of Presto by transit agencies hoping to receive provincial subsidies. As contracts in various cities have come up for renewal, the original loss-leader fees charged for Presto services are going up substantially and cities (such as Mississauga) face higher costs for fare collection. There is no guarantee that TTC’s current fee level will survive the end of their 15-year contract, but then one might hope when that rolls around, better alternatives will be available.

Crosstown and the LRT Projects

One cannot help wondering how truly committed Queen’s Park and Metrolinx are to the concept of “LRT”, a mode Ontario sabotaged decades ago with the RT technology in Scarborough, and then reluctantly embraced during the David Miller years with Transit City. Metrolinx always saw the Crosstown line as an express link from STC to the Airport stopping as infrequently as possible (rather like an urban GO line). Meanwhile Toronto looked at the Crosstown as a primarily local service, an improvement on bus service with full rapid transit capability in selected portions (the central part of Eglinton, and the replacement for the SRT).

When control and 100% financing moved to Queen’s Park, the motivation was not quite as altruistic as some might think. If the province gives Toronto, say, a billion dollars toward the cost of a new subway, that money goes out the door and must be treated as an expense in provincial accounts. Any debt raised to fund the contribution stays on Ontario’s books with no offsetting asset, and adds to the political problem of growing provincial debt.

However, if the province owns a line, then that asset is on provincial, not municipal, books and offsets the capital cost and debt. This is accounting sleight of hand, but it underlies some of Queen’s Park’s funding approaches in recent years.

(A proposed variation is to ask municipalities to borrow in their own name, backed by a provincially guaranteed income stream that would help to pay off the debt. Cities don’t like this because it drives up their own debt load and exposes them to the possibility of funding policy changes. The way Mike Harris walked away from transit is not far distant in city memory.)

These machinations, plus the provincial love for “alternative financing and procurement” (AFP, another name for public-private partnerships or “3Ps”), leave Queen’s park spinning its wheels to appear bullish on funding transit while limiting its exposure to actual spending, at least on paper.

It is ironic that two LRT lines, those in Kitchener-Waterloo and in Ottawa, have been built with little or no Metrolinx participation (except for vehicles in KW, an arrangement of convenience) while Toronto flounders from one plan to another.

Crosstown Central

The surviving portion of the Crosstown line is the Eglinton LRT from Kennedy to Mount Dennis, with the section west from Brentcliffe underground. (There are also short underground sections at Don Mills and at Kennedy.) Construction is well underway, and this is fully funded by Queen’s Park.

The TTC was unhappy to cede complete control of this line to Metrolinx, and the Operating Agreement, such as might exist, is supposed to vest line and station operation and management with the TTC. Vehicle repairs, carhouse operations, and capital repairs to the line will be handled by a third party. This arrangement will not last forever, and it will come up for renewal periodically with an associated debate about where these responsibilities should lie.

Eglinton East

The eastern extension on Eglinton, which will operate as a separate route from the Crosstown, is planned to run from Kennedy Station east and north to the UTSC campus. However, funding for this line has vanished into thin air thanks to the combined efforts of Toronto and Queen’s Park where keeping Scarborough voters (not to mention the owners of Scarborough Town Centre) happy dictates that every penny go to the Scarborough Subway Extension project.

The fate of the Eglinton East line is unknown, although Mayor Tory hopes that some Federal money might come its way. The problem here is that the new infrastructure program is not a bottomless well of support for municipal transit dreams, and Toronto will have to choose which projects to fund with available dollars.

Eglinton West LRT

In its original form, SmartTrack included a leg from Mount Dennis west via Eglinton to the Airport Corporate Centre south of Pearson Airport. For reasons that do not warrant retelling here, this scheme was dead-on-arrival even before John Tory’s election. The original Transit City proposal for a surface LRT is back on the table, although there are machinations afoot in Etobicoke that could complicate its implementation. The one strong point in this project’s favour is that the concept of a major hub at Pearson has emerged. The airport has decided that having lots of transit might actually help achieve its goals for growth, and so Eglinton West is no longer simply an outlying part of a Toronto transit scheme.

