The PC Ontario Transit Platform: Real Change or Smoke & Mirrors?

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario released its campaign platform that will take them into the 2018 election on November 25. This contains three pages on “Change that works for Transit Users”. How much of this voters will actually care about when the real headlines are tax breaks remains to be seen, but a review of these pledges is worthwhile to see what’s really involved and how it could affect transit in the GTHA.

The concept of “Change” is hard to grasp when, in many cases, the Tories simply claim that they will do what the Liberals have planned all along anyhow. The platform implies that the Libs really don’t mean to carry through, but that the new gang, given the chance, will make sure all of the promised chickens actually turn up on every pot.

Each of the bullets quoted below begins with the text “Patrick Brown and the Ontario PCs will …” as if Brown and his party were the government. L’état, c’est moi! This is precisely the sort of characterization for which the Liberals have been so rightly criticized.

Fulfill the existing commitments to two-way, all day GO train service and complete major transit projects already under construction, including those in Ottawa, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo. [p. 52]

Note that this is the “existing commitments”, not any new ones, nor is there any guarantee of service frequency. Many cities longing for full GO service will stay right where they are looking down the track and hoping for more trains to appear. The words “GO RER” do not appear in the platform, no doubt because that is a Liberal program, and it incites the same reaction in the PCPO that “Transit City” did for former Mayor Ford.

The text accompanying this bullet contains a few oddities:

  • The Finch West LRT project is among those the Tories will complete, although there is no mention of the extension to Pearson Airport. By analogy to other items in the platform, this should really be a city project, not a provincial one because it is not a subway.
  • The Hamilton LRT project is included, although some of the local Tories oppose it, and again this is not a subway.
  • The portion of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT now under construction is not mentioned, nor is the planned extension westward to the airport.
  • There is no mention of Waterfront transit which is mired in the “Reset” plan whose report has now been delayed to January 2018. Once upon a time, then Minister Murray “committed” that the sale of the LCBO lands on Queens Quay would go to transit, but that was long ago and commitments evaporate with a minister’s departure.

This point strikes me as avoidance of derailing works that are some ways “down the track” without making any commitments beyond them.

Commit an additional $5 billion to build new subways in the Greater Toronto Area. [p. 52]

This bullet follows a long section of text which trots out some of the usual complaints, and cites Mayor Tory’s desire to get on with actual building rather than endless debate. “Shovels in the ground” is the aim, although this is selectively applied to subway projects: Scarborough, Sheppard East (Don Mills to STC), the Relief Line (unclear as to the short, medium or long versions) and the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge subway. These are cited as “prime candidates for development”, but to that end, the Tories ante up only “an additional $5 billion” and are quite clear that they expect matching money from Ottawa.

Ottawa already has an infrastructure program, although you would never know it from the Tories’ platform. The main questions here are how much of the national program is earmarked for Toronto, and will Ontario build new subways fast enough to qualify under that scheme.

This brings us to the obvious point that new subways, with the possible exception of Scarborough’s, could only barely be under construction before the 2022 election, and there is no guarantee of the Tories being around to deliver on their “commitment”. Meanwhile, there are Liberal spending plans, although these are equally vague thanks in part to the dereliction by Metrolinx in giving any sense of priorities for, benefits of or costs related to the new Regional Transportation Plan’s components.

The platform cites “the combination of insufficient capital, antiquated municipal accounting rules, and a lack of political leadership at the provincial level” for the long delays in provision of new transit. Physician heal thyself. Two decades ago, the Tories walked away from municipal transit, and the Liberals have been slow to return. Transit continues to be a contest among politicians that their one favoured project might be blessed rather than a collaborative effort to fund and build a network.

The choice of projects is geographically skewed and omits large areas from the catchment of new lines. How the list addresses needs in the GTA overall is a mystery. As for the $5 billion (or $10b if the feds come to the table), the first bite out of this will be consumed by the proposed provincial assumption of the Scarborough subway’s cost (see below), and whatever is left over will be used on other projects. That won’t get those tunnel borers very far, and certainly will not build all of the lines cited in the platform.

As for those “antiquated municipal accounting rules”, possibly the PCPO could enlighten us as to how they would change these rules to free up additional spending capacity for cities across Ontario, not just in Toronto. Those rules exist to require cities to use a more [ahem] conservative set of accounting rules to ensure that they don’t get too deeply in debt, a constraint by which parties of all stripes at Queen’s Park are not subject.

Provide help for commuters across the Greater Toronto Area by ensuring that the provincial government assumes responsibility for maintenance and investments in Toronto’s subway infrastructure. [p. 53]

This is a truly bizarre statement because commuters across the GTA depend on far more than the Toronto subway system to get them to work. Indeed, Toronto shells out considerable dollars through operating and capital subsidies to keep what is really a regional asset operating. The portion of the Vaughan extension north of Steeles will add about $10 million to Toronto’s annual costs with almost no return via new fare revenue or subsidy from York Region. Making Ontario responsible for “maintenance and investments” would certainly be welcome as an upload, but this would be a very large new cost for Queen’s Park.

As I discussed in a previous article, the subway system accounts for about a third of the TTC’s Operating Budget and about half of the Capital Budget. Net of provincial contributions Ontario already pays (gas tax), this would leave Queen’s Park with about $1 billion in new annual costs just to keep the existing system running, and no offsetting revenue because the platform commits to leaving all of the fares in Toronto.

