The TTC Board will meet on November 13 with a full agenda. Among the items of interest are:
- CEO’s Report November 2017
- Green Bus Technology Plan
- Subway Closures for 2017 and 2018
- Post-Implementation Review of 2015 Service Improvements
- TYSSE Operating & Maintenance Agreements
- Waterfront Transit Update
The Board will also receive a presentation on the Metrolinx Draft Regional Transportation Plan. If there are any new developments on this front at the meeting, I will report on them in an update to this article.
Notable by their absence are two long-awaited reports:
- The Ridership Growth Strategy. This has been repeatedly promised, but not delivered. I spoke with Andy Byford at an event launching the King Street Pilot on November 9 and asked about this project. He advised that there would be an interim report at the December Board meeting setting out a work plan to verify that the strategies staff are looking at line up with what the Board actually wants to study. Then there would be a separate report or reports in 2018 with specifics of implementation. He reiterated past comments that the plan would be very “aggressive”. Note that a few RGS-related changes are listed in the 2015 Service Improvements Review, although they lack funding.
- The Bloor-Danforth line renewal plan. This plan will address the need for a new fleet in the 2020s, a new carhouse, resignalling and conversion to automated operation, station upgrades, and any other work that reasonably fits in a package where a unified, co-ordinated approach will reduce overall project costs. The only problem is that Toronto has no funding for most of this. A related issue is that some work, notably a fleet capable of automated operation, will likely be needed for the Scarborough Subway Extension planned to open in the mid-2020s. Byford believes that this report will be coming to the Board in early 2018.
(The Board will consider its 2018 Operating Budget at a special meeting on November 28, 2017. The City of Toronto 2018 budget launch will occur on November 30, 2017.)
The streetcar delivery schedule from Bombardier has been updated to reflect their recent acknowledgement that they will fall five cars short of their much-revised plan.
The plan as of February 2017 is shown below:
The revised plan as of November 2017:
The delivery rates shown from November onward exceed anything Bombardier has managed to produce to date and the December number implies that Santa’s reindeer will be working overtime to get all those cars to Toronto for the holiday season. Taking those numbers at face value, this would imply that the cars on property by month-end would be:
- October 2017: 4448
- November 2017: 4455
- December 2017: 4465
4449 entered service on 512 St. Clair on November 9, and car 4450 has been seen at Hillcrest. Five more cars are due from Bombardier under the revised schedule in November. (Note that car 4401 remains in prototype status and is not counted in the totals.)
Ridership and Budget
September 2017 ridership was the same as in the previous year, but the year-to-date total is still 0.3% below 2016. Compared to budget, September was down 1.0% and the year-to-date ridership is down 1.7%. In the financial section of the report, it turns out that the average fare paid by riders was higher than budgeted, and this offset the shortfall in rides. Revenue will be under budget by only $1.3 million on a total of $1.234 billion.
Expenses will be $50.4 million below estimate thanks to saving in various areas, and this will mean a lower draw on the budgeted City subsidy. This has two implications for the 2018 budget. First, even if the subsidy is flatlined at the 2017 level, the TTC will have more funding that can carry a higher expense level than 2017 actuals. However, this also assumes that the savings attained in 2017 will continue into 2018.
The number and total length of delays on both major lines (YUS and BD) are down from 2016, although not to the hoped-for target of a 30% reduction. Although delays from equipment problems on trains have been reduced through maintenance programs, this was offset by a higher number of passenger-related delays.
The trains/hour rate for both lines remains below the scheduled value of 25.7 and, over 2016 and 2017, have rarely reach the target. This begs the question of the actual peak capacity of the subway under typical operating conditions. The interaction between delays and service is an obvious one, but it also has planning and budgetary implications for a network under stress. Trains that are overcrowded commonly experience passengers in distress leading to a delay. Inadequately funded maintenance brings its own delays, and these compound crowding problems.
The Yonge line will get some peak relief when riders shift to the Spadina extension in 2018, although the degree of relief remains to be seen given the backlog of demand at stations where riders cannot board today.
Surface Route Service
The “on time” performance of surface routes remains well below the target 90%, although values have improved since 2016. Only half of streetcar trips and about 72% of bus trips leave their terminals within a window of one minute early to five minutes late.
