Metrolinx held a Board meeting on December 7, followed on December 12 by a Town Hall.
Public questions to the Town Hall were submitted in advance and in real time during the Town Hall online, and in person by attendees. Metrolinx plans to put answers to all questions, including those that could not be handled during the Town Hall itself online in coming weeks. That record is now available at MetrolinxEngage.
My interest in both events was as much to see how the new CEO Phil Verster would handle himself especially during an open Q&A session which has not, to be kind, been part of the corporate culture at Metrolinx.
- Metrolinx Governance
- Presto Privacy Review
- Hydrogen Technology Analysis
- RER On-Corridor Procurement Strategy
- Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan
- Town Hall
Rahul Bhardwaj gave a verbal report from the Governance Committee that had met the preceding day. He noted that under the Metrolinx Act, only a few types of business must be conducted in public, and that Metrolinx already exceeds this minimum level. Sadly, that’s not saying much, and it leaves a great deal of the Board’s activities in the dark unlike the situation at the TTC, a municipal agency for which closed sessions are limited by rules in the City of Toronto Act. The two approaches are completely different: for Metrolinx the rare exception is to debate in public while for the TTC, it is the private session that is comparatively rare.
“Transparemcy” is the new watchword at Metrolinx, and to that end more documents will be published, and in a timely manner. This will include all Benefits Case Analyses before rather than after they are discussed at the Board, and reports for the public sessions in general will be available five days ahead of meetings.
The real challenge will be just how “transparent” this process will be especially when it comes to financial matters where various types of privilege including “commercial confidentiality” and “government advice” can get in the way of understanding just what Metrolinx is up to.
In response to public concerns about Metrolinx releasing Presto tracking data to law enforcement agencies, a revised policy was produced for the Board’s approval. The most substantive change, according to staff, is to the conditions under which Metrolinx will require a court order for the data. Specifically, events that are not related to transit incidents, involve multiple accounts or cover a longer time period would require a court order. Individuals would be notified about disclosures where possible, and Metrolinx will produce an annual statistical report starting in February 2018.
Board member Janet Ecker asked whether Metrolinx has the ability to respond quickly to requests. Staff replied that there is off hours coverage, and that typically work will begin on retrieving information when a request comes in, with the actual release occurring when the formal request arrives. The individuals who make these requests are usually known to Metrolinx .
Ecker asked whether anything controversial remains in the policy. Staff replied that not requiring a warrant in every case remains an issue.
Chair Rob Prichard favoured a more restrictive process for privacy with legal authorization in all cases as is done by telecom providers. Staff replied that typical cases would be assaults and missing person searches.
The policy was approved subject to final comments from the Information and Privacy Commissioner which, as of the Board meeting, were still pending and expected by year end. A follow-up report is likely at the February 2018 Board meeting.
This report is a status update on an analysis of hydrogen fuel cell technology as a power source for electric trains in place of traditional overhead catenary and power fed through substations. The study has been underway since May 2017 by consultants CH2M. “Hydrail” is the name by which this goes today.
The overall concept is to use surplus power from overnight generation to produce hydrogen which, in turn, would be used in fuel cells to power a new generation of GO locomotives or EMUs (electric multiple unit cars). The components of the system are shown in the following diagram.
(It is rather amusing to see a solar farm as a possible power source given the hours when, allegedly, the generation side of this system would operate.)
Part of the study involves a “concept design” for an EMU based on Hydrail power, and two manufacturers are working on proposals to be complete in the spring of 2018.
The outputs of the EMU Concept Design will enable Metrolinx to:
- validate the assumptions in the Feasibility Study Report relating to performance, costs and delivery timescales of HFC EMU rail vehicles improving the accuracy of the comparative economic assessment between Hydrail and electrification;
- develop an RER RFP specification that could allow for alternative propulsion technologies;
- understand to a higher level of specificity the ‘energy matters’ schedule of the RFP, which will require the bidders to incorporate energy innovation and savings into the contract;
- act as an informed owner and thereby allow it to structure the procurement in a manner that allows for and drives innovation. [p. 9]
This shows a “hands on” approach to the RFP with respect to technology choice, and does not entirely square with claims that Metrolinx is “agnostic” in selecting an option for RER electrification. “Innovation” is a dangerous word in transit procurements in Ontario, and it has led to politically motivated choices aimed at a hoped-for development and demands that never materialize both in passengers and in industrial benefits.