Part of Queen’s Park’s new responsibility would involve the greater use of private sector design-build-finance-maintain contracts which, the platform claims, would accelerate the rate of construction on new lines. This would also, as the Provincial Auditor has complained, add to cost and create the need to manage contracts that would not exist if the assets were kept in house. This is part of the creative accounting we have seen under the Liberals and clearly favoured by the Conservatives which converts traditional debt to a long term lease arrangement with the physical property (i.e. a new subway line) as an offsetting asset. Presto! The provincial debt stays down, even though there is an unavoidable long term payment commitment.

The platform states that the government “will assume responsibility for the physical subway infrastructure – tracks, tunnels and stations”, although there is more to infrastructure (notably vehicles, yards and shops) than this list. The TTC would remain as the operator/maintainer under contract, and fare revenue would stay with Toronto. I will return to the issue of fares later.

This would be done “in partnership with the Mayor of Toronto”. It may have escaped the Tories that such agreements are made with the City of Toronto through Council, not the Mayor’s office.

The existing subway system is an asset of the city paid for with municipal, provincial and federal dollars. It is one thing to assume the cost of routine and capital maintenance and operations, but quite another to transfer the asset to the province merely to suit accounting trickery, or worse, to enable future resale.

All of this is intended to “create a structure that takes advantage of the province’s balance sheet to maximize provincial investments”. That goobledygook brings us back to provincial accounting rules and debt transformed into DBFM contracts. Would it be churlish of me to point out how often the PCPO has pilloried the Liberals for creative accounting?

This is all explained as a regional benefit through co-ordinated planning, ensuring that Toronto gets long-awaited subways, relieving commute times across the GTA and increasing economic growth while reducing red tape and arbitrary delays. This is pure doctrinaire BS. Commute times might improve, but mainly for riders in certain sections of Toronto and central York Region, not “across the GTA”. We do not suffer from an excess of red tape, but of the lack of will to spend region-wide on transit.

Enter into discussions with the City of Toronto about air rights over future subway stations that it builds. These air rights should be used to increase housing supply, which in turn promotes housing affordability, and increases economic activity. [p. 53]

In the middle of a discussion of new subway lines, this bullet appears. In that text “subway stations that it builds” actually refers to the province even though the text could imply that they are built by the city. This idea appears out of nowhere as if somehow the housing crisis will be solved by building over subway stations. In fact, only one future station, the one at Scarborough Town Centre, is even in the pipeline, and development around it is already planned. If the Tories were serious about this policy, they would turn their attention to existing stations throughout the network, including the GO stations now surrounded by parking lots.

Assume responsibility for the city’s share of the Scarborough Subway Extension, including the more than $200 million cost escalator that the province has refused to fund, provided that the city makes a significant financial investment in extending the Eglinton Crosstown project to Scarborough’s University of Toronto campus. [p. 53]

The eventual cost of the SSE is an unknown quantity today, and if anything is subject to increase beyond mere inflation as detailed design proceeds. It is standard practice for Queen’s Park and Ottawa to cap their contributions at a fixed value for municipal projects, although Ontario is happy to quote its own projects with a base price plus an unspecified allowance for inflation. This allows the province to low-ball its cost estimates by quoting 2020 work in 2010 dollars. Capping contributions is done specifically to avoid scope creep where municipal plans expand by spending “thirty-three cent dollars”. For example, all of the cost overrun on the Vaughan extension has been funded by Toronto and York Region under their cost sharing agreement with no extra money coming from other levels of government.

A provincial commitment to paying the city’s share of the SSE is like writing a blank cheque so that any design problem can be solved just by sending the bill to Uncle Patrick up at the Pink Palace.

As for the LRT line to UTSC, this was originally part of the consolidated “plan” for Scarborough transit, the deal that convinced subway opponents to buy in because the LRT sweetened the pot. All the money, of course, is now dedicated to the subway extension. It is unclear just what the platform means by a “significant contribution” from Toronto, nor where the remainder might come from for this project.

Call on the Federal Government to match the new provincial subway funding commitment. [p. 54]

Yes. Of course. It’s an Ontario program but someone else should help to pay. A nice 50-50 split to spread the load around just as some federal programs like PTIF assume that others will help to pick up the bill. Given that the Tories’ “commitment” is rather small (especially once the SSE takes its share), Ottawa should have little problem matching it. The real problem will be waiting to see whether any of the projects advances far enough to draw on funding from any government.

Make Ontario’s transit systems more customer friendly, starting with free, reliable, consistent WIFI on GO Trains. [p. 54]

The text accompanying this bullet states:

… customer service levels on the GO train lines are not up to par. The government should focus on getting transit built, but it should also focus on making commuting a better experience.

When I read “promises” like this, I have to wonder how they get into platforms, and whether every post-it note from policy conferences simply was swept up from the floor. Without question, there are customer service and friendliness issues at Ontario’s transit systems (plural), but WIFI on GO is hardly the place to begin addressing this. At no point does the platform address any increase in service beyond that already in the GO RER plans, nor is there any “commitment” to improved funding to encourage the buildup of local transit on which all of these new GO services will depend for “last mile” access.

Make Ontario’s transit systems more customer friendly, by harmonizing fares where possible, allowing for online ticket purchases for GO services, and by ensuring all facilities accept the same forms of payment. [p. 54]

More “customer friendliness” including fare “harmonization”, although there is no description of just what this might mean. Online ticket purchases are already possible with Presto, and that system is used in much of the GTHA thanks to the heavy hand of Queen’s Park. “Forms of payment” is a rather broad term that takes us all the way from the simplest of Smart cards up to bank cards and mobile apps. The real issue with “ticketing” is a harmonized back end system that can handle multiple ways a rider might identify themselves and charge rides to their account. This item has the feel of a platform written by someone who rarely uses transit.