As I have written before, this is a very generous measure of performance on a network where many routes operate at headways less than 10 minutes. A six minute window makes gapping and bunching possible right from the end of a line, let alone as service progresses along the route.
The TTC has not published route-by-route performance numbers since March 2015 despite this being a commitment in the Customer Charter.
The weekly service hours for streetcars remain well below budgeted levels. The shortfall in streetcar hours shows clearly that the TTC intended to provide better service, but has not done so since fall 2016. Part of this is due to equipment shortages, and part is due to budget constraints. The peak fleet scheduled was reduced from 196 to 160 in May 2017 in response to late Flexity deliveries and the declining reliability of the old fleet. If new cars actually materialize as Bombardier claims, the short-term effect will simply be to get back to where the system should have been and real improvement will not be possible in streetcar service until the total available fleet rises.
The charts below show that streetcar service tracked scheduled numbers, but bus service fell slightly below. The gap is actually much smaller than the bus chart implies because the scale covers only a small range of values. The actual gap is only 1.6%.
Note that the charts in this section are not at the same scale as each other nor do they all start at zero.
Reliability of the T1 fleet (used on Line 2 BD) continues to hover around the target of 300,000 km between failures. It is difficult to say whether the September 2017 is part of a trend or if it’s below-target value is simply routine fluctuation. The value of “n” (the number of failures per month) is low, and so it does not take much of a change in fleet behaviour to cause large effects on these charts.
The TR fleet (used on Line 1 YUS) has been achieving above its target of 600,000 km between failures with a spectacularly high reliability in September over 2 million km. This fleet continues to undergo modifications to correct design problems with these cars.
The old streetcar fleet contains CLRVs (standard sized vehicles) and ALRVs (the two-section vehicles). Both of these fleets (at least the cars that remain in service) are running generally above their targets for reliability thanks to retirement of the worst vehicles and the cumulative effect of rebuilding and maintenance of these elderly vehicles. The CLRVs were delivered in 1977-81 and the ALRVs in 1987-1989.
The new Flexitys perform rather better, but still nowhere near the contracted target reliability.
Performance of the bus fleet has been improving quite substantially from 2016 to 2017 due to new maintenance practices. This includes more pro-active inspection and repair work, as well as improved practices for maintaining the Hybrid Bus fleet (as described in the report on Green Bus initiavies.)
At its September 2017 meeting, the TTC Board took the unusual step of hearing a “deputation” that was a thinly disguised piece of lobbying by Canadian reps of the Chinese bus building firm BYD (“Build Your Dreams”). They were hawking their battery buses and it was quite clear they were hoping for an inside track on selling some of these to the TTC with the assistance of a Board member who they had lobbied extensively.
The original proposal before the Board in September was to purchase 440 new clean diesel buses as replacements for older, less reliable vehicles, and to accelerate the transition from an 18-year to a 12-year lifespan for buses thereby avoiding rebuilding costs. After BYD’s presentation, the Board decided instead to order only 325 clean diesels and leave the other 115 on hold pending a future report on moving to greener technology.
The split in order quantities was due to the fact that only the first 325 of 440 could be delivered in time to qualify for federal PTIF funding, and the remaining buses would have to be paid for with local funds unless a future subsidy program made them eligible.
In the November 2017 report coming to the Board, the proposed purchase has been restructured and expanded:
- The original 325 clean diesels remain.
- A further 230 Hybrid “New Generation” buses will be ordered with the contract being split between New Flyer and Nova Bus on a 50/50 basis, subject to negotiations.
- A total of 30 long range Battery Electric buses will be ordered from New Flyer, Proterra and BYD (ideally 10 from each).
This scheme increases the total number of buses to be purchased and is intended to soak up left over PTIF funding for which the City could not find ready projects. An essential point to remember here is that the more expensive Hybrid and Battery buses will be paid for in part with PTIF dollars making them “cheaper” on the capital budget for the City of Toronto. However, this arrangement will also result in a very large number of buses coming to Toronto in a short interval putting stress on the TTC’s ability to put that many in service in a short span, and creating a future bulge in overhaul requirements, not to mention a large capital requirement in 12+ years when they are all due for replacement.