In theory, the money to pay for this line will come from Toronto’s SmartTrack budget, but whether this will actually survive competition from other projects and/or cost overruns on SmartTrack stations remains to be seen.

Finch West LRT

According to the Metrolinx website:

Teams will spend most of 2016 preparing their proposals to deliver the project, with major construction to start in mid-2017.

This page is a tad out of date. Early work on tendering the project is underway, but 2017 construction start is very optimistic.

This project is fully funded by Ontario, subject of course to whether it advances to the point it actually begins before a new government at Queen’s Park cancels it.

Sheppard East LRT

The Sheppard East LRT, had it not been killed off by Rob Ford with Queen’s Park’s acquiescence, would have been open and carrying passengers by now.

It is the target of  combined forces of both Scarborough Councillors and of the Liberal caucus at Queen’s Park with strong support for a subway. This would fulfill Scarborough’s manifest destiny as the centre of the known universe. This unshakeable world view is responsible both for the Scarborough Subway Extension and the delay to the point of death of the Sheppard East LRT.

The transit file in Scarborough is so poisoned that any debate about an LRT line will hit a brick wall both locally and at Queen’s Park. It is very difficult to believe that anyone from Metrolinx (or from TTC for that matter) is prepared to be this candid about the situation, and as “dinner fare”, this is likely the most contentious item on any menu.

Who Decides?

The great irony in this exercise is that the substantive policy decisions both at the City and Province are not made by the Boards of their respective transit agencies, but by their political masters. At both levels, the focus lies on construction, capital projects with lots of opportunities for photos in front of heavy equipment and empty lands about to become big holes in the ground. Far less is heard about the quality of day-to-day service, or how growing demand for local transit will be funded and operated.

Within Toronto, the TTC faces stagnant ridership, but a good case can be made that a major problem is one of capacity – there simply is no room for more people to board. All the marketing campaigns in the world are undone by one long wait as bus after bus, streetcar after streetcar, train after train pass by with no room for a would-be passenger.

Regionally, growth in transit demand will place a huge burden on municipal governments. The existing market share for transit in the 905 is small, and so growth represents a larger degree of change than it would in Toronto. Moreover, with a small existing market, the political appetite for more transit spending is weak.

There is also the basic issue that “regional” travel is not only aimed at Toronto’s core, important though that is, and that transit’s market share cannot be improved if it ignores a major segment of regional demand going nowhere near downtown.

As GO improves its services, especially with frequent all-day operation, the park-and-ride model with its ratio of two parking spaces for every three commuters will collapse. No station can be a “mobility hub” if there is little mobility in the form of local transit to serve it. Queen’s Park’s attitude is that this is a local problem, and yet, at a minimum, Metrolinx owes everyone detailed projections of how local systems must evolve as the GO/RER network builds out.

Within Toronto, the overlay of a GO network on the TTC brings the question of how the bus network should be oriented. For example, should bus routes in Scarborough force-feed “SmartTrack” services rather than the existing subway/RT? What happens when the SSE opens with its 30+ bay terminal at the Town Centre? Will Agincourt become a ghost station?

This brings us to the challenge that as an informal gathering, the two Boards may choose to meet in private. This would undercut the value of a discussion where public statements can inform public debate. That may not be to Metrolinx’ or TTC’s liking, but if there is information to be “shared” this should take place where we can all hear what is said.

I wish the TTC Board well in their Metrolinx dinner dates, but fear that they are doomed to wait a long time for deep and meaningful conversations.

There will be a lot of fish on the menu.