Fulfill the existing commitments to complete the environmental assessment for the Southwestern Ontario High Speed Rail project. [p. 54]

That and a few billion will get you a somewhat faster train to London and beyond, but don’t hold your breath. The High Speed Rail project (and a kindred boondoggle, the Hydrogen Train) are great exercises in appearing to be doing something while “committing” to schemes that are either unaffordable or technologically immature. This “commitment” simply avoids the Tories looking like they oppose HSR without actually making any plans to built it.

A much more useful platform, from any party, would be a wider discussion of passenger rail and bus services, and not just in southern Ontario. However, the Tories have written off transit in all but a few markets.

The next section of the platform is entitled “Change that works for Drivers”, and it is a screed against the evils inflicted on motorists by the Wynne government. Oddly, it is less than half the length of the transit section, although clearly the Tories are playing to the idea that too much attention goes to transit riders and projects.

Overall, the PCPO platform share with all such documents a certain lack of editorial rigour having been pieced together from a variety of proposals originating in multiple policy conferences. Some were accepted, some were modified and some were rejected – the result has a stitched-together feel and an assumption that most people will only read the sections they care about. Such is political life. The “money” platform is always key and, as usual, voters will be bribed from their own pocketbooks.

How much of the transit platform will actually be implemented once the complexities and costs become evident? That is quite another question.

29 thoughts on “The PC Ontario Transit Platform: Real Change or Smoke & Mirrors?

  1. Steve wrote: Each of the bullets quoted below begins with the text “Patrick Brown and the Ontario PCs will …” as if Brown and his party were the government. L’état, c’est moi! This is precisely the sort of characterization for which the Liberals have been so rightly criticized.

    I don’t understand this criticism. The premise of election promises is that they (Brown & Co) will do these things if elected to form government. They could write “An Ontario PC government will..”, but that’s not quite accurate either because parties aren’t constitutional entities, plus the phrase is a sort of political anachronism, given how leader identification works in the modern media environment.

    So this form of statement is actually a case of clear writing, which is generally all too lacking in the public sphere, and so when encountered, an outcome I’d hope we all want to encourage.

    Steve: Maybe it’s just my rather staid attitude that suspects self-promotion as phony.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve, it is not like the NDP or even the Green Party will have a better transit plan. The politicians are trying to get elected. Elections are not the time to discuss heavy details. People love soundbites and politicians cater to that. “Subways, subways, subways” is easy to understand. The Liberals are at least the devil we know. While their plan is not perfect, at least voting Liberals will ensure what we know gets completed.

    The HSR to London and Windsor is really hard to comprehend. AMT does not try to run trains to Quebec City from Montreal. Why are we trying to duplicate VIA service in western Ontario? Are we going to have a split where anything west of Toronto will be run by Metrolinx? Will Via get a free hand in running high frequency rail to Ottawa and Montreal? Someone travelling on the Corridor service from Montreal to Waterloo will have to change operators. Is Metrolinx ready to implement programs like VIA Preference?

    Regardless of party in power, everyone already has a plan. The EA for Line 4 extension is already approved. If a few billion dollars show up, construction can begin. There is no need for more study. If we just build what we have plans for, there will already be a lot of hardware coming online in the next decade. Many of the plans are not perfect, but something is better than nothing.

    The PC platform is really light on funding. It is one thing to say that they will find $5 billion or more for metro construction. There is an operating cost to it. Even if there are 500km more metro lines in Toronto, the city will be bankrupt just maintaining it. It is like giving a $20 million house to a mid level manager making $60000 per year. Even if the house is free, the upkeep and property tax will bankrupt that person. Will cities get more taxing power or more ways of making money?

    The P3 model does work as long as the underlying business case is sound. VIA’s high frequency train proposal will basically split the Corridor service from VIA Rail. Using that as a collateral, it will be attract about $5 billion in investment. Using the increased ticket revenues, it will pay it off over the next 25 years. This will add no new debt to Mr. Trudeau’s government. We can also copy the Japan model. The national government can do all the borrowing. Japan has a debt to GDP ratio of about 50% in the 1980s. It is now over 220% in this decade as they built infrastructure to simulate their economy. At least with the P3 model, there is more emphasis on the business case. So there is less chance of bridges to nowhere being built.

    Steve: I am not trying to say that the PC plan is worse than other parties, only that, first, the idea that it represents “change” is suspect and, second, that some aspects have not been thought through. The media focus has been on subway uploading, but it’s more subtle and complex than this, certainly a better, if still flawed version compared to 2014.

    To Conservatives, I am sure any open eyed commentary sounds like the ravings of a partisan lefty, and to a Liberal or NDPer I’m not being critical enough. When their platforms come out, they will get the same treatment. Of course that assumes that they actually have platforms.


  3. Lack of change may be a silver lining in a certain perspective: Many of us have had sheer fear because of the Harris cutbacks to everything transit-related (Eglinton subway tunnels filled in, GO scale backs, etc). That will be the silver lining when every party actually doesn’t actually disrupt existing transit plans nearly as much as that era (or Ford for that matter).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You spoke a book with this statement:

    “When I read “promises” like this, I have to wonder how they get into platforms, and whether every post-it note from policy conferences simply was swept up from the floor.”