In addition to these orders, there are current deliveries from the last order of buses with 121 still to come in from Nova by April 2018. In all the TTC will have about 700 new buses between now and March 31, 2019 when the Phase 1 PTIF funding evaporates, or a bit more than a third of the fleet. Of these, 80 are intended for growth and the remainder are replacements for existing vehicles. Growth, even if the City wanted to fund it, is constrained by garage space, and this will not be remedied until roughly 2020 when McNicoll Garage opens.
This is the effect that time-limited subsidies with the nominal goal of “economic stimulus” have in distorting spending priorities and fleet plans. A related problem is that everyone with expensive merchandise to sell blows into town hoping to take advantage of the subsidy windfall that makes their products so “cheap” from a purely municipal accounting perspective. That there might be better uses for PTIF funding never enters the discussion because the goal is to spend the money before the program expires.
There are two important components to this report: the Hybrid Bus order and the Battery Bus trials.
With the TTC Board and the City Council keen to get on the “green” bandwagon, further orders for “clean diesel” buses are not in the cards. Battery buses, despite the hucksterish claims of their proponents, are not ready for prime time at the level of a 200+ vehicle commitment by the TTC. The technology is still evolving, and of course there is also the hydrogen fuel cell as an alternative power supply to direct charging of vehicle batteries from hydro.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is another technology the TTC has tried, but this was a notable failure for various reasons. Even though this technology, like hybrids, has also progressed, the TTC does not have garages equipped to service CNG buses and a substantial investment would be required. If the goal is to move completely away from fossil fuels (at least those burned at the vehicle), then CNG would only be a stopgap anyhow.
This leaves TTC management in the position of going green via hybrids. To date, these have not had an ideal track record in Toronto thanks both to purchase of an early generation of the technology, and to maintenance practices that have only recently been improved.
In the early years, these buses presented many challenges related to the hybrid powertrain including frequent electrical failures during inclement weather, traction motor internal faults, high costs for replacement parts, and poor aftermarket supply chain support. As a result, the hybrid fleet underwent a multitude of design changes to improve key hybrid components. These changes included engineering improvements to the traction motor, traction generator, and energy storage system and control software optimization. To mitigate component costs and parts supply chain challenges, the TTC began in-house traction motor and generator overhaul programs to control quality and increase availability. More recently,
a fault based hybrid technical training program was developed and delivered to technicians and staff. These efforts have improved the TTC’s hybrid fleet reliability from 7,000 mean kilometers between defects (MKBD) in 2013 to over 15,000 MKBD in 2017. [p. 13]
Industry experience with a new generation of Hybrids shows that the technology is maturing and the TTC is prepared to go down that path for a time. It is fascinating that a transit industry that has operated electric vehicles for a century on subways, LRT/streetcars and trolley buses had so much to learn about building traction systems for buses.
The PTIF funding window ending March 31, 2019, is partly responsible for the TTC’s decision because other technologies will not yet be tested or matured to the point a large commitment could be made within the available time.
TTC staff propose to undertake a controlled trial of battery-powered buses from three manufacturers with ten vehicles each from BYD, New Flyer and Proterra. All three can deliver their vehicles within the PTIF window. These will be “long range” buses that will use overnight charging.
The trial will be designed to test a variety of operating environments and their effect on bus performance including:
- Indoor and outdoor storage during cold weather
- Routes with grades versus routes on level ground
- Routes with stop-start operation versus routes with continuous high speed running
- The effect of operators’ driving style
The intent is to rotate each of the trial fleets through various conditions under as close to identical circumstances as possible. This poses logistical challenges for garages and scheduling. It is important that the buses operate on “real” scheduled runs, not as extras filling in between regular vehicles with less than normal loads and service demands.
If there is to be a trial, the TTC wants it to be a clearly fair one given that this type of product comparison has not been done in North America, and the project will be closely watched by the transit industry.
Scaling up the technology to a full garage or network will have its challenges as the report sets out.