Chair Rob Prichard, speaking of the Hydrail symposium held at the Design Exchance in November 2017 by Metrolinx, thought that the event was weighted to technology enthusiasts rather than critics. Staff felt that they have skeptics enough to provide balance, and noted that the lifespan of Hydrail development is longer than the issues Metrolinx faces imminently. There are areas where concepts can be challenged, and this will be incorporated in the study report. The feasibility study will be complete by the end of 2017, and will be publicly released for the February 2018 Board meeting.
Despite emerging developments in the hydrogen fuel cell field, one point from the symposium was that:
To date, no jurisdiction has implemented hydrail on a locomotive or bi-level carriage that would be compatible with RER [p. 11]
Board member Anne Golden asked how Metrolinx would get past the lack of Hydrail implementation on the scale Metrolinx requires. She argued that this is definitely a showstopper, and Metrolinx wants proven technology. Even so, it is worth doing research to have information on the subject.
CEO Phil Verster replied that the DBFOM procurement for RER (about which more below) will be technology agnostic. He argued that there is a possibility that building a catenary-based system could leave a stranded asset. By leaving the technology choice open, he feels Metrolinx is pushing the hydrogen debate along. It is truly astounding to hear this sort of statement in a world where electric power fed through overhead catenary is a widely embraced standard. This sounds more like a parroted line from a Hydrail booster, especially considering we do not yet know the relative cost (capital and operating) and reliability of the two technologies. One technology could be “stranded”, and it might not be the overhead wiring.
Because the technology choice would allegedly be up to those who are bidding on RER, Metrolinx is shifting the decision to the vendors and forcing them to bear the risk of whatever they propose. This effectively says to the market, “put up or shut up” on hydrogen rather than expecting a well-padded development contract with all of the risk on the government’s side. That’s a fine goal, but it assumes that Metrolinx would hang the vendor out to dry if their chosen system fails. It also assumes that there would be no political interference in the choice vendors were expected to propose.
The business case study for RER will be updated with technology-based information appropriate for Hydrail, but this presumes that it would be Metrolinx, through its BCA process, who would be making the technology choice. If this is really being left to the would-be vendors, their considerations are different and notably do not include any of the social goals included as part of Metrolinx’ overall evaluation strategy. What are those goals, and how much is Ontario prepared to pay for them?
Chair Prichard asked what proportion of Ontario’s generating capacity RER would consume. Staff replied that it would be 1% of Ontario’s daily power generation, but that there is a 2.5:1 ratio of power needed for Hydrail versus conventional electrification due to conversion losses. The total power requirement would be higher if Hydrail were implemented network-wide, not just on those segments currently earmarked for RER.
The timing of the draw would be shifted to overnight, but the absolute power draw would be bigger for Hydrail. If a future power supply mix no longer included the relatively low base power produced by nuclear plants, then the assumption of low overnight power cost might not exist. Phil Verster noted that the viability of Hydrail depends on cheap overnight power, and on a 40-year timespan, the current situation could change.
Board member Rahul Bhardwaj asked about the timelines of the Hydrail work versus implementation of RER.
Phil Verster replied that the RFQ would come out in March 2018 with shortlisting to be complete by fall 2018, followed by an RFP process for 12-18 months. Technology decisions will be left to the market, but Metrolinx is not making a commitment either way and Verster does not see Metrolinx writing a hydrogen requirement into the RFP.
Bhardwaj asked if the RFP were issued today, who could respond. Verster replied that for hydrogen this would be a small group, but a large one for catenary-based power.
Verster repeated that Metrolinx has not made up its mind yet, saying that there could be huge momentum for hydrogen. This is a potential, but who knows market would offer or bid. Metrolinx is not neglecting conventional technology, he says.
Metrolinx is breaking the procurement of various portions of the RER project into three packages:
- Package 1 includes enabling works that support early enhanced service and prepare the network for future system-wide contracts
- Package 2 focuses on off-corridor projects and includes 12 new stations and modifications to existing stations
- Package 3 is network on-corridor infrastructure and delivery of the enhanced train services [p. 3]
Package 3 will be procured as “DBFOM” where the successful bidder designs, builds, finances, operates and maintains the infrastructure. The intent of bundling is to eliminate integration risks, and to place all of this on the successful bidder because they will be responsible both for design and construction as well as operations and maintenance. [see pp. 4-5]
The contract will include:
- Fleet: new electric locomotives and electric multiple units
- Systems: power system upgrades, and other works to deliver electric traction power, train control and communication systems
- Civil works: bridges, retaining walls, noise walls, grading, drainage, track bed and track
- Union Station: reconfiguration of platforms, track and vertical transport [p. 6]
In effect, Metrolinx is building a completely new “GO Transit” around RER, and a good deal of this will be handled by a separate consortium. It is not a big jump to seeing the remaining fragments of GO moved to an external operator at some future date.