    How these things got into this so-called Ontario PC transportation platform was by way of a volunteer policy advisory committee on transportation and infrastructure. This group was largely composed of every P3 brokerage firm you can imagine, all of whom are looking for sweetheart deals once the Tories take power (they hope). A few senior civil servants who should know better than to openly participate in this exercise were also part of what was the brain child of a bunch of fresh-faced policy wonks (mainly ex-Harper government) who wouldn’t know good transportation policy if it bit them in the ass.

    There were other transportation “plans” raised by this advisory group that didn’t make it to the final cut, but they are worrying. There was a heavy emphasis on highway expansion and pipe dreams such as taking back the 407.

    Considering the odds of the PCs forming the next provincial government, we should be concerned.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. To Mark and Greg: I suppose the silver lining here is the simplistic, almost childish approach that the Conservatives have taken. If this is the route that Brown intends to allow for all the complex problems faced by Ontario, he may hand the election to the Liberals, again. Remember that the Conservatives have been doing that since John Tory blew himself out of the water three elections ago.

    As for the NDP, I would like to remind Mark that, although Harris was certainly no friend of transit [or much of anything], it was Bob Rae who began the GO train cutbacks. Among other progressive moves, Rae changed the Barrie Line into the Bradford Spur. There was NO indication in the 1990 NDP campaign that they possessed any cutback intentions.


  6. Just wondering what is in the fine print disclaimers?

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  7. Be careful what you wish/vote for people. Remember, the last time we had a Conservative government in Ontario subway construction along Eglinton was abruptly ended and the hole filled in! Otherwise we would have been riding on it long ago.

    Furthermore, the “Common Sense Revolution” brought about self-inspection of such things as drinking water cutting government inspectors. We all should remember what this resulted in when people died in Walkerton a tiny village that few knew of is now forever tarnished and hundreds have lifelong health problems. Nobody WILLINGLY voted for that nor did they vote for having the crap kicked out of health care with getting rid of nurses but that is what we ended up with.

    Side note re: NDP GO cuts. This was NOT a transit cut, it was an attempt to end sprawl with running GO trains farther and farther out preferring instead to have intensification of development closer to Toronto.

    A Liberal-NDP coalition might be our best hope. It would also be nice to have a seat or two for the Green party.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Don’t forget that they are going to fund all these transit improvements with tax cuts. I think it is time to break out your trademarked phrase – fairy dust.

    Steve: I was trying to review the policies as they relate to transit rather then getting too deep into the weeds of fiscal policy. One problem with a platform assembled from the input of many local policy committees is that it spends a lot of time on doctrinaire slogans that get in the way of the actual proposals. Too much is a document for the devoted core, but of course I’m not their target voter.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Steve, Have you looked at the performance of the Queen’s Quay line again? Have there been any major tweaks to improve performance since it was initiated? Are people at least able get on a car? I lived down there before the upgrade, and travel time was not an issue when you could not even board due to overcrowding.

    Steve: I have data for the 509/510 through the summer and early fall but have not reviewed it in detail. The crowding issue is a major one for the TTC and I am tired of their claims that generally the system is not overloaded, or that the shortage of vehicles is a blanket excuse. What is really going on s that they are minimizing service adds to hold down the budget.


  10. Greg Gormick said: “There were other transportation “plans” raised by this advisory group that didn’t make it to the final cut, but they are worrying. There was a heavy emphasis on highway expansion and pipe dreams such as taking back the 407.”

    I can vouch for this bring true. I filled out & returned a flier survey from Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones. One question had four boxes suggested as to what is of greatest concern, and the one box suggested the Hwy 413 along the bottom of Caledon to hook up with the 401 at Milton, but starting from the 400 south of King Road, running through pristine farm country, much of it Greenbelt. The Liberals put it into the freezer by suspending the study.

    The solution to the problem is obviously NOT more highways. Make the ones we got better (there are several road upgrades on the go that I run into, Hwys 400, 427, Gardiner).

    The current trend in car traffic is that the number of cars is exploding. What once used to be a 45-minute drive now takes usually 2 hours. Sort of like no matter how much weight you lose, you’ll never ever get into those favourite old jeans, you’re too big. Severe road choking happens with increasing occurrence. Even the buses and streetcars come to a standstill. Hence, draconian measures such as the King Street project. Too bad. I always thought that the going east on King was much superior than Adelaide, with those bike lanes that prevent but one car from making a right turn per signal cycle all the while blocking a whole lane of traffic back to the previous stoplights. How about a green right turn arrow, and perhaps like one of the intelligent stoplights now being tested on Yonge Street?

    Therefore, public transit has to have roadway allowances in order to separate it from the vehicular traffic. (Similarly, bike lanes.) I brought up the subject of an LRT from Bolton to Toronto via Pearson Airport at a couple of official public planning meetings. It was said to be a hit idea from everyone that heard it except the planners. Remember, Bolton used to have daily passenger trains, cancelled just as Bolton doubled in population in the 1980’s. An LRT would restore the lost service; the railway has existed for well over a century.

    What is not important is what type of vehicle, but it has to provide great service, including the ability to avoid traffic hassles.

    It needs to be available 24/7, run frequently, go to where people need to go (example, the airport), and connect well.

    Pearson Airport is already a major transit & transportation hub. But GO will not connect it to Malton GO station hardly 3 km away, nor will the near-empty Airport Road coach make a stop either in a terminal OR the Malton GO station. What nonsense!

    Plans are to run a Mississauga BRT, the Eglinton LRT, and the Finch LRT into the airport. UPX and various municipal buses currently serve. So, add another connecting line from Bolton, which also serves by bus points beyond such as Orangeville and Alliston.