30 thoughts on “An Invitation to Dinner

  1. Short on time to comment in detail, but the Crosslink paragraphs are timely and welcome. I’d been revisiting what I could find to offer hints as to what the federal Infrastructure Bank could/would copy and would learn from. The terms of a ‘consortium’ are important if it isn’t to be ‘too many chefs in the kitchen’. McCuaig’s ascent to the InfraBank is no accident, and Crosstown experience has to be part of the value. I can’t help but wonder if the Province won’t also decide to do the Relief Line as a Metrolinx project too, and bind it in with the RER and Crosslink models for operation as well as funding/construction model? Calgary and Edmonton’s move to low platform LRVs may also fit into that picture.

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  2. Steve: The transit file in Scarborough is so poisoned that any debate about an LRT line will hit a brick wall both locally and at Queen’s Park.

    The article is a very good read. Thx

    As far as Scarborough the LRT lines that should have hit a brick wall, already did based on their connection to the existing network. There is currently dialogue going on between the City and Province regarding the Eglinton extension LRT so your poison statement doesn’t reflect the reality of City support for this LRT line. The Provincial support for this extension remains to be seen but I don’t see it causing much trouble when its ready to tender or once the subway(s) show clear signs of moving forward.

    Steve: I am not entirely sure about this, and worry that Eglinton East will be held hostage to some game playing on the Sheppard subway option.

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  3. Perhaps I’m paranoid, but I’m suspicious of what is really the agenda: Dinner dates often turn into “Netflix and chill”….let’s just say I fear that one organization is still interested in absorbing the other.

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  4. I greatly appreciate your work Steve. This article is informative and couldn’t be found in any other media. You have taken great pains in your choice of wording and tone. The objectivity demonstrated, eliminates any rant I could mount (in the interest of Scarborough). Thank-you for your work and sharing your knowledge.

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  5. It was good to see that there are actually commissioners who read the reports ahead of time, make notes and ask pertinent questions of sorts. At least they are not all part of the cheer-leading time like Metrolinx.

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  6. Steve writes,

    “For its part, the TTC’s implementation includes an attempt to impose its transfer rules on a system that cannot possibly deal with all permutations. Leaving aside the not-uncommon situation where GPS data tells Presto that someone is paying a fare miles away from their actual location, there are many valid conditions that are valid transfer connections, but Presto will not deal properly with them. Riders should not be expected to fathom the rules and exceptions to when they should “tap on” at a connecting station or vehicle.

    With systems in the 905 already using a time-based fare, it is clear that Presto “knows” how to manage this for transit riders, and extension into the 416 would be straightforward. This would also simplify cross-border integration if all systems used the same rules for the validity of a “fare”. Presto, for its part, would offer a truly new function for TTC riders who, until now, have little incentive to change, and are in fact actively discouraged from doing so by the TTC if they are passholders.”

    Not that I didn’t believe Steve, but for my own education, I went onto the transit websites for Durham Region, Mississauga, Brampton and Oakville and – voilà! – 2-hour transfers for all these transit agencies are the norm. Plus you can even use transfers to transfer between some other transit agencies (not all, including GO and TTC, but, hey – *some*).

    Meanwhile, the City of Toronto and the TTC are, in effect through their inaction, nickeling-and-diming current and – more importantly – potential new customers because they (City/TTC) believe they are going to lose money by allowing a 2-hour transfer to all passengers. I know Steve has mentioned the potential “loss” cited by TTC brass if this transfer were to be implemented but I cannot recall if they have actually done a study where this number is, in fact, justified or if this has just been pulled out of a hat to scare councillors or TTC Board members from moving this issue forward due to it being a possible (likely?) financial black hole from which the City or TTC will never escape….

    I mean, the buses, streetcars and subways are out there anyways; the drivers have to be there until self-driving transit vehicles become a reality. Unless a sudden influx of new, never-before-seen riders appears aboard vehicles (requiring multiple *additional* vehicles) because they can now shop at various locations or attend an appointment and then visit other neighbourhoods “on the same dime” within the 2-hour period, I don’t understand the downside. Why wouldn’t you want to make the way your system works as simple as possible for the person who is choosing to use it? And there would be no issue with Presto (other than the malfunctioning readers, which is a current problem that needs to be resolved separately), because there would be a built-in cut-off at the 2-hour point and an additional fare would be charged.