It is worth noting here that reconfiguration of Union Station is included in the contract, and this means that Metrolinx will soon have some idea of just what changes it plans to make there.
Responding to a question from the Board, Phil Verster replied that for “mature systems” (those that have been around for some time and have experience with building and operating railways), DBFOM is typically used only for “captive systems” such as the Docklands Light Railway which is self-contained. Otherwise, an alliance between the operator and bidder is more common. For new builds, DBFOM is typical.
The basic problem here is that Metrolinx has never built an electric railway, much less operated one with a much higher level of service than its current GO system. As an organization, they do not appear to want to develop that expertise in house. The question down the road will be the degree to which the specifications of the original bid and service parameters foresee future changes and avoid locking Metrolinx into a configuration that cannot be adapted to more complex needs. Until we see what the Request for Proposals will include, that question cannot be answered, and the commercial secrecy of Metrolinx affairs is such that we may never know.
Operationally, responsibility for running the trains will be phased from the current incumbent, Bombardier, to the DBFOM consortium at a time to be decided. Since the Board meeting, Metrolinx has announced that the existing contract will be extended by 18 months as part of the settlement of their contract dispute regarding late delivery of LRVs. The Star reports:
As part of the settlement, Metrolinx has agreed to extend, by 18 months, a separate contract that Bombardier holds for operating and maintaining GO Transit service. GO Transit operations have been contracted out to Bombardier for decades, and the company’s current contract was set to expire in 2023.
In a statement, Bombardier said the value of the GO Transit extension will effectively offset its lost revenue from the reduced vehicle order, and the new deals “do not change materially the size of our relationship with Metrolinx.”
It is ironic that this extension does not appear in the Metrolinx press release regarding the LRVs, nor is there a separate release on the Metrolinx web site.
Bombardier’s position, that the tradeoff between building more LRVs and continuing to operate GO Transit is simply a revenue offset, implies that there is more money to be made in a shorter time simply by running trains rather than by building transit vehicles.
In any event, the 18-month extension puts the Bombardier contract expiry some time in 2025 with an overlap to the planned completion and commissioning of the RER trains and infrastructure.
Verster noted that there is a risk for any bidder in taking on existing assets (the GO Transit rail lines to be upgraded), and Metrolinx is building an asset management database to document the scope and condition of the system today. Depending on early soundings from potential bidders, Metrolinx will structure the RFQ/RFP process with a level of handover which the market is comfortable in accepting.
All of this has the air of being ever so professional except for the concern that Metrolinx could “give away the store” without our ever knowing what an alternative structure might have looked like. In the desire to shift risk to a separate entity, Metrolinx could pay more than the “risk transfer” is worth, and there will likely be escape hatches where the DBFOM bidder can ask for additional payments for unforeseen (and therefore not contracted) issues and requirements.
Verster wants the focus to be on the overall RER program rather than on individual projects. His discussion of “stage gates” for approvals and of the tradeoffs between the private bidders and government policy shows that early in his stay at Metrolinx he is already embroiled in political machinations and hedging.
There will be four Business Case Analyses across the RER project at each “gate”. Circumstances and designs may change assumptions from early to later stages as information “matures” such as station requirements and service patterns. The BCAs will be one factor of a process where decisions are made at the political level. Here, Verster treads on thin ice, by observing that hydrogen could have a poor Business Case for transit, but be good overall for Ontario. This implies a level of BCA measurement outside of transit, per se, although some of that is already in the BCA model through the social and economic benefits a project might bring. Some of these are “soft” benefits such as the imputed value of travel time savings or spinoff industry, while others are “hard” such as specifics of operating costs.
The problem with Verster’s stance is that it contradicts the idea that the market will decide which technology they wish to embrace and how much risk to future profits they will undertake, not to mention at what cost. Bidders might be directed to follow a specific tactic for political reasons that have little to do with the improvement of transit. Moreover, major decisions such as the power supply technology must be taken early in the process as they affect everything from design onward. This is not a small scale change order, but a fundamental aspect of the contract and how it would be priced.