    Alas, currently the last bus to Bolton leaves Malton around 8:00 pm M-F, there is NO weekend & holiday service, NO connections to Orangeville and Alliston. So, job commuters cannot use such a dim service, they must drive and add to the road clogging. And who is commuting through Bolton? Why, people from Orangeville and Alliston and Bolton and all points between.

    The Ontario PC’s transit election plan should never been published like it is now. From what I understand, there is to be a 4-year $5 billion transit fund, to be doubled by Ottawa, but apparently $7 billion are already commitments which they are recycling, so really only $3 billion of new federal and provincial money above & beyond.

    Wait, it gets worse. Unbelievably, the PC’s commit to the Scarborough subway extension, named one of the top three boon-doggles in North America, one of the others is the Bridge to Nowhere.

    So, that leaves absolutely zero for any other transit project in the next mandate.

    And, I wonder what the reason is for them taking the subway ownership. Is it to sell the subways in order to buy back Hwy 407? How about buying back Ontario Hydro?

    Do the NDP or Greens have any substantial transit policy, or just lip service?

    Steve: The other parties have not yet published their platforms, although we cen get some idea of where the Libs are coming from with the Metrolinx draft regional plan. That plan has a lot of “steady as she goes” continuation of existing projects, but outside Toronto, the pickings are rather slim for new transit with an emphasis on a coarse grid of bus routes.

    I think Queen’s Park has not been paying attention to the crisis in road capacity that cannot be quickly fixed because it has gone so far. The question of goods movement comes up regularly, but there is no capacity to increase throughput for trucking without taking capacity away from autos. It’s the equivalent of the transit/auto crunch within Toronto.

    If I ever see an NDP policy that does not include the Scarborough Subway, I will start to take them seriously. I suspect everyone is hoping the project will self-destruct through a cost that even John Tory cannot stomach, but that whole matter is conveniently not going to come out until after the election. Meanwhile the Tories have taken the SSE off of Tory’s back and the urgency of fiscal responsibility vanishes in a puff of election-based fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I wonder how Kathleen Wynne would feel if she knew a senior Infrastructure Ontario hireling had participated in the PC Transportation and Infrastructure Policy Advisory Committee.

    How interesting that failing to honour the $5-billion subway building promise is not one of the things that Patrick Brown says would trigger his refusal to run for a second term.

    As for the NDP and their commitment to the Scarborough Subway, this is because Andrea didn’t want to offend any potential supporters of that misguided project, according to party insiders. They offer up the same excuse for her support of the high-speed rail nonsense in Southwestern Ontario, which she made spontaneously in London after she had been briefed on and advised to promote a high-performance rail alternative that can be done on the existing corridors.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Steve said : This bullet follows a long section of text which trots out some of the usual complaints, and cites Mayor Tory’s desire to get on with actual building rather than endless debate. “Shovels in the ground” is the aim, although this is selectively applied to subway projects: Scarborough, Sheppard East (Don Mills to STC), the Relief Line (unclear as to the short, medium or long versions) and the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge subway. These are cited as “prime candidates for development”, but to that end, the Tories ante up only “an additional $5 billion” and are quite clear that they expect matching money from Ottawa.

    This is an ongoing reflection of what is now to be expected in Ontario. Since the voter refuses to vote based on the idea that listen and consider especially the one telling you what you do not wish to hear, we continue to get proposed to us what we wish to hear. It would appear the parties have concluded that what the voters wants to hear about is subways, that the voter is not prepared to entertain education, or a hard process of good decisions, or planning, and wants to hear that which should not really be considered. The notion that subway should stretch from Yonge to STC was seen by planners in 1988 as ridiculous, and well, remains today ridiculous. The idea of subway extended from Finch to Richmond Hill, is perhaps one of the few ideas sillier than one to Vaughan, and yet, well the politics of it appear clear.

    We the voters of Ontario, need to understand it is us, not the parties setting the rules. We need to be prepared to listen, consider, and understand the guy telling us things we do not really want to hear is the one likely telling us the truth. Tory started by trying to sell the notion of a DRL, and well frankly understood that it was a non-sale, so sold fantasy instead, and well it won him an election, even while it was clear fantasy.


  13. Bob Rae’s Barrie GO cuts came at a time when Barrie was already bursting at the seams with people who thought that they had a nice commute on 400 if they moved out to cheaper housing. Bob often used high class excuses to cover up the real reason for any of his cuts: no money. He didn’t think that highways required maintenance for the same philosophical reasons.


  14. “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society” (IRS – possibly paraphrased.)

    Malcolm, What I “do not really want to hear” is that we can “have it all” without paying. I don’t want to hear that “efficiencies” can pay for a better world – or even keep the world we have now, let alone the one we used to have. I am tired of election surveys that ask me “Who is the best at cutting taxes?” For me, the “best” would be a politician who was brave enough to meet your test and say what many people do not really want to hear.

    I am not sure that voters who want to pay taxes – who are proud to pay taxes – are actually as scarce as it appears. When all politicians – even Olivia Chow in her mayoralty race – deliver the same message that governments inherently waste money those of us who want a better society have to vote for the least of the evils. I voted for Tory in the last campaign because he was not not Doug. That does not mean that I enjoy living in a withering city with reduced services and inadequate infrastructure guaranteed by a pledge to keep taxes at the rate of inflation. In order to deliver this promise, it is necessary to look for (enforced) efficiencies of 3% – not just once but repeatedly. Coupled with 2 or 3% inflation this represents a service cut of 5% or more every year.