    I realize that this requires the buy-in of the wonderful Councillors of this Great City. That’s Problem #1, because some of them have that wonderful penny-pinching Rob Ford-esque mentality of “Look, you can have great stuff for free!” * (*BTW, please *don’t* notice that we’re now charging you more for using City pools or playing fields or other public and recreational facilities while we keep your property taxes at or below the rate of inflation but still find money to repair the Gardiner Expressway). But that gets kudos from their constituents who buy into the lie. Seriously, though, why insist on making things complicated in the guise of being “fiscally responsible” ? More people using transit is a good thing – just ask drivers who complain about how many cars are on Toronto’s streets. And giving riders a clear window with regards to travel times means no arguments with Transit Inspectors and the ability to plan out one’s errands on any given day.

    As with everything transit in this city, why make things easier when you can make it hard?

    Steve: Please see my previous article on fare options. This contains an explanation of how the TTC calculates a potential loss of $20m annually.

    The TTC assumes that 4% of customers take two trips within a two-hour window. It is not clear whether the TTC is saying that 4% of of trips occur within two hours, or that 4% of originating trips have a second leg within the two hour window. In the latter case, with 545 million annual rides, that translates to 21.8 million “first” trips, and an equal number of “second” trips that would now be free. However over half of all trips on the TTC are taken with Metropasses, and so there is no “revenue” to lose for them. This brings the number of free trips down to about 10 million at an average fare of around $2 for a “cost” of $20m annually. However, if it is the trip pairs that represent 4% of travel, then only 2% would be “free” and the cost would be $10m. This has never been explained because the TTC dropped the option from further study.

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  7. Operation of the Crosstown should be under Metrolinx, same as GO. It will give people a chance to compare operations with the TTC and see how things can be done better. GO used to be operated by the railways train crews and their shop staffs. Many years ago it was all consolidated under one company with significant savings resulting AND better operation.

    Using the GO operator will give a chance to re-calibrate operating costs adjusting wage rates and rules to a more reasonable cost. No, I am NOT suggesting UBER or anything similar but, present union rates and conditions represent a significant operating cost. People would be surprised at some of the extras beyond an already high hourly rate of pay.

    A heads-up customer oriented operation would be an improvement over what we have now.

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  8. Steve said:

    “Presuming that a meeting is actually arranged, the greatest challenge for members of either Board who actually want to learn something lies with Management’s love for presentations. These are the enemy of real dialogue because they usually consume well over half of the available time, and are structured to point discussion in a way that favours established policies. It’s rather like a chef who spends hours telling you about the wonderful meal you are going to have, only for you to discover that there’s no time to eat it, and you leave after a few bread rolls and a half-finished bottle of wine.”

    This is the best description of presentation-malaise that I have ever read. Great way to put it, Steve.

    Thanks for the rest of the article too, superb overview and analysis.

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  9. Dean Girard said: Plus you can even use transfers to transfer between some other transit agencies (not all, including GO and TTC, but, hey – *some*).

    GO has co-fares somewhere between $0.25 and $1.25 for all transit agencies in the GTA except the TTC. The 2-hour transfer can be used between any GTA transit agencies except the TTC.
    Really, there are only three systems: GO, TTC, and everyone else (even though fares aren’t standardized).

    Steve: Please see my previous article on fare options. This contains an explanation of how the TTC calculates a potential loss of $20m annually

    I had a look at some of the underlying numbers for the $20M figure for a 2-hour transfer. As you’ve previously said, there’s a difference between 4% of trips and 4% of customers. Here I’ve assumed it’s 4% of originating trips have a second leg within two hours.

    In 2016, there were 538,079K trips of which 217,813K paid with cash or token/Presto. That is specifically $621.6864M in collected revenue. 4% of that is $24.867M. However, you can assume they save of paper transfers ($3,082,370.70 for three years from 2007-9) and generate approximately 871,252 new trips (using an elastic multiplier of -0.1). This brings the total down to $21.353M.