Specifically, would the government direct that Metrolinx follow a hydrogen-based scheme even before it was known whether this would be technically feasible at a reasonable cost? Would Metrolinx roll over because this is a “political” decision? What is the value of stage gate reviews and BCAs if a political decision can override supposedly independent technical advice? We have seen this already with the station selection process, and of course for the SmartTrack and LRT/subway debates in Toronto.
On December 22, 2017, Metrolinx announced that it had selected five Prequalified Operators for the next stage of discussions:
Metrolinx has selected five (5) Prequalified Operators in response to the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for RER Operations issued in July 2017.
The Prequalified Operators are eligible to participate as operators on applicant teams for the upcoming Design Build Finance Operate Maintain (DBFOM) procurement process for the RER on-corridor works.
Prequalified Operators were selected based on an evaluation of their approach, experience and financial capacity to deliver the expected scope of operations services for the planned RER service. They are:
- First Rail Express (comprising First Group and EllisDon)
- Keolis / SNCF
- MTR Corporation
- Toronto Regional Express Expansion (comprising Deutsche Bahn and John Holland)
- Trans Regional Rail Group (comprising Serco and RATP Dev)
A market sounding exercise with interested parties for the DBFOM procurement will commence in early 2018 and a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the DBFOM procurement is expected to be released in Spring 2018.
Notable by their absence (unless they are a subcontractor to one of the principals) is Bombardier. It will be interesting to watch this process evolve, and to see which well-connected companies and advisors emerge as promoters.
Three months ago, I wrote an overview of the new Regional Transportation Plan, and intended to follow this up with a an article on some of the background papers. That piece sits half-written in part because I looked in vain to find enough details worth reviewing. Indeed, the working title of the article is “Where Is The Plan?”.
What is so striking about the published work to date is the absence of specifics. There are nice maps and a few snapshots of overall future travel demand, but no sense of how the network would work, how it should evolve and how various options might add to or hinder its success. The demand figures are unimpressive with the average modal share for transit hardly moving over decades – it actually increases within the City of Toronto while declining in the 905. This is hardly a success story.
A significant omission is the role of “last mile” local services, and without them it is no wonder that transit cannot gain a foothold in areas now dominated by auto travel. There is an odd echo of this in a separate fare integration business case. This report observes that the primary reason integrated fares reduce auto effects such as emissions is that they encourage the park-and-ride trips now common in the 905 to shift to transit, assuming that there is something for people to ride.
A large portion of automobile travel reduction benefits come from shift from park and ride trips to using transit for the whole trip – highlighting the importance of exploring paid parking to also encourage a shift from automobile for transit access. [p. xiv]
I will review that paper in a separate article.
Originally, the Metrolinx Board had hoped to sign off on the Draft RTP at its December meeting, but there simply is not enough meat on the bones for them to do so. Specifically, any “advice” they might give the government about relative priorities and funding issues have not yet been addressed.
Staff will now prepare a separate report for the February 18, 2018 Board Meeting:
The “Making it Happen” Discussion Paper will propose options for analysis and engagement to support decision making that would realize the 2041 RTP. [p. 1]
Chief Planning Officer Leslie Woo noted that there are many questions about decision making and funding issues, and that this portion of the RTP would be cleaved off as a separate document. Metrolinx feels that they have “got it right” for the 2041 network, but how to get there is the issue.
There will be a much broader discussion after February, but we can only hope that the background necessary to evaluate options will also be published so that the debate is on a strong footing beyond local political demands for “my” subway or GO station. In particular, the behaviour of alternative interim network scenarios is vital to understanding the priorities network components should have.
The presentation concentrated on the consultation process. Appendix 1 of the report consolidates the “messages heard” by Metrolinx from the public and from various municipalities. These are presented in summary form and focus on widespread support for the plan without delving into the caveats that might have been raised.
Staff reported impatience and frustration with the lack of progress, and strong support for seamlessness at the 416/905 border. There was no regional consensus about what a transit node would look like – parking facilities or collections of other services at stations. “Who does what” – the province, Metrolinx, the municipalities – is a question needing substantial public debate.
Appendix 2 provides an outline of the “Making It Happen” paper. It will address several questions that, frankly, have been quietly ignored for far too long.
This discussion paper outlines key considerations and questions for advancing on the implementation of the strategies and actions in the plan:
- What are the options for how Metrolinx and its partners can collaborate to implement the RTP? Which processes will enable the necessary partnerships?