    Where is the politician that not only has the courage to go against the apparent tide. He or she may be surprised at how many voters would actually enthusiastically agree.


  15. Michael Greason said: I don’t want to hear that “efficiencies” can pay for a better world – or even keep the world we have now, let alone the one we used to have.

    I would make the reasoned argument that governments could operate effectively, however, that would mean making hard choices and making some people very unhappy. It would require saying that some arguments will not be considered. If you have more roads, more grass, more sewers, and pay lower taxes per square foot of accommodation, you cannot complain about fewer subways. This is the sort of clear answer that is required. That is, you cannot have it all. If we had politicians prepared to say that, we could have a better balance for the same money because we could deliver services that made the most sense. That is, 2 or 3 LRT routes instead of one subway extension, for instance. We could have had LRT to the airport and, Yonge on Finch and subway to Steeles, and LRT from Steeles to Vaughan if we just could have done without subway all the way to Vaughan.

    I would strongly prefer this sort of answer and the lack of it being provided and being a winning strategy. Note Soknacki came closest to a real plan for transit in Toronto and it was clear that more taxes would be required to support what he wanted. Oddly this essentially destroyed him in the race. I would prefer to get his approach, but it would appear that it is a terminal choice today for a politician, so we should not expect too much of it.


  16. Malcolm N said: Note Soknacki came closest to a real plan for transit in Toronto and it was clear that more taxes would be required to support what he wanted. Oddly this essentially destroyed him in the race.

    If it was a real transit plan it would have stood up. I’ve said for the last decade Transit City ignored the connections to the existing infrastructure and this was the downfall. We could have found more cost effective alternatives to connect the heart of Scarborough but some choose to fight for the plan with poor connectivity vigorously till then end and beyond. Almost all of those being people outside of Scarborough. The cost of detailed integration didn’t have to be this expensive, but there was always going to be a cost that some could never accept that. Great move by the Conservative to end the debate and push the City to fund the Eglinton East LRT which was the only LRT line that made sense all around. Easy to support as its actually the closest thing to a real plan for transit in Toronto I’ve seen.

    Steve: You have this thing about dissing Transit City because of “poor connectivity” and “people outside of Scarborough”. You’re off on both counts, but this is the fiction that many, and certainly the pols, in Scarborough have swallowed. It’s an attitude that makes me shrug my shoulders and dismiss you as a crank even though you might have some valid points to make.

    You are happy to take tax money from the rest of the city to build a vastly overpriced subway, but you don’t want our opinion.


  17. Joe M quotes Malcolm N as saying: “Note Soknacki came closest to a real plan for transit in Toronto and it was clear that more taxes would be required to support what he wanted. Oddly this essentially destroyed him in the race.”

    and then replies, “If it was a real transit plan it would have stood up. I’ve said for the last decade Transit City ignored the connections to the existing infrastructure and this was the downfall.”

    So Rob Ford’s “Subways, Subways, Subways!” transit plan was a “REAL” transit plan?!?!?!

    Ford didn’t have a G.D. CLUE about transit other than that “Streetcars are BAD!!!” and that if he yelled “Subways, Subways, Subways!” loudly enough and often enough, people who don’t appreciate the complexity of running a transit system would get behind him and chant like mindless parrots who believe they deserve a cracker – and it better be a FANCY one!!!

    Steve’s being too charitable in that Scarborough has cut off its nose to spite its face, taking the one-stop boondoggle subway “extension” instead of a FULLY FUNDED (REPEAT: FULLY FUNDED) by the Province 7-stop LRT system. You know, LRT – the means of public transportation that dozens of other WORLD CLASS cities around the globe use with no issue.

    Ford never let facts get in the way of his beliefs and pontifications, to the point of arguing with Councillor Josh Matlow in Council Chambers that an LRT is a streetcar is an LRT and “everyone” wants… something or other with no survey or anything. Heck, Ford didn’t even care about the transit issues affecting the constituents in his own home ward (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), who have relatively crappy transit and long trips, other than the Highway 27 Rocket up to Humber College.

    Scarborough’s citizens and city and provincial politicians fell all over themselves about the prospect of getting a bright, shiny subway when they should have refused to let Ford divide the amalgamated city into them – “Poor Scarborough” – and “the rest of Toronto.” But no, they accepted and repeated and grew the lie that subway was the ONLY way and LRT is just 2nd Class crap for a Third-World country.

    You don’t build a NETWORK all at once – you do it one line at a time and the LRT that was proposed would have been the spine of the transit lines – the first step of many that would have helped Scarberians get around better. Instead, they have killed and eaten the golden goose while trying to get inside to get all the golden eggs at once. Now, their goose is cooked; it’s just unfortunate that those responsible don’t publicly have egg all over their faces.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. And now the “me-too” Conservatives have jumped on the high-speed rail band wagon for a pre-election ride with Wynne and Horwath. Why do I have a vision of three lemmings rolling briskly to the cliff in an orange crate wrapped in shiny paper and tinsel?

    Steve: They will sit at the edge of the cliff wondering if the orange crate will ever arrive. When it does, it will be filled with studies.


  19. Well, the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives are both committed to the Scarborough subway and therefore, you should vote for the NDP or the Green Party if you are opposed to the Scarborough subway.

    Steve: The NDP supports the Scarborough Subway, and the Green Party is not worth considering as anything more than a spoiler.


  20. NDP strategists say they’re against the Scarborough Subway, but it’s just too popular with certain voters for them to not endorse it, in their estimation. Consequently, me-too-ism wins again, just as with high-speed rail.