    However, the solution is to balance ridership gains with a fare increase to make everything net zero.

    Adult Cash from $3.25 to $3.50 and Presto from $3.00 to $3.11. This would result in: 324K lost cash fares (for price increase), but 78K new cash fares (new double leggers); 479K lost token fares (for price increase), but 252K new cash fares (new double leggers); and 21K new senior/student cash double fares and 69K for tokens.

    Net result: -9K trips; -$2K revenue

    Political spin: For 25¢ more, you can use the TTC twice as much (or more) within two hours. Seniors/Students get more for the same price.

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  10. According to a recent Metro News article, the federal government will provide $20.1 billion for transit projects, of which about $5 billion may be available to Toronto. The catch is that the feds will fund only 40% of any single project. This would leave Toronto to raise the remaining 60%, about $7.5 billion. (The 1.5% Scarborough subway tax raises $745 million; thus, $7.5 billion would require the equivalent of a 15% property tax increase.) The province is currently refusing to finance any new transit projects such as the Crosstown East. The article did not say so, but I wonder if the available federal money could be used to finance some of the Crosstown and RER with the money the province saved being used to finance other transit projects in Toronto.

    Steve: The basic problem is that John Tory keeps announcing “funding” for projects as if it came from a bottomless pit. Council and the public deserve a fair statement of all projects and anticipated funding sources. All. At the same time. In the same report.

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  11. Perhaps the hypothetical councillor, inundated by unhelpfully verbose staff reports, could find some place to crowd-source an effort to filter useful information out of them…

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  12. The presto roll-out is a joke. The majority of stations still don’t have vending or reload kiosks. In the evening rush hour, queues to enter downtown subway stations with presto cards are common. At Queens Park station, which only has 2 presto gates, I’ve seen line-ups go beyond the Mars entrance! Are they even close to being “on-track” to phase out legacy media at the end of this year?

    Steve: That is one of those questions that does not get a straight answer, but should.

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  13. Which entity handles the programming of routes into Presto? Yes, the GPS factor has many flaws but it’s also confusing when a trip properly tracks you but still charges you a fare that should be a transfer. For example, transferring from the 72B bus to Union Station. Was told this would be rectified by late May.

    I guess my point is that a 2 hour transfer should be strongly considered if “they” can’t properly program legitimate transfer points.

    Side note – after a fair amount of time on the phone with Presto/TTC and a few days wait, they only credited me for 2 of 3 times this happened.

    Steve: I believe that it is TTC that makes up the list of valid transfer connections. They are the ones who define where the routes go.

    When I consider how often they screw up route definitions for NextBus, I am not surprised that Presto would also be missing data.

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  14. When and where is the dinner? Are members of the public invited or is it as usual taxpayer money being spent for politicians’ and government employees’ benefits? I went to City Hall to use washroom for number two reason and there was a magnificent lunch (or “luncheon”) as they called it but when I reached to get a bite (having just made room in stomach), I was told that it was only for “dignitaries”. I was outraged – a taxpayer is not a “dignitary”? Apparently not. Please let us know when and where the dinner is and whether or not it is only for “dignitaries”.

    I hope that there is healthy vegetarian option available.

    Steve: As you should very well know, the concept of a “dinner” was metaphorical. You will not dine well on make believe food (any more than you will ride well on make believe transit plans).

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  15. Steve – As a follow up to your reply about route programming in regards to NextBus, knowing they are the prime source of data, is it wise to assume that most apps will be the same? Using the 72 route from my OP as an example, the evening northbound trips to Pape don’t appear using Transit Now beyond the 72C. Yes, one can see vehicles on the map but predictions simply don’t exist once the 72C rush hour service has ended.

    I apologize for taking this slightly off topic but feel it ties in regarding Presto route mapping. Who controls/pays for NextBus?