- What are the options for phasing the actions in the plan?
- What are the criteria for prioritization?
- How should actions and projects be bundled to enable subsequent discussions on implementation?
- Who should lead the various actions? Who should be at the table? Who needs to participate?
- What are the principles and options for funding implementation of the plan?
- How will success be defined? [p. 13]
Woo noted that the change here is to focus on the outcome “what good looks like” (a Phil Verster phrase we will hear often at Metrolinx), but to provide multiple paths to get there. This will include discussion of priorities, phasing, benefits cases, management and funding, fare and service integration and effects of the Growth Plan.
The section on prioritization is particularly important as it implies a more robust and less political approach to development of an implementation plan.
There are many ways to implement the plan. Appropriate phasing of the projects and other strategies will need to be considered to maximize benefits at key points in time
over the horizon period. In particular, prioritizing what should proceed in the first ten years will be a key consideration.
- Clustering of strategies and actions will be essential to convene specific partners with the right stake and expertise to advance them, at the right time.
- Many stakeholders have called for “Quick wins” program similar to the original “Big Move”. Consideration could be given to identifying quick win projects and sources of funding.
- A robust methodology for prioritizing projects and developing options is required. Metrolinx developed a project prioritization framework that was used to recommend funding options for priority projects in The Big Move. This will need to be reviewed and updated.
- An important consideration will be the identification of interdependencies among projects, policies and programs/project bundling. The transportation system is interconnected system of parts that work together deliver services to users. E.g. RER will not be successful at attracting ridership growth without robust station access initiatives. Phasing considerations will need to acknowledge inter-dependencies.
- Developing the process for advancing projects in the RTP through the Benefits Management Framework will be part of implementation planning. It will identify how projects advance from the from the RTP to further planning, design and ultimately construction:
- What are the decision points?
- What evidence is needed at each point?
- What are the methodologies that must be used to present the evidence?
- Who is making the decision to proceed? [p. 14]
There is always a political desire for “quick wins” so that the government and management of the day have something to show for their efforts beyond a library of studies. However, there is a danger that the “quick wins” will be selected because they are cheap and easy to implement with little risk, but they might contribute little to solving the overall network challenges. In a worst case scenario, the quick wins are the only part of a plan that is implemented.
The plan must be proof against shifting political favours, against the temptation to plan for electoral advantage rather than for the overall needs of the region. In light of current practice, the idea that “evidence” would form part of the decision-making is almost delightfully naïve.
Director Anne Golden noted that Ryerson City Building Institute (which she heads) was about to finalize a blog piece about real estate as a contribution to transit development. She argued that this was an opportunity to strengthen the RTP’s credibility, but that making the plan work requires buy-in across many areas.
(Ryerson CBI also published an article about the folly of a superagency to amalgamate the region’s transit systems arguing that integration and amalgamation are not the same thing, and that the primary issue is the availability of funding, not governance.)
Director Janet Ecker observed that there are stakeholders who are very important, and some stakeholders who think they are very important. How can Metrolinx avoid making some think they have been ignored? Leslie Woo replied that there will be a feedback report on what was asked, what Metrolinx can or cannot do and why.
Whether that will satisfy the more self-centred of the stakeholders remains to be seen.
Phil Verster spoke of the need to support co-ordination across multiple agencies and municipalities, but felt that jumping to a debate about governance structure is not a solution to Metrolinx’ problems. Leslie Woo will be setting up an intergovernmental forum to get behind the RTP at the staff level, to listen, work together and conclude debates on things like fare integration, and then inform the politicians. This begs the question of who makes the decision, and whether the choices are pre-empted by filtering of options.
- PV: Phil Verster, Metrolinx President and CEO
- GP: Greg Percy, Chief Operating Officer
- LW: Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer
- RS: Robert Siddall, Chief Financial Officer
- JP: Judy Pfeifer, Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer
- PZ: Peter Zuk, Chief Capital Officer
- RH: Robert Hollis, Executive VP Presto
- Top10: Advance “Top 10” online questions
- Web: Online questions submitted during the Town Hall
- Aud: The in-room audience who might be called “groundlings” but for the presence of chairs.
This is not an exhaustive transcript of the proceedings for which I refer you to the video record.