    Steve: The last time I looked, the “NDP strategists” are not on the ballot. They can say anything they like, but when their leader “knows better”, or more to the point won’t take a less popular position because she would have to understand and defend it, well, that’s the real NDP.


  21. A one word response to Steve’s comment about NDP strategists versus the party leader: bingo! And therein lies the reason why Andrea is now a me-too high-speed rail booster when she could have offered the credible alternative. Next up: subway to everywhere.


  22. Greg Gormick: “And therein lies the reason why Andrea is now a me-too high-speed rail booster”

    This is exactly why the need for a willingness to follow or be informed is so important as voters. The western voter in the last couple of decades has elected to do neither. That is neither read nor listen to those telling them what they do not wish to hear.

    High speed rail offers what? At what cost? What would rail at 145 kph achieve at a radically lower cost? What would closed bus lanes gain? Where are they even required? (London – Toronto would not need a closed ROW until just west of Kitchener – ie about half way) and demand would be better served by a bus every 20- 30 minutes from London than a train every couple of hours. As this drew more demand you could increase service frequency. A very large portion would be served best by a bus than ran express, than a high speed rail train that had to slow inside city limits in London, Kitchener, Guelph, Brampton and Toronto. What would the relative costs be to extend a BRT lane past Kitchener to served London, Kitchener, Guelph, Milton, and heck Brampton and Mississauga, Heck run it to the Airport and have a mobility hub that included frequent rail to core, the Mississauga transit way, the Finch LRT etc. I would note that even for those in London, with trips into and around Toronto, the real issue is congestion in Toronto, and how hard it is to get around once you are in the GTA except if you are going to core, not getting to the edge of the GTA. Fix transit in Kitchener, and offer a BRT from Milton in even, and fix the transit situation within the GTA and you would likely not even need to think about HSR. Fail to fix transit in Toronto, and the issue from the perspective of London travellers heading anywhere but core, is not really addressed. Note, there is today 2 hours train service from London, it simply does not run via Kitchener. The time saved to Kitchener from London is trivial, the time saved from Kitchener to Toronto is trivial, so HSR west of Toronto should be a non-starter, unless and until transit in Toronto, means I will not need my car when I get there.


  23. Malcolm’s question about the cost and benefits of HSR compared with other approaches to rail passenger improvement is music to my ears. I’m currently preparing interlocking reports for Oxford County on the need for high-performance rail (HPR) service on existing corridors coupled with inter-community transportation to link the towns and act as a rail feeder. Where it exists, urban transit requires substantial beefing up and interconnection with HPR if it is to achieve its full potential.

    As I wade through the mountains of reports on the 15 current and emerging HPR corridors in the U.S. — everything from Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to the thrifty North Carolina Piedmont Improvement Project — the point that keeps coming out is that frequency and passenger affordability have been viewed as more important than the maximum permissible speed.

    Most of these corridors are still being operated at 79 mph because of the old ICC (now FRA) rules requiring cab signalling and automatic train stop systems for service at 80 mph or faster. The point made in so many of these American HPR reports is that the objective has been to raise the average speed and decrease the running times by focusing on the elimination of permanent slow orders.

    But what would the experienced passenger railroaders across the U.S. know compared to the experts in all three parties at Queen’s Park?

    Steve: Not to mention the “expert” consultants whispering in the Minister’s ear.


  24. Expert consultants like the one who whispered in Glen Murray’s ear and produced a high-speed rail report that declared Toronto-London to be an easy project compared with others because it needn’t cross any mountains. And where slight impediments such as sensitive wetlands would be encountered, the builders could just “wiggle” the track. Those sort of “expert” consultants?


  25. Greg Gormick said “The point made in so many of these American HPR reports is that the objective has been to raise the average speed and decrease the running times by focusing on the elimination of permanent slow orders.”

    Yes and when we ignore the reality that a train from London, crawls out London for miles, then must slow to very low speeds so often we miss the reality that if we actually got up to the 125kph the time between places trains seem to be required to slow, is very short, and of course cutting that time in half would have a resultant small impact on overall time. The train leaving London goes right past the BMO Soccer Field in London, where kids play all winter long, a level crossing literally 100 feet from the door. How supportive will Londoners be of a train screaming through here? Past the parking lot adjacent to the large arena complex 500 yards further down the track ? How about screaming through K/W? So even if we get rid of the go slow orders around switches and build a dedicated set of tracks, how much time can we really save going to what qualifies as high speed rail? What are the alternative uses of the money to make southern Ontario work? Seems very much like building subway to out past beyond. Newmarket does not need subway, London does not need high speed rail, both could badly use basic improvements in the essential network that would make getting around a lot easier.


  26. Before Brian Mulroney’s rusty axe came down on VIA’s neck in January 1990, the corporation prepared a report outlining how the corporation could maximize its existing services to become more competitive and cost-effective within five years. It was determined they could get the Toronto-London running time on the North Main Line through Kitchener and Stratford down by 25 minutes with a relatively small infrastructure investment and new equipment. Frequency would have been increased initially to six roundtrips daily.

    Without the implementation of that VIA plan, the North Main Line running time has grown over the succeeding years to nearly three-and-a-half hours, despite the improvements made on the GO sections of the line and the installation of centralized traffic control over its full length. Frequency is now down to two roundtrips.