While it may initially appear that a BEB bus strategy consisting of large onboard energy capacity with overnight plug-in charging is positive, it is important to consider the full ramifications of this approach. Charging a fleet of 300 BEBs at a rate of 100kW for five hours would produce an electrical load of 30 megawatts, which is roughly equivalent to the load of approximately 8,000 residential homes for a span of 5-6 hours per day. [p. 17]
An alternative approach is charging stations enroute and/or at terminals but these have the drawbacks of requiring layovers that could be longer than would otherwise be needed in the schedule, staging areas where buses that were charging could sit out of traffic, and the likelihood that the recharge would not occur with cheap overnight power, but at daytime rates. Using charging stations also tethers the buses to routes with this equipment. An option to avoid peak power would be to have energy storage systems at the charging stations so that these could “fill up” on power overnight and deliver it to buses as needed through the daytime. However, the amount of power to be stored would be substantial affecting the size and capacity requirements for charging stations.
This is not to say that battery buses are impractical, but scaling up the infrastructure to support them is not a trivial proposal, and the TTC needs to be sure of the technology before investing in a large fleet.
Meanwhile, hydrogen fuel cell technology will continue to evolve as a way of allowing electric buses to carry their own power supplies to keep batteries topped up. This would reduce or eliminate the need for charging stations making them potentially a short-term option that would be supplanted by the infrastructure required to handle hydrogen.
I expect to hear much mutual back-patting by members of the TTC Board for being so forward looking environmentally, but the challenge will be for them to do this responsibly rather than betting the store on technologies that are not ready for large-scale deployment.
The Status of Alternate Technologies and Trials
As noted above, although CNG buses are in use in some cities and the technology continues to improve, a move to CNG requires an investment in infrastructure that the TTC does not now have (the equipment for the CNG buses once housed at Wilson has long since been removed). A variant on CNG is “RNG” or “renewable natural gas” from biogas. Some cities are already “harvesting” gas from their landfills, and Toronto’s current production capacity is earmarked for its garbage truck fleet. Even if more RNG at a competitive price becomes available in the future, it is still a fuel with many special technical requirements for garages and buses would generate greater emissions that electric vehicles.
Fuel cell based buses use on board energy generation starting with hydrogen as the fuel to produce electricity that, in turn, charges batteries. In effect, the charging process shifts from an off-board station at a garage or along bus routes to an on-board system. Of course, this requires that the bus carry hydrogen fuel just as diesels or CNG vehicles do, but rather than burning the fuel directly for propulsion energy, there is a two-stage process from fuel cell to battery and then to the bus propulsion system. This technology has evolved considerably, but is still at the development stage and there is no large fleet yet operating in North America.
Ontario has a large supply of hydrogen generated at Sarnia, but it would have to be transported on an ongoing basis to multiple sites in Toronto to fuel a large TTC fleet. Alternately, local generating stations could produce hydrogen using electrolysis fed by cheap overnight hydro power. As with CNG, garages would require modification for safety reasons (ventillation, spark-free electric switching, etc.) as well as storage and fuelling infrastructure capable of refilling a fleet of 250+ vehicles for daily service.
Although the report does not mention this, there are also issues with the operation of any gas-based (CNG or hydrogen) bus into enclosed spaces such as underground stations due to the potential of gas leaks in confined spaces. This would have implications for locations such as Lawrence and St. Clair West stations, not to mention the planned underground terminal at STC.
Trials are now underway of battery electric buses using on-route charging stations with a fleet of 20 vehicles in Brampton (10), York Region (6) and BC’s Translink (4). A second phase of these trials will increase the fleet to 60 vehicles, and will add storage systems at charging stations to reduce the effect of peak period demand charges for electricity.
A separate trial will involve 30 fuel cell battery buses at two transit systems for a five-year period. This is still in the planning stage.
I cannot end this section without observing how Toronto once had an electric trolley bus network, a technology now used in Canada only in Vancouver. The Toronto system was allowed to deteriorate by a generation of TTC management who wanted to be rid of the vehicles, and who embraced the supposedly “clean” CNG technology as the “green” solution. This experiment did not go well, in part because the CNG technology was new and not fully understood. However a major factor was that various players – politicians, management and vendors – had a joint interest in pushing “new” technology as a way to show “progress” and get their foot in the door as providers.