An important change was obvious simply by walking into the Boardroom at Metrolinx headquarters in Union Station. Normally the Board sits at a long table while the public sit on chairs with, in some cases, an obstructed view of activities thanks to a structural column. For the Town Hall, the chairs faced away from the Board table, and Metrolinx officials sat on the same furniture as the audience with no intervening barrier.
CEO Phil Verster began with the new mantra – Transparency – saying that he wants to learn what is important to “you”, that is to the public. He also raised the issue of “courtesy” saying that Metrolinx will share what they know, but everyone should have a chance to participate. This came up later in the meeting when a questioner challenged the staff version of an issue, and it will be interesting to see how Verster makes out with a crowd that does not start out in a friendly mood.
The questions were taken on a round-robin basis from the Top Ten online list, from the audience, and from online viewers. For clarity, they are presented here grouped by related subjects, not in the order in which they were asked.
Questions about construction effects:
The following questions as a group deal with overnight noise from construction of a new north track in the Union Station corridor west of Parliament Street in the vicinity of Longboat Lane where the site is immediately adjacent to the back of houses. Metrolinx proposes to widen the corridor. This will affect the existing greenery that screens the corridor from the houses and move trains closer to them. Even though the first of these questions was known in advance, there was a sense that Metrolinx was winging their response and did not really understand the severity of the complaint. This is not the first time GO construction has been a bad neighbour, as those along the Weston corridor know.
Top10: Construction and general operations continue overnight and are quite loud. When will Metrolinx provide a noise wall and/or some form of soundproofing.
GP: We understand concerns but there is a question of balance in respecting a community. Sometimes we get focused on getting work done. Better notice to residents is needed, and we can adjust where we can. As for noise abatement, there is a community meeting in January. Improved communication with the neighbourhood is needed.
PV: In various communuities there are questions about noise walls at multiple locations and times of the day. Environmental Assessments and other delays get in the way of building walls. Metrolinx is putting together a booklet on noise walls – when and where are they appropriate, at what scale and cost. He is not saying that a wall is not required, but there are financial and permissions issues too. This is expected to come out in the next few months.
Web: Why does RER have the new E0 track at Union 50m away from houses when 150m standard is the standard?
PZ: We try to achieve 150m, but in some cases we are forced to go closer.
Aud: The Longboat Association and the Caroline Coop have taken measurements of construction noise. MTO sets the maximum level of transport noise at 50-55 db. The community gets readings 20 db or more above this level since the onslaught of construction. On one occasion in October, the reading was 100 db and there were high levels of vibration. What is Metrolinx ready to do? Construction is going on through weeknights and they are not getting sleep.
At this point, Phil Verster admitted that he did not know where the site in question was.
Greg Percy talked about broad principles – he understands there is noise, but was evasive about what would be done falling back on the need for continuous upgrades. Notification to residents is not a fix for the problem.
PZ: There is a need to discuss more about what Metrolinx can do such as installing noise walls.
Questions about project analysis and political interference:
These answers dodged the issue of political decisions preceding and pre-empting analysis.
Web: What Benefits Case updates are being done?
LW: A new formal Benefits Case management process was presented at the last board meeting. There is a stage gate process to projects, and BCs are performed at the associated level of detail. The final BC for the RER project is coming in January, and there will also be the second stage BC for new stations.
PV reiterates that elected officials make decisions in a democracy.
Top10: What is Metrolinx doing to limit government interference?
PV: The question doesn’t make sense. When you think about investment in infrastructure, government makes decisions. Government has revenue, while Metrolinx does not have its own. We give advice and implement programs governments approve.
Questions about grade separations:
Aud: There is a grade separation on the Lakeshore East at Scarborough Golf Club Road that requires moving the entrance to a golf club. The board of that club has decided to route new driveway thru a curling club, one of two in Scarborough. Is this a sweetheart deal between a private country club and Metrolinx in compensation for moving the driveway driveway, tearing down the curling club and building a new maintenance facility. How much money are they getting?
JP: The communications group is working with the golf club and there is a community working group.
PV: It is important that we give clarity. If we have to buy property, we have to procure it at market price. What the club does on their property is not Metrolinx business. We will get info about this, and it could be a case of unintended consequences.
Aud: In Scarborough, communities are concerned about new grade crossing on the Stouffville Corridor between Sheppard and Finch which create a safety for children whose school is across the tracks. Will Metrolinx work with city and community on this?