    On the South Main Line through Brantford and Woodstock, VIA estimated that infrastructure improvements could cut 15 minutes off the schedule and bring the Toronto-London running down to 1:40. Frequency would have increased to four Toronto-Windsor roundtrips daily and four Toronto-Sarnia. In total, there would have been 14 Toronto-London roundtrips operating over both main lines. New motive power and rolling stock would have been part of this plan, which was estimated to have an all-in cost of $375 million and could have been completed by 1995. Over a 20-year period, this would have resulted in ridership and revenue increases of 83% and 93%, respectively, while the operating loss would have declined by 25%.

    An earlier VIA plan by the Mulroney government’s own 1984-1985 Rail Passenger Action Force (which was killed partially at the urging of bus owner Paul Martin through his connections to Mulroney via Paul Demarais) advocated the reconstruction of the Brantford Bypass from Lynden to Paris Junction to operate Toronto-London express service. Local service would have been maintained to Brantford and other points, such as Oakville, Burlington and Woodstock. The 1985 estimate was $40 million to rebuild the bypass, including a new bridge over the Grand River, to slice at least another 10 minutes off the South Main Line’s Toronto-London running time, bringing it down to 1:30.

    But I guess spending billions for HSR that will supposedly deliver a 1:15 Toronto-London running time and jeopardize the future of rail service to Brantford, Woodstock, Ingersoll, Stratford and St. Marys makes more sense to the current Queen’s Park crowd.

    Steve: What is really disgusting is that the HSR “plan” arose from a consultant whispering in Glen Murray’s ear – the same consultant who was responsible for the fiasco that was John Tory’s SmartTrack scheme – and a one liner getting inserted by Murray into an election platform at the last minute. Since then, the idea has become government policy without any sense that it should be revisited, or that alternatives should be considered. This is an example of provincial “planning”, one of a long series of provincial interventions in our transportation system that provide political show with little useful substance.


  27. Greg Gormick said: “But I guess spending billions for HSR that will supposedly deliver a 1:15 Toronto-London running time and jeopardize the future of rail service to Brantford, Woodstock, Ingersoll, Stratford and St. Marys makes more sense to the current Queen’s Park crowd.”

    There is an essential issue today – the lack of general understanding of the fundamental value of accumulating base hits. I suspect this is in part because of a lack of understanding on the part of the government ministers, and a sense of being overwhelmed, and in part because the public imagination is more easily captured by grand slam home runs than a long series of base hits.

    I have no problem imagining the wide yawn that would be drawn from serious discussions around adding a track (restoring it really) from say Sarnia to London to allow higher frequency, or the need to spend some effort in rail bed maintenance or what would be required to lift the go slow orders around certain switches etc. I also have an easy time seeing any party destroying the government in office who did not have some large projects to point to. Fixing the problem really, and a very basic level requires a large number of incremental changes that if noticed pass from memory very quickly for the average voter, and are hard to point to on the electoral stage or 30 second commercials and soundbites.

    It will require an understanding on the part of the broad public in Southern Ontario to get the idea that the real solutions will feel like treading water for a long time. If you fix the access from the direction of London, you will likely induce additional demand that will make it appear as though you have done nothing. It will require a regular reminder that if it was BRT that was actually done, that there is 1:40 minute regular service to the airport from London, and a direct train to core from there. If it was a series of minor changes, what the target and achievement was.

    This is exactly the issue generally in the portfolio as a whole. The grand solution taking the imagination, where the appearance of a one stroke solution takes the headlines, hence public attention. Whereas a real solution is anchored in actually defining the problem carefully, understanding that it is really dozens of smaller ones, and setting about addressing all the smaller ones. Today – Scarborough east to core, or STC connection to core travel time, seems to have become the defining problem, but even it is not the focus, subway as the ultimate answer is. I cannot help but ask, what about access to subway, what about time spent in traffic (which is an issue today) in Scarborough getting to that subway? What about the trips that do not end in the core, or are not bound to the STC?. Even for those trips to core, what are the alternatives in terms of reducing travel time? It is the same essential issue, in the solution isn’t it, the actual solutions – ie likely a couple of BRT lines, and a couple of LRT lines, don’t solve THE problem, they do not make the highlight real, but instead address the problems.

    If for instance someone got permission to build a BRT from Morningside to Kennedy, where all the intersected bus routes could then have either a transfer to an in BRT bus, or run an express version to Kennedy, would this solution actually still be something you could play in the next election cycle, or would the reality of it being a sub one billion dollar answer mean it was quickly irrelevant. Is that it would provide access to both GO and subway at that point a political negative? Is that it would enable many small improvements in bus routes and trip times make it politically a liability because saving 20 minutes 2 minutes at a time is far less valuable, than saving 20 minutes all at once? I will say the approach being explored on King Street out of desperation, gives me hope, because it is in essence the notion of addressing relatively small changes to improve service in a meaningful way. We need to understand small changes, cumulatively can have a massive impact.

    I would essentially put to you that the transit consultant the put forth the Smart Track proposal and the HSR proposal, is really an political consultant specializing in the optics of transit. It is this sort of discussion that the broader public needs to understand, that today it is the public’s desire for a highlight real solution currently driving all 3 parties.


  28. SmartTrack originated with a pack of developers with acres of land not served by transit out near the airport and friends in high places. HSR came from a consultant who connected with Glen Murray and set his little Queen’s Park wheels spinning. VIA’s high-frequency nonsense was born out of desperation by a gang of political hacks who wouldn’t listen to the experienced rail consultants who were brought in at the start and who told them the abandoned CP Havelock Subdivision route had been explored and rejected several times for some very good reasons.


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