    Steve: Nextbus provides a generic service. TTC provides the data feed, schedules and “maps” of the routes. If the info from TTC is wrong or incomplete, that’s what Nextbus puts out. TTC pays Nextbus for the service, but is responsible for the data. Only if Nextbus fails to load new schedule info when needed can one point a finger at them.

    The situation is, I am sure, the same with Presto in that they provide a service, but the TTC is responsible for data defining how it should work.

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  16. Steve writes:

    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…It is ironic that two LRT lines, those in Kitchener-Waterloo and in Ottawa, have been built with little or no Metrolinx participation (except for vehicles in KW, an arrangement of convenience) while Toronto flounders from one plan to another.

    Metrolinx strikes me as an unnecessary and ill-intentioned middle-man. If they were a private company I’d have no hesitation to say that they are drawing out the current transportation crisis to exploit every possible penny of infrastructure money. I’m imagining the railway baron with a government contract who gets paid by the mile and takes decades to draw squiggly lines across the prairie. However, Metrolinx is a government agency. Cui bono?

    Steve: A fatal flaw in Metrolinx is that it is both a planning agency and a tool of government policy and promotion. Going right back to the McGuinty days, the scope of what became The Big Move was trimmed before it even saw publication because it was too expensive. Not that we didn’t need more transit, but McGuinty didn’t want a plan that “committed” more funding than he was prepared to put in the budget. And so we have “planners” whose recommendations are suspect, and an agency whose expansion announcements are made by Ministerial press events.

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  17. “I believe that it is TTC that makes up the list of valid transfer connections.”

    I’ve gotten the impression that for Presto they use a list of invalid transfers and everything else is allowed within 2 hours. You get charged if you transfer from the 509 to Union Station because that is normally done in the fare paid area (except when 509 is running buses), but you can go from Dundas station (to 76 without tapping) to 501L westbound to 501L eastbound to 501 eastbound within 2 hours and only get charged once.

    For problems with NextBus data, I had good results in the past with OpenData@ttc.ca

    Steve: If what you say is correct, then the TTC owes people an explanation of why they just haven’t moved to a two hour transfer rule already.

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  18. Dan G said: “The presto roll-out is a joke.”

    Indeed. The idiotic thing about it is that it’s not even being done on a station-by-station basis, but an entrance-to-entrance basis. For example, when I don’t take the bus to Kipling Station, I always use the secondary, unattended entrance. This entrance has not been upgraded to Presto yet. So having Presto is pretty useless for me (I wanted to get a Presto card, but gave up because of this reason). However, yesterday, while doing some business in The Kingsway area, I had to walk through the rain all the way to the primary entrance for Royal York station, because the secondary unattended one, which was right in front of my face, has been upgraded to Presto and does not accept tokens any more. Now I knew this already, so at least I didn’t waste time getting into the station and realizing I have to turn back. However, what about other stations which I use infrequently, which also have multiple entrances far apart – how many times am I going to enter a station, only realizing at the gate that I can’t use whatever non-Metropass fare medium I happen to have (tokens or Presto) since that entrance has already been upgraded/has not been upgraded yet.

    Not to mention the availability of Presto cards. A few weeks ago, they had a table at St. George station where you could get info about Presto (OK, very useful) and buy a Presto card. It was there for a day (or two). It’s probably the second/third busiest station (after Bloor-Yonge and Union) on the network, and I…can’t buy a Presto card there yet?

    The proper way to roll out Presto is

    1) Set a date on which Presto payment will be accepted *EVERYWHERE*. This means also being able to buy a Presto card at *EVERY SINGLE* subway station (not necessarily each entrance, but at least at the “primary” entrance to each station), and being able to fill up a Presto card everywhere where it was possible to previously buy tokens or passes (if there was a token/Metropass vending machine there, there should be a Presto refill machine there).

    2) Until that date, make sure there are *ZERO CHANGES* to the types of fare media accepted at current entry point locations to the TTC (e.g. if I can pay with tokens there today, I should be able to pay until the full Presto roll-out date there; if I can pay with cash, I should be able to pay with cash until that date, etc.).