PV: We have a lot of attention on level crossings. Traffic counts and other priorities drive the investment profile [for grade separations] and some crossings are getting attention. There are five crossings between Finch and Sheppard. Verster and staff are going to visit them.
Questions about stations and service expansion:
Top10: Why is the Burlington GO Station renovation entering its 6th year?
PZ: Now it’s done. When we started we didn’t get it right. Utilities were found that were not expected, and this affected power supply to the new station. There were also contractor performance issues. Metrolinx now has a vendor management program, and selects contractors based on past performance.
Web: Can we get update on Bowmanville?
PZ: The EA is in progress, and Metrolinx does not have a construction start date.
LW: Stations are included in and co-ordinated with the RER project.
Top10: Why is there no plan for a Park Lawn Station in place of Mimico?
LW: Last June there was a station review, and there will be further work on this at the Board’s request. Metrolinx is working with the City on a plan, and this will be one of several BCs staff will bring forward in 2018.
Web: How will you improve safety and flow at Union with more service?
PZ: We are at Union through 2040 and we are working to improve platforms. Metrolinx is constantly working with the City to keep operations safe. The plan is to reduce the number of tracks but widen platforms to improve the safety of access to trains. There will be elevators, stairs and maybe even escalators. There are long term implications for train access.
PV: We also want to get level boarding in place and eliminate the need to align with mobility platforms. More capacity is coming in the future.
LW: When the Bay concourse opens, plus the moat, plus the end of constant shifting of routes through the station, the real capacity of Union will go up.
Aud: What are plans for GO bus service on Hwy 407?
GP: We have about 2500 bus trips/day. They are constantly reviewed – operators have discretion to use 407 if it works. There’s always a way to optimize the service.
LW: We are reviewing the RTP, and for its frequent transit network the 407 is ideal corridor in the medium term.
Top10: Will there be more express trains?
PV: RER will bring more service. There are things happening now (e.g. Barrie all day service). The RTP does a lot, but in the longer term and it is not all funded. The program delivery has started, and the next five years will be very interesting.
Web: Can you speed up Kitchener service? It is better on VIA.
GP: Metrolinx bought the KW corridor and fully takes it over in October of 2018. There are 30 grade crossings between Georgetown and Kitchener that must be reviewed. Metrolinx plans to double track and signal the line after they own it, but this needs to be synced with other work. GP agrees that Metrolinx needs to do this work, but feels it is about five years before completion.
Questions about technology:
Web: What is Metrolinx doing to improve signal issues and delays?
GP: Two separate things happened today. There was an investigation near the core, and a switch failure at Whitby requiring a temporary fix. Cancelled trains cause crowding.
PZ: We are rebuilding to improve both for better technology and also more frequent service.
Top10: Why electrify? Why not stay with what works?
PZ: Convert existing lines will bring more service.
PV: This may pertain to hydrogen too. Ontario is very very ambitious, with very exciting plans. This is an opportunity to think about alternatives. What we want to explain is we don’t necessarily thing hydrogen is the answer, but leave this up to bidders. If we do get a hydrogen-based system, it will be a world first. We are not specifying the technology, but will let the supply chain which has to deliver on time, on budget. We need infrastructure for 4 times as many trips per week. What shape it takes depends on the risks and cost effects, price and project schedule.
[There were really a few answers here, and not directly to the question asked which was, I thought, aimed at the diesel to electric conversion of most GO corridors for RER. As for hydrogen-fuelled trains, Metrolinx is leaving the decision about technical viability and risk to bidders on a DBFOM contract to implement and run the RER network. With luck, this will bring a less biased view of future technology than one driven by Ministerial edict and fancy. See also my caveats about the technology selection process in the section on the Board meeting above.]
Web: When will we see new tier 4 locomotives in service?
GP: UPX is already running with T4 engines. New GO locomotives will begin to arrive at the end of December continuing into the new year (1 in December, 1 in January, the rest later).
Top10: Can we get a breakdown of where our fares go?
RS: Fares go to operating expenses. Capital projects are paid for by the government.
Aud: A question from Burlington : The original Big Move had money for local transit, but this has quietly disappeared. We need the ability to get around. In Burlington a 30 minute GO service meets an hourly local transit route. Metrolinx builds parking, not local transit.
LW: Money for local transit was in the Investment Strategy, but this was only advice to government. We feel that first mile, last mile is an unconquered part of plan, and we are committed to move this forward.