As the transit industry shifts away from carbon-based fuels, what it needs is a robust, reasonably mature technology base. The evolution of fuel cells and batteries is driven by a much wider demand than transit vehicles, and there is hope, therefore, that a shift to electric buses will be part of a broad-based change in vehicle propulsion technology, not a boutique installation fuelled primarily by snake oil.
For full details of the various technologies and trials, please read the report which goes into considerable detail on this.
Thanks mainly to the Automatic Train Control (ATC) signalling project and the Crosstown line’s construction, there will be many weekends in 2018 (with more to follow in 2019) where subway service will not operate on parts of Line 1 YUS. A total of 35 shutdowns are planned of which 15 are required for the Crosstown itself, and a further 9 are Crosstown shutdowns that will be co-ordinated with TTC maintenance work.
The ATC installation on the Spadina leg of the line is complete from Dupont to Vaughan except for the complex junction with Wilson Yard. The intent is to finish the Wilson section in time to convert the entire Spadina portion of YUS to ATC by September 2018.
The next major section to convert will be from Dupont around the “U” to Bloor in the first quarter of 2019. Work in this section is responsible for 8 of the shutdowns.
The rest of Line 1 from Bloor to Finch will convert to ATC over the remainder of 2019.
Line 2 BD fares considerably better with only two weekends of partial shutdowns for track work, and seven late Sunday openings on the central portion of the line for beam replacements on the Prince Edward Viaduct.
Line 3 SRT has four planned shutdowns.
There is a detailed list of these on pp 7-10 of the report which also lists major items such as holidays and events that would trigger a strong demand for subway service.
Back in 2015, not long after John Tory’s election as Mayor, he discovered that transit cuts under his predecessor were much worse than he knew, and that in fact more than SmartTrack was required, and much sooner, to restore the transit system’s quality. To that end, many of the Ford-era cuts were reversed, and some new express services became part of the network. This report reviews the success of restored operation during various periods on routes that had been cut back to partial-day operation, as well as the new express routes.
In a telling observation:
New ridership data has been collected to evaluate the efficacy and success of these initiatives. Overall, ridership has been higher than initially projected for both these initiatives. [p. 1]
When the cuts were first proposed, there were objections from some Councillors that they were excessive, but the TTC insisted that their data were correct. This may not have been the case.
In the next sentence, the report states:
Staff will report back to the TTC Board on the remaining service improvements to the transit network. This work requires more consistent ridership data that is now becoming available from the Automated Passenger Counting (APC) system. [p. 1]
One can only wonder how much service Toronto riders have not seen because of shortcomings in the ridership data that have been available to the TTC before the APC system was implemented.
Almost all of the affected routes and periods of operation meet the TTC’s Service Standard of 10 boardings per hour, and staff recommend that these become part of the permanent network. The full list appears on pp 15-19 of the report.
There are nine cases where routes almost meet the standard, and there is hope that their usage will grow above the cutoff line. These will continue to operate on a trial basis pending review in mid-2018. [See Table 1 on p. 6]
- Weekday late evening: 74 Mt. Pleasant and 167 Pharmacy North
- Saturday late evening: 120 Calvington
- Sunday/holiday late evening: 26 Dupont, 33 Forest Hill, 80B Queensway via Humber, 103 Mt. Pleasant North, 112C West Mall via Disco Rd. and 120 Calvington.
There are two cases where service will be retained on a trial basis.
- 15 Evans late evening service on Sundays/holidays will remain because there is a night bus (315) on the same route, and dropping the regular service would leave a gap on Sunday evenings.
- 33 Forest Hill late evening service on weekdays and Saturdays (5.5 and 2.2 boardings/hour respectively) will be retained because recent Sunday data show higher ridership (8.9).
Three other routes have low ridership on Sunday late evenings, but they serve areas that are comparatively isolated from other routes in the network. These will also be retained on a trial basis.
- 51 Leslie, 61 Avenue Road and 74 Mt. Pleasant.
A few services will be discontinued because of low ridership in the late evening period [see Table 4 on p. 8]:
- 5 Avenue Road: All days.
