Metrolinx Updates News Stations Business Cases

In anticipation of its board meeting on March 8, 2018, Metrolinx has released a report updating its analyses of various proposed new GO stations, some of which are intended to serve John Tory’s SmartTrack scheme.

The whole question of new stations has been under a cloud recently thanks to reporting by the Star’s Ben Spurr who has documented political interference in the evaluation process. Metrolinx is very sensitive to this and tries to dodge questions both by characterizing such reporting as “conspiracy theories” and by saying that they want to go forward rather then looking back on how we reached the current situation. It’s water under the bridge, dirt swept under the carpet, pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain territory. And if you don’t buy that, well, politicians make decisions all the time, and the staff’s job is only to provide advice. That the advice might be tailored to fit a desired conclusion is simply beyond discussion.

In a set of analyses conducted in mid-2016, Metrolinx reviewed several stations and found some of them wanting in the contribution they might make to the network. Notable among these was Kirby Station on the Barrie line which was not originally recommended. Magically, the numbers changed after Ministerial intervention. We have no way of knowing how many other Metrolinx staff recommendations have been perverted in this manner, but the problem will not go away. Already the newly minted Minister is musing about stations in her political territory, the Milton corridor.

The new report seeks to justify continued spending on many stations, but with the focus on individual station analyses, important details are buried or simply not included in the published information. We are supposed to read the summary and look no further.

The status of stations still actively under review is presented in one chart.

In a marvellous piece of newspeak, Metrolinx refers to stations where “Benefits are Positive but Less Than Costs”. In other words, the costs outweigh the benefits, but this is presented as if it were a positive state of affairs.

One would generally expect that the presence of new stations would be positive, and the only case where this does not apply depends on the presumed effect of adding a stop on the attractiveness of service to existing and potential riders. A large proportion of the “benefit” in Metrolinx analyses arises from the imputed value of reduced travel times and diversion of trips from auto to transit. The model is very sensitive to changes in travel time, and so the addition of stops tends to hurt ridership whose trips are lengthened by adding stations.

Back in June 2016, Metrolinx evaluated four models for future service on its network including the new stations to be added by SmartTrack. The service plan at the time was quite clearly to provide a 15 minute or better service on most of the network except some outer sections which would receive a lower level of service, possibly peak only. With respect to service inside the City of Toronto, the report observed:

All seven GO corridors run through the City of Toronto, stopping at 19 stations, and meeting at Union Station. … the GO corridors largely run through Etobicoke and Scarborough, providing downtown access opportunities to neighbourhoods located at a distance from the subway. By bringing fifteen minute or better two-way service to five of the GO corridors, … GO RER will bring more flexible travel options for residents and jobs within the City and to the broader region. [pp 18-19]

This information is echoed on the “How Will You Benefit” pages such as the Stouffville Corridor page where it is quite clear the intent is for all trains to stop at all stations.

This echoes the conclusion of the June 2016 report in which four possible service plans were considered:

• Option A: Increased frequencies, 5 new stations
• Option B: Express and local service, 8 new stations
• Option C: Committed GO RER frequencies, 7-8 new stations
• Option D: Committed GO RER frequencies, 4-5 new stations

The first two options, notably the one including express service, were dropped because of the infrastructure needed to provide for SmartTrack and GO/RER co-existence.

GO RER is expected to utilize the available and planned track and corridor capacity. In this light, integrated GO RER-SmartTrack options were screened to determine the extent of additional infrastructure that they would require over and above that which is required for GO RER. Through this analysis, it was determined that Options A and B would each require extensive additional track infrastructure, resulting in the need for corridor widening, extensive property acquisition, consequent community impacts, and other deliverability challenges. In light of these findings, Options A and B were screened out and detailed analysis focused on Options C and D. [p 19]

Option D makes the cut because with fewer new stations, it creates less delay for riders on the outer ends of the corridors and hence less imputed value from lost time and potential lost ridership.