[That may be true, but the Draft RTP does not explore the level of subsidy required to make local transit a credible feeder service to many GO stations. Meanwhile the Minister is musing about Uber and self-driving vehicles rather than addressing local transit needs.]
Aud: With the danger of cost overruns on projects, how will this be controlled and the risk shifted to the private sector?
PV: You can discuss the merits of various ways to fund a project. It is not just about debt levels, but also the economic benefits separate from just transit itself. We have an insatiable demand, and there is probably little debate about the need to invest.
[At this point there was a feisty exchange about PV’s failing to address the question.]
What we’re doing now on RER is to “ring fence” all of the risks. This is a model that works. On Eglinton, the rolling stock procurement was separate and created integration problems with the main project. Somehow there is an implication that without the Bombardier issue, the problems would not have happened. On Eglinton we are fixing past problems. Are are we doing 3Ps well enough? The Auditor General has flagged past problems and we are putting in processes to make things work better based on lessons learned.
Questions about fares:
Aud: There is a two fare wall where GO has “negotiated” a fare reduction with TTC. Now there are trips made up of a YRT + GO + Subway journey that can get riders to UofT faster than going entirely by subway. Will Metrolinx share with the 905 how they managed to “negotiate” a GO+TTC fare fare reduction?
In a recent TTC report about the UPass (a university student pass), there was talk of a cross border pass. Will Metrolinx direct staff to share how they accomplished this? Also will they look at the revenue opportunity of charging for parking and using this to subsidize fares?
PV: We should remove the myth we did something with TTC. All transit operators share and talk openly, and Metrolinx has arrangements with TTC and other systems. Even though there are barriers, we need to get solutions to harmonize the systems. There will be a forum with transit operators about fares. As for parking, it is a very important part of the psychology of how people travel today. We are constantly looking at how to adjust this such as through ride sharing.
LW: We act in “facilitative way”, e.g. for YRT and TTC. The Metrolinx board directed us on removal of barriers and consolidation of policies. The value proposition regarding the “1st mile” of travel is at issue regarding parking.
[I cannot help mentioning that Phil Verster missed a good chance to explain how co-fares come about, as well as some of the history of the YRT-TTC relationship. When the government wants to remove an annoyance for riders, they spend money, most recently in the case of the GO-TTC co-fare. Between YRT and TTC, the situation is that York Region accepted that the subway would charge a TTC fare even for travel in York in exchange for which the Region would have minimal responsibility for operating costs and maintenance (mainly their own bus terminals). Subway operations would be funded by the City of Toronto.
[If Queen’s Park wants to make this problem go away, as well as similar issues on the western and eastern borders, all that is needed is the will to spend the money. The entire “fare integration” study at Metrolinx has been hamstrung for two years by the lack of provincial investment in cross-border fare and service subsidies, although this appears to be changing. This is a perfect example of the type of issue that “politicians” should decide, but for which good professional advice should assist government in its work.]
Top10: When will Presto uploads be in real time?
RH: The need to upload and download information to Presto devices on vehicles causes the delay today. If you load at a physical machine, the update is in real time, as are autoloads [I don’t think that this is correct]. The challenge is with web-based loads, and the delay is now down to 4 hours for stations. Buses sync with the central system at their garage, but this will be fixed within two years and the update time will be reduced to two hours.
Aud: Applause to Metrolinx for providing the LRT lines, but why has the Hurontario line left the Kingsbridge community with no station. The questioner also raised the problem of disabled demand in this area and claimed that the spirit of AODA was not being respected. [The area in question lies south of Eglinton which is the last stop before Square One which is on the south side of Highway 403.] What will Metrolinx do about this?
PV: Metrolinx is not about giving up on a community. Leslie Woo’s team will review the situation.
Aud: In the purchase of services by the TTC from Metrolinx, are prices marked up, for construction of the Lawrence East Station. Why does TTC appear to want to price the use of limited use media higher. Should pricing decisions be left to the TTC? Should Metrolinx charge TTC for the use of its tracks.
[This was a rather confused question mixing several issues into one. In answering, some issues were missed by Metrolinx, notably the one about the TTC using GO Transit tracks, something for which there are no plans. Limited use media (aka “LUMs”) will be single trip Presto cards with the same functionality as tokens. It is unclear how much Presto will charge the TTC to supply the LUMs and whether this will be a surcharge on fare stored on this medium.]
PV: Projects from Metrolinx are not priced up to TTC.
RH: LUMs are coming next year. As for pricing, the TTC will set that.