- 73B Royal York (via Eglinton and La Rose): Weekends
- 169 Huntingwood: Weekends
It is unclear why 5 Avenue Road with 6.9 boardings per hour will be cut, while 61 Avenue Road North with 6.6 will be retained. The stats for 51, 61 and 74 are not unlike those for 5, 73B and 169.
It is ironic that the 5 Avenue Road route may be revived once Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown opens.
An important issue this exercise demonstrates is that there is little room for cuts based on “efficiency” as long as that is defined at the current Service Standards levels. If those levels are changed so that more routes and periods of operation fall below the cutoff line, the effect, as we saw when the Ford cuts were implemented, becomes much more severe fairly quickly for the marginal periods of operation on weekends and evenings for many routes or route segments. The Sunday map quickly becomes a shadow of the weekday version, and off-peak trips face a less convenient network unless they lie on trunk routes. Even on those routes, changing standards would bring less frequent, more crowded service.
Ridership projections show that three routes would meet the Service Standards if their hours of operation were extended:
- 35A Jane via Hullmar, 119 Torbarrie and 167 Pharmacy North
The annual cost of added hours on these routes is $1.23 million, and thanks to TTC budget limitations, they will not simply appear because they are warranted, but must await the outcome of and funding for the Ridership Growth Strategy.
Staff are also studying increased hours of service in the Conlins/Ellesmere and Lawrence/Beechgrove areas as part of a review of eastern Scarborough.
Ridership on four new express routes has exceeded expectations [see Table 6 on p. 13].
- 24E Victoria Park, 185 Don Mills Rocket, 186 Wilson Rocket and 199 Finch Rocket
Only the 188 Kipling South Rocket falls below projections, and this is likely due to the relatively short time saving it offers compared to the extra wait time if a would-be rider just misses an express bus.
Moreover, despite generally static ridership numbers for the system overall, ridership has grown by up to 34% in the corridors with the new express routes [see Table 7 on p. 14]. This gives a fairly strong indication that if service quality is improved, ridership will go up and that the flat ridership is at least partly due to a long period of stagnation and budgetary constraint on service growth.
In order to open and operate the stations on the Vaughan extension of Line 1 YUS, the TTC enters into several agreements with other parties to set out responsibilities and payments for various aspects of these stations. Where does the TTC’s responsibility end, and where do other agencies or governments (GO Transit, York Region, York University) take over?
This is rather dull stuff, but there are interesting nuggets buried here. The most important of these concerns York University Station and fare policies for TTC operations north of Steeles Avenue.
York Region has some responsibilities for portions of the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Pioneer Village Stations. Metrolinx has responsibilities at Downsview Park and Highway 407 Stations. SmartCentres KPMG has responsibility for their entrance connection at Vaughan.
York University itself has only a minor role in maintenance beyond what it would have done before the subway’s construction. They will continue to provide road and sidewalk maintenance and landscaping.
An outstanding issue is the operation of transit service from York Region into the university. In the original Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with York Region, they agreed:
“Upon commencement of revenue services operations of the SSE, York Region agrees not to operate or permit the operation of public transit services directly onto the York University campus.” [p. 8]
In a rather convoluted statement, the report says that the TTC and York Region have worked co-operatively in an effort to eliminate the double fare for riders from York Region who would use the subway to reach the university …
… the third party technology solution to effect the double fare elimination was not achieved, the intent of the third party technology solution was to reimburse passengers which would be impacted by the double fare and for TTC to receive all revenue arising from the entrance and use of the subway system. [p. 8]
Therefore, on an interim basis York Region will continue to operate buses into the university campus during a transition period of nine months (in effect, until the start of the fall 2018 term), and the TTC will retain all revenue from riders on the subway. It is unclear just what is mean that the technology solution for this situation “was not achieved”. Was it a case that Presto cannot handle this situation, or that funding to underwrite a TTC/YRT co-fare was sought, but not received?