    3) Continue accepting old fare media as under 2) for 6 months after the Presto full roll-out date. Start restricting ability to buy it say 3 months after the full roll-out date.

    4) Continue to accept old fare media at restricted locations, or allow it to be refunded, for another 6 months after that.

    Steve: I cannot help observing that this conversion project, which is driven by the TTC, mocks the sort of “Customer Service” they talk about so much. It is appalling that Presto cards are not available for sale by Station Collectors, but for a fee, if they have any, at the news stands.

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  19. I like Presto, but the TTC treats it like some external matter unrelated to them. Presto is not my bank card. If the debit machine fails, I may call my bank. But Presto is the de facto TTC fare medium. I see many times that people have trouble loading credits to their Presto card at stations. The collectors’ response is always to call some 1-800 number. They cannot treat it as some third party payment method. If this is the way to pay for transit fare, they should stand behind it.

    Another situation that I see is that the collectors cannot leave their booth to assist people using the Presto machine. Not everyone is computer savvy. Whenever I am in Tokyo, there are always people near the IC card machine in case I have problems with it.

    Presto is strange that it is not real time. Someone put $20 credit at Finch Station and boards a bus, but the $20 balance is not shown when he taps on the bus. The card goes into negative balance. No one is there to explain the situation except to advise customer to call some 1-800 number.

    Since the collectors cannot load credits to Presto, tourists cannot use USD to pay for transit fare. Right now, one can purchase day pass or weekly pass at the booths using USD. But since the booths do not convert currencies, there is no way to do that. In the end, what the TTC is doing is not friendly to locals or tourists.

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  20. “Presto is strange that it is not real time. Someone put $20 credit at Finch Station and boards a bus, but the $20 balance is not shown when he taps on the bus. The card goes into negative balance. No one is there to explain the situation except to advise customer to call some 1-800 number.”

    That is odd. When you reload at a machine, it is supposed to push the balance on to your card at the same time it completes the transaction. It has always done this for me. Only when loading cash via the website is when it takes 2-24 hours for it to become available across the network.

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  21. Benny Cheung said: Since the collectors cannot load credits to Presto, tourists cannot use USD to pay for transit fare.

    That’s a limitation of the TTC, not Presto. MiWay has a few Agencies that can load your card. Union Station has a few machines that accept USD.

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  22. @ Hungry Man

    I don’t know if its vegan but I think that the TTC should serve Metrolinx a large serving of Humble Pie to get their heads out of the stratosphere with a little Crow for desert.

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  23. I live in Brampton and went to the Queen-Yonge area on 2 different days via Brampton Zoom to York University, then 196 bus and subway. I used Presto card for my fares. Both times I took about 2 hours to do my business, and both times Presto incorrectly charged me only one fare for the round trip. There may be some offsets buried in the current Presto transfer options to that $20m they think they will loose.

    PS: I did not know York University was at Yonge St. and Front, north side.

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  24. doconnor wrote: I’ve gotten the impression that for Presto they use a list of invalid transfers and everything else is allowed within 2 hours.

    And Gordon Keith wrote: I live in Brampton and went to the Queen-Yonge area on 2 different days via Brampton Zoom to York University, then 196 bus and subway. I used Presto card for my fares. Both times I took about 2 hours to do my business, and both times Presto incorrectly charged me only one fare for the round trip.

    This is only anecdotal, but I have been hearing more and more stories from people claiming that the use of Presto on the TTC appears to be giving a 2-hour ride. It could be just an incorrect interpretation of what is actually happening – after all, people believed the sun went around the earth for centuries just based on what they observed.

    On the other hand, it really could be a case of implementing it as a 2-hour ride because it will look like it is implementing the TTC transfer rules much of the time. People will slowly catch on, just like they do for advance left turn signalling where the spec calls for providing the light when there are three vehicles waiting to make the turn. In actual fact, three vehicle are not detected, but instead the presence of a vehicle in the third position is really detected. Want to make your left turn ahead of the oncoming traffic when you’re the only one waiting? Just wait in the third position. And yes, this won’t always work because some controllers are programmed to not give the advanced light at certain times, and others will not give it on every third or fourth cycle.

    Getting back to Presto and the 2-hour versus the TTC transfer, perhaps the TTC will eventually give in and declare the 2-hour transfer as a great “feature” of using Presto. This is exactly what GO did with the fact that a return trip within 2.5 hours (it is now 3 hours) was charged at a much lower rate as the system saw it as a continuation of one’s original trip. At some point in the last year or so, GO started to promote this on their website as a “feature” of Presto.

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  25. Jonathan wrote about top-ups at a self-serve machine not being available immediately: That is odd. When you reload at a machine, it is supposed to push the balance on to your card at the same time it completes the transaction. It has always done this for me.

    I have not used the self-serve terminals for Presto, so what is the procedure? Based on what happens when I get it loaded by an attendant (GO stations, YRT’s office, and the retailer at Finch Station), the process should start AND end with the card being tapped. I have also used the self-serve terminals in London for the Oyster Card, and it too starts and ends with a tap.

    The purpose for the two taps is that the first tap tells the terminal WHAT card is to be topped up (logging in to the Presto website does this for you when you load online) and the second tap updates the card with the new balance (tapping somewhere once the load information has reached the device does this for online loads, but it is that getting the information out to the terminal that you happen to use next that can take 24 hours).

    As an interesting side note, I also had the opportunity to use the self-serve load machines in Istanbul back in January. To keep things even simpler, the place that you can tap your card is at an angle with a lip at the bottom, so you are asked to place and leave your card there for the duration of the transaction. The machine will talk to the card twice just like the cases I described above, but it does do an ongoing check during the transaction to make sure you haven’t taken the card away. The voice prompts that are in English are not the greatest translations in the world, as you will be told, ,”Please put closer your Istanbulcard to the card reader.” 🙂

    Steve: Yes, it is clear you have not used the Presto self-service machines because they have a pocket to hold the card for the duration of the transaction. They should perform the update in real time.

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  26. Steve: I am not entirely sure about this, and worry that Eglinton East will be held hostage to some game playing on the Sheppard subway option.

    In this climate where transit building is left without a concrete funding plan ALL unfunded lines are considered hostages until released. Come election time, I would certainly expect to see less support from the Provincial Conservatives for this LRT extension and if Scarborough is pitted to choose SSE and Eglinton East vs. SSE and Sheppard subway it will be a tough choice but I would gather finishing the subway as a loop would carry forward.

    Steve: I hate to break the news, but there is a point where the rest of Toronto will tell Scarborough to get stuffed and they will be lucky to get one subway, not two.

    This could particularly be an issue if the Scarborough Liberal caucus no longer runs the show at Queen’s Park, and after John Tory is a lame duck mayor having openly declared that he won’t seek re-election for a third term.

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  27. Steve wrote: Yes, it is clear you have not used the Presto self-service machines because they have a pocket to hold the card for the duration of the transaction. They should perform the update in real time.

    Then their reload machines work just like the ones in Istanbul, as I described.

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  28. Thank you for such an informative and witty article. It is quite telling of the current state of transit in this city.

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  29. How much does it cost to build an express relief line connecting the Pape station to downtown perhaps City Hall with no stop in between?

    It doesn’t make any sense to fund any new LRT/subway project until the congested Yonge line’s problem is solved.

    Steve: That question is a bit tricky in the sense that the proposed route is dictated in part by intermediate station locations notably at the East Harbour (Lever Bros) site. If this were to be skipped, the route would not come as far south. In any event as a round number, subtract about $200-300 million per station from the total as the net cost compared to simple tunnel with no provision for a future station retrofit. The saving varies depending on how complex the station would have been. Costs can be even higher, as in the case of some SmartTrack stations that are to be shoe-horned into available rail corridors without even going underground.

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