In summary, based on business case analysis, Option D is the stronger performing option for integration of SmartTrack with GO RER, striking the optimal balance between advancing local access within Toronto while preserving service quality for medium and longer distance passengers. Consistent with the findings of the new stations analysis, this report recommends six new stations for GO RER-SmartTrack integration: St. Clair West, Liberty Village, Don Yard/Unilever, Gerrard, Lawrence East, and Finch with an estimated cost of $0.7 to 1.1 B ($2014, costs do not include escalation, financing costs, lifecycle and operating and maintenance). [p 20]

Times have changed at Metrolinx, and they now regard a mix of express and local services as best service design.

An all-stop service (as in the IBC) means that the upstream riders are delayed at every new station, which is a negative economic benefit. This negative benefit is compared to the positive economic benefit from the new riders joining at the station and the time savings they will make from using GO. It is much more optimal to have an express service (rather than all-stop) that selectively stops at those stations and at those intervals when the new riders joining would be substantial enough to justify the stop. This is best practice in service planning in all jurisdictions. [p 2 Staff Report]

CEO Phil Verster was quite adamant on this point during a media briefing and was quite dismissive of the idea of stopping trains for comparatively few passengers. There is only one small problem – it is precisely this type of stopping pattern and service level at every stop that was used to “sell” SmartTrack as part of GO/RER. No amount of managerial swagger can undo the very real position taken by Metrolinx and by municipal supporters of SmartTrack less than two years ago. A train every 20 minutes is not what riders in Scarborough and elsewhere along the ST corridor expected in place of their existing transit service, especially when SmartTrack is touted as a substitute for stations on the Scarborough Subway Extension.

Stops that would be affected by the new service design include: Bloor-Lansdowne, Kirby, Park Lawn, Mimico, Finch-Kennedy, Lawrence-Kennedy, Gerrard-Carlaw, St. Clair-Old Weston. This list may not include all affected locations as only those in or directly related to the new station analysis are mentioned in the report.

(As an aside, one cannot help wondering what the Toronto subway network would look like if subjected to the Metrolinx outlook. Many stations would close for much of the day, if not permanently, because there simply is no justification to keep them open for very low demand.)

By reversing course and reinstating express trains in the service plan, Metrolinx avoids the travel time penalty of adding new stations, but with the offsetting effect that these stations get much less service. The problem is so acute for the SmartTrack corridor that Metrolinx is now trying to figure out how to squeeze more trains onto the line, and even talks of a separate “relief” function for a U-shaped Unionville to Bramalea service. The infrastructure to support this does not exist, and the scheme is a far cry from the idea that “SmartTrack” could simply be implemented using existing infrastructure. A further problem lies in the Union Station Rail Corridor (USRC) where track, signalling and platform configurations combine to dictate how many trains/hour can operate there without substantial upgrades.

In a media scrum at the Board of Trade, CEO Verster stressed that service was the most important factor, the one with the biggest effect on ridership. GO Transit and Metrolinx have planned within the limitations of their corridors including the USRC, but there may now be a recognition that what is planned simply is inadequate to address region-wide needs.

Two other factors were touted as improvements to GO operations and travel speeds:

By the same logic of minimizing the time of every stop at every station, implementing level boarding (as opposed to low platforms and a delay from stepping up/down and positioning the train) reduces the negative impact of the station on the economic benefits of the upstream riders.

The business cases now assume that all fare barriers have been removed with an integrated fare system in place. The economic benefits of fare integration is estimated to exceed the cost by a factor of 12 (ie a BCR or Benefit Cost Ratio of 12).

There is no question that level boarding will speed things up at GO stations, but this is a matter of reducing the time spent at all stations, including any added ones. Not mentioned at all were the travel time savings possible with electrification. In earlier studies, these were counted as an offset to the extra delay of added stations.

The question of fare barriers is rather odd because it is unclear whether the barrier is physical (a turnstile or limited access streams past Presto readers) or psychological (a double fare). The technical report notes:

As a starting point, the base fare structure as of December 2017 is assumed for the PDBC analysis. A future looking full fare integration scenario was also tested to examine impacts on ridership and the overall economic case for each station where no fare barriers exist. [p 10]

Elimination of physical barriers or congestion points at platform access will only speed travel for riders who show up at the last minute and could face a missed trip if their path from parking space or connecting bus were longer than a “crow fly” distance, or delayed by queueing at fare machines. Otherwise, fare validation occurs during the wait time before a train arrives. From a demand modelling perspective, there is also a “barrier” inherent in extra fares for each stage of a journey. Metrolinx has long talked of the need for “regional fare integration” without getting into the specifics especially as they might affect riders of local transit systems. If the analysis mentioned above shows a benefit cost ratio of 12, or extremely high, this must be based on some specific mix of tariff and subsidy changes.

A major failing of the New Stations report is the omission of much detail such as the derivation of claimed demand at the various stations, notably a split of new and existing riders, a breakdown of boarding and alighting passengers, the effect on conditions at nearby stations, and the specifics of the modelled service plan. Some of this information was included in the initial round of evaluations in 2016, but only summary values are published in 2018.

The chart above shows numbers for AM Peak and All Day boardings and alightings, but there are large differences in the behaviour which are mentioned in the individual station analyses. During the AM peak:

  • Some stations are primarily “boarding” locations either from local transit or from parking. Indeed, it might be argued that in a few cases, the primary function of a new station is to host a new parking garage that might not fit at an existing site.
  • Some stations are primarily “alighting” locations in that they are destinations, not origins, of trips. This is strikingly true for the Liberty Village and East Harbour stations who primary function is to bring people to work in the immediate vicinity, not as an origin point for “in town” travel.
  • Demand at stations could be new GO riders, or it could be from trips that are more conveniently served from the new station. For example, a new station might shorten the access trip to GO by car or transit, and this translates to an imputed benefit from time saving.

For the SmartTrack stations, the 60-year benefits are shown as outweighing the capital costs by a factor of almost 4:1. However, almost all of those benefits are the notional value of time saving, and to a lesser extent, reduced auto travel. Operating costs, including that of any additional local transit service or of fare integration subsidies is not included in the analysis.

Of the six SmartTrack stations, East Harbour, the site of a proposed massive commercial development east of the Don River, is by far the major contributor to the positive comparison for SmartTrack. It accounts for 84% of the travel time savings and 55% of the passenger activity at the six stations. The analysis did not include the presence of the Relief Line, and the service plan assumes that Lake Shore East trains do not stop at East Harbour.

Because the individual station cost estimates are not broken out, it is impossible to know the performance of the StartTrack stations, but we know from the summary that only East Harbour and Liberty Village have benefits which outweigh their costs.

This is an almost meaningless analysis.

Metrolinx claims that it will produce an updated analysis and recommendations by the end of 2018 in time for an RFP for the implementation and operation of GO RER and SmartTrack. At this point, a huge amount of detail is missing, especially the degree to which the original GO service plan from 2016, on which a great deal of infrastructure work now in progress is based, must now be revised. It is quite clear that Metrolinx is struggling to come up with credible plans, and they are quite defensive about the changes they are now making.

All is not sweetness and light, and the unseen hand of political interference to justify many of these stations is clearly at work.

In a future article, I will turn to the individual stations and discuss the issues affecting them.

Problems With Trolley Shoes on Flexity Cars

The streetcar system on Tuesday evening suffered a major outage when all Flexity cars were ordered to “stop and stay” on their routes following an overhead failure at King and Spadina. At the time, a problem with power surges was also reported.

Through comments and emails I received, I learned that there had been a developing problem with the carbon inserts on trolley “shoes” on the new Flexity streetcars, and I pursued this issue with the TTC. Following an investigation, their response arrived this morning.

Premature wear of carbons on pole configuration is normal during periods of high humidity and high precipitation.  The carbons absorb the moisture, become softer, and wear out faster.  Under dry conditions, the carbons are expected to last 4-5 days.  Under wet conditions, they are expected to last 1-2 days.  A review of maintenance records for the past 3-4 days indicate the latest carbons that were installed on the LFLRV fleet lasted less than 8 hours.  We believe this significant reduction in carbon life is due to a combination of factors that include:

  1. A potential quality problem with the material composition of the carbons.
  2. The use of pole configuration with the LFLRV design.  The LFLRV design requires a higher current draw through the power collection system.  Normally this higher current draw is handled through a pantograph system.  The pantograph system has a larger carbon strip which helps to dissipate heat and distribute wear.  On a trolley pole, the higher current draw through a smaller carbon generates more heat and wears quicker.

Due to the reduced carbon life, usage of these parts in the past 48-72 hours has more than doubled. Subsequently some vehicles burned through their carbons and started to run on the bare harp that resulted in numerous pole dewirements and the downed overhead on St Clair.

To conserve and maximize carbon life the following plans are being implemented:

  1. Immediately drop the 12 mm threshold for replacement to a nightly check of 7mm min. material remaining at the front, leading edge of the carbon.
  2. Strict control of carbon shoe counting and sign-out.
  3. Keep all replaced carbons for evaluation/recordkeeping.
  4. Sort through old, discarded stocks of carbons and retain those with more than 9mm depth remaining at the leading edge. Use these on a dedicated fleet of panto only cars for Harbourfront. We only need to use these carbons to get us to Exhibition and back each day. Save all new carbons for pole only routes.
  5. Expedite the testing and start-up of panto use on Spadina.
  6. Reserve “Seattle” carbons as a last resort. These carbons are thinner and our previous experience found they had a shorter service life. At best they should be used on the shortest mileage/time based runs. There is added risk of them wearing out mid-day, requiring more frequent road inspections.

In addition the above, staff will be expediting test runs of LFLRV on the pantograph system along the Spadina route.  Overhead crews are also expediting the conversion of the St Clair route.

[Email from Brad Ross, Executive Director Corporate and Customer Communications, February 22, 2018]

There have been several problems with overhead down in recent weeks, and events of the past few days are clearly connected with the long run of rainy weather.

The move to accelerate the conversion of Spadina and St. Clair to pantograph operation is welcome news, but this begs the question of the status of the King and Cherry routes which use a large and growing part of the Flexity fleet. Conversion to full pantograph capability of the overhead along them is still some time off, and the schedule for this work lies in 2019, notably at the King/Queen/Roncesvalles where replacement of the track is also planned. A further problem is that service on King routinely short turns and diverts via streets that are not planned for conversion until 2020.

This project has slipped by about a year from plans in earlier capital budgets with more work now in 2020 than in previous versions.

2017 Version

[Source: TTC 2017 Capital Budget Blue Books Page 57]

2018 Version

[Source: TTC 2018 Capital Budget Blue Books Page 61]

Updated: In response to a comment asking for an illustration of this problem, it turns out that I have an old trolley shoe with a broken carbon in my collection. This is from a Peter Witt car.

This shows what one does not want to see. The contact wire should run along the carbon surface, but instead here will drag against the metal. Also the shoe will ride higher on the overhead potentially contacting pieces of the suspension system.

TTC 2018 Capital Budget: (1) Fleet Plans

The TTC’s detailed version of the Capital Budget is known as the “Blue Books” because they are issued in two large blue binders. They are not available online. Over coming weeks, I will post highlights from this material beginning with the fleet plans.

These plans were drawn up in late 2017 as the budget was finalized, and there have actually been changes since that are not reflected here. I will note these where appropriate.

For starters, a review of how all of these capital projects are paid for.

Financing and Funding the Capital Budget

The TTC’s budget process at times looks like a game of Three Card Monte where one is certain that one card is the Queen of Diamonds, but never quite sure where she is. This shows up in various ways:

  • There is a “base program” consisting of projects that have Council approval for inclusion in the ten-year plan. The estimated cost of this program is $9.240 billion, but there is funding shortfall of $2.702 billion.
  • There is an “unfunded list” of projects making up the shortfall. These will migrate to funded status as and when money becomes available.
  • The City requires that the TTC make provision for “capacity to spend” reductions in its projects based on the premise that all of the money in the budgets will not actually be used. This offsets $427 million of the shortfall, although one can argue that this is a polite fiction meant to convey the idea that the funding hole is not quite as deep as it seems. The premise is that not all projects will be spent to their full budgets, and an across-the-board provision will soak up the underspending. In practice, some of this “shortfall” is a question of timing – project slippage that shifts spending to other years – not a question of budgeting too high.
  • Some projects have their own, dedicated funding streams and appear separately from the base program. At present, these are the subway extensions to Vaughan and to Scarborough.
  • Some projects in the base program have funding directed specifically to them. The provincial 1/3 share of the new streetcars is an example. This is separate from provincial money that flows to Toronto from the gas tax.
  • Some projects have timelines associated with the structure of funding programs. Ottawa’s Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) Phase 1 requires that projects be completed by March 31, 2019 so that the subsidy is expensed, federally, by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year. PTIF phase 2 has not yet been announced either as to amount or to the timeframe in which spending will occur. These constraints prevent many projects from receiving PTIF money because they do not fit within the prescribed window for spending.
  • Metrolinx projects do not appear on the TTC’s books, but in some cases they can trigger payments from the TTC and/or the City of Toronto. Examples are Presto and SmartTrack.
  • Some transit proposals are not even in the base program, but wait in readiness as “nice to haves”.

“Funding” is the process of paying for projects, while “Financing” is the mechanism by which that money is raised. A “funded” project is associated with revenue from “financing” sources that the City can depend on such as property taxes and committed monies from other governments. Where there is a shortfall, someone has to step up with new money, however they might raise it, or something must be removed (or at least reduced in scope) from the list of funded projects.

City of Toronto contributions to capital come primarily from current taxes (“capital from current” and development charges) and from borrowing. The amount of borrowing available to the TTC each year is dictated by the City’s self-imposed 15% cap on the ratio of debt service costs to property tax revenue. A few major projects in the near future, notably the Gardiner Expressway rebuild, are crowding the debt ceiling, and there are years when little new debt will be issued on the TTC’s behalf. In turn, this affects spending plans at the TTC, and projects are shifted into future years with more borrowing room to get around this.

Other constraints can arise from a program like PTIF which, because it has a sunset date, requires that spending that might otherwise occur some years in the future must actually happen sooner than planned. This, in turn, requires matching funds from the City in years where they might otherwise have been spent on other projects.

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Toronto’s Transit Capacity Crisis

In recent days, Mayor Tory has announced, twice, a ten point program to address crowding on the TTC. The effectiveness of this program is limited by years of bad political decisions, and the hole Toronto has dug itself into is not one from which it will quickly escape.

This article is a compendium of information about the three major portions of the “conventional” (non-Wheel-Trans) system: subway, bus and streetcar. Some of this material has appeared in other articles, but the intent here is to pull current information for the entire system together.

Amendment February 15, 2018 at 5:30 pm: This article has been modified in respect to SmartTrack costs to reflect the fact that over half of the cost shown as “SmartTrack” in the City Manager’s budget presentation is actually due to the Eglinton West LRT extension which replaced the proposed ST service to the commercial district south of the airport. A report on SmartTrack station costs will come to City Council in April 2018. Eglinton LRT costs will take a bit longer because Council has asked staff to look at other options for this route, notably undergrounding some or all of it.

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TTC Board Meeting February 15, 2018

The TTC Board will meet on February 15, 2018. Among the items on the agenda are:

Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE)

The SSE itself is not on the agenda, but it has been the subject of much recent debate over when the projected cost and schedule for the extension will be released.

In the November 2017 CEO’s Report, the project scorecard included a schedule showing that 30% design would be complete in the second quarter of 2018, and an RFP [Request for Proposals] would be issued in the third quarter. Even when this report came out, former CEO Andy Byford was hedging his bets about a spring 2018 date saying that more work would be needed to verify and finalize the figures. A key note in this scorecard states:

EFC [Estimated Final Cost] was approved in 2013 based on 0% design. With the alignment/bus terminal now confirmed by City Council, the project budget and schedule will be confirmed as design is developed to the 30% stage, factoring in delivery strategy and risk. The performance scorecard will continue to report relative to the project’s original scope, budget and schedule, as approved by Council in 2013, until the project is rebaselined at the 30% stage in late 2018.

In other words, neither the schedule nor the projected cost reflected the evolving and expanding design of this project.

Jennifer Pagliaro in the Star wrote about the result of a Freedom of Information Request that revealed a briefing to Mayor Tory in September 2017. That briefing included a statement that the cost estimate for a Stage 3, 30% design, would be available in September 2018.

Because Council will not meet until 2019, numbers that might have been available before the election would not be released until after the new Council takes office. After the story appeared, City staff replied:

The cost information referenced in page 9 of the October TTC briefing deck refers to the planned timing for initial cost inputs from TTC engineering staff