It is ludicrous that at great expense we are about to open the first “regional” subway line, but regional services and fares will not be truly integrated. This is not a TTC issue. From the beginning, the intent had always been that Toronto would bear the entire cost of operating and maintaining the subway in return for all of the fare revenue, and York Region agreed to these terms because they avoided having to pay for the subway beyond the initial capital cost. Even with the expected fare revenue, the subway will contribute about $30 million to the TTC’s annual deficit, roughly equal to a 1% property tax in Toronto.
Back in September, I reported on the Waterfront Reset study that was initiated by City Council to review and consolidate the many parts of transit planning for the waterfront from Long Branch to Woodbine. The conclusions from phase 2 of the study will go to Toronto’s Executive Committee on November 29, 2017 and then to Council in early December. The TTC report on this agenda provides an overview of this work and TTC management’s position on key issues regarding the connection to Union Station.
Like the reset study itself, the TTC report and recommendations are subdivided for each segment of the line. This ties in with the premise that unlike many large rapid transit projects, various segments can be added to the network independently of each other as demand grows and as funding is available. This presents a “Catch 22” that has always bedeviled the Waterfront LRT. Small projects are easier to find money for, and political battles that would have to be fought over a wide area for an “all or nothing” plan are simplified to local issues for a short stretch of the route. However, as small projects, the segments can each be viewed as something that can be put off because individually, each segment has only limited local appeal.
An initial goal of the WTR project was to identify a through transit service along the waterfront from Long Branch Loop in the west to Woodbine Avenue in the east. Detailed transportation demand modelling has subsequently shown that there is not sufficient demand for a single through service along the entire study area. The demand along the corridor is very diverse, with many origins and destinations, and varying travel patterns. As a result, this project recommends a series of streetcar infrastructure projects that will support a range of route and service options that will allow different future demands to be served. The infrastructure projects can also be built at varying times, and are not all dependent on the completion of other improvements. [p. 5]
Demand forecasting shows that some parts of the corridor require improved transit to handle projected demand, while others (western Etobicoke and the segment between York and Bathurst) do not need much beyond what is now in place. The priority areas for improvement lie between Union Station and the East Bayfront, Liberty Village to the Exhibition, and Humber Bay Shores (eastern Etobicoke). An important outcome of the study is that the corridor is viewed for a variety of demands along its length including not just commuting trips to the core but also local travel and recreation/event trips.
From Long Branch to Park Lawn, the demand can be satisfied with the existing streetcar service which could be enhanced to improve speed and reliability.
At Park Lawn, a new terminal is planned on the Christie’s site with a possible connection to a future Mimico GO station should one be built. Metrolinx does not support this station because it would be close to the existing one at Mimico. This is part of the tug-of-war over the local vs regional role of the GO network within Toronto.
From Park Lawn to Humber, the City and TTC will design modifications to the roadway so that the existing (and recently rebuilt) tracks become reserved transit lanes.
From Humber to Dufferin, a new streetcar right-of-way would be provided splitting off from the existing trackage at The Queensway and Colborne Lodge Drive, turning south and then running east together with a realigned Lake Shore Boulevard. The report notes that this section is not needed immediately.
This line does not need to be built until ridership levels have increased enough to warrant the investment, but identification of this new line at this time will allow the City to include it in a future update of the Official Plan. [p. 7]
This sets up a chicken-and-egg problem where demand for streetcar travel from Humber Bay Shores to downtown will be discouraged by the slow operation of service along Queen and King Streets that the Lake Shore route is intended to bypass.
Between Dufferin and the Exhibition Loop, work is already underway to bring the design of a connection to 30% where a reasonably certain estimate of costs can be made. There is no funding in the City’s budget to actually build this link. This project will also be affected by any reconfiguration of the GO station at Exhibition Loop.
From Exhibition to Bay, the main focus is on improving road operations both for safety and to improve transit speeds. One part of this project would be the reconfiguration of the Bathurst-Fleet-Lake Shore intersection. The TTC does not regard that reconfiguration as a short term project, but rather one that would be co-ordinated with the next scheduled replacement of track which is many years in the future.
East of Bay Street, there is already an approved branch of the Waterfront LRT that would be akin to the existing line from Bay westward. The TTC emphasizes that this will require streetcar operation.
Development is already proceeding along the East Bayfront, and additional projects have been recently announced. While three bus routes currently serve the area, adding higher-quality, higher-capacity streetcar service is an urgent priority for the TTC, the City, and Waterfront Toronto. Projected peak demand in 2041 on this section is approximately 2400 people per hour, and serving this very high level of demand requires high-quality streetcar service in a dedicated right of way. [p. 8]
There is already a planned streetcar network in the eastern waterfront including service on Queens Quay to Cherry, on Cherry from Distillery Loop south to the Ship Channel, on Commissioners east from Cherry to Leslie, and on the proposed Broadview extension from Queen south to Commissioners. This would provide a network with multiple routes for access to the many developments planned here, and would connect the waterfront network to both the Danforth subway (at Broadview) and the planned GO and Relief Line stations at East Harbour (the Unilever site). East of Leslie, there is little demand and an extension of the route to Queen and Woodbine is not recommended.
As for Union Station, the TTC notes that the link south to Queens Quay is one of the busiest in the system, but that the loop at Union “has been inadequate for many years”. A planned major expansion to provide multiple platforms on a straight, north-south orientation reached the 30% design level in 2010-11, but the project was never funded. In retrospect, one might argue that an improved version of this plan is now available in part because of the planned link to the new bus terminal at Bay and Lake Shore.
Resolving the issue of streetcar customer access to Union Station is crucial to the entire waterfront transit network. New streetcar service to the Portlands via the East Bayfront and Queens Quay East cannot proceed until it is determined how the customers on this service will connect to Union Station. The existing loop is inadequate for present service levels, to and from the west only, and the loop would not function effectively or safely if additional service from the east was added. The projected peak demand between Union Station and Queens Quay Station in 2041 is 3700 people per hour, and this level of demand cannot be accommodated at the present loop. [p. 9]
When the Waterfront Reset was going through its public consultations in September, there were three options proposed for the Bay Street link:
- Improvements to the streetcar connection with expanded, realigned platform space.
- A moving walkway in one of the existing tunnels.
- A “funicular” operation with pairs of cars operating in each tunnel, the addition of bypass tracks at Lake Shore, and reconfiguration at Queens Quay for a transfer station from the funicular cars to a surface streetcar interchange.
In the second and third options, streetcars would operate east-west along Queens Quay but would not connect to Union Station.
The moving walkway option has since been dropped due to accessibility issues (it would have been unidirectional and would have no backup in case of mechanical failure), but the funicular option remains in the mix.
The funicular is not supported by TTC staff, although they have not come out with a formal rejection of the option.
Direct connections between surface and subway are a fundamental planning principle for the TTC network. There are approximately 15,000 customer-trips each day made in the Bay Street tunnel, and this number has been increasing. If the tunnel is repurposed and streetcars are removed from Union Station, most of these customers would have to alight from the streetcar and transfer to the funicular for the last part of their journey, which is about 540 metres in length. Depending on the option chosen, this may require a multi-level transfer, from street to tunnel level. It is well established that forcing an additional transfer is a significant inconvenience for customers and could result in a loss of customers. The principle is reflected in the Board’s approved Service Standards, which weight an additional transfer as the most onerous change that could be imposed on customers. [p. 10]
Many issues remain to be resolved including:
- Construction and operating costs.
- Accessibility, safety and capacity issues at the Queens Quay transfer point.
- Fare collection arrangements and the question of whether the funicular would be part of the TTC system both for fares and ongoing operation.
- Engineering issues related to the high water table and poor soil conditions surrounding the existing tunnel.
- Throwaway costs of recent upgrades to streetcar infrastructure in the tunnel.
- Future pedestrian flow volumes and destinations in the Bay Street corridor, and whether repurposing the transit tunnel as a general pedestrian facility is an appropriate tactic. [see pp 11-12]
While inter-agency collegiality is a desirable state of affairs, there are times when bad ideas really need to be called out for what they are.
Missing from the TTC report is any reference to the Bremner streetcar line which the demand projections flag as a non-starter (leaving aside severe constraints on creation of a streetcar right-of-way). An important part of any discussions about Union Loop will be putting to rest, once and for all, any notion that a Bremner spur off of the Bay Street tunnel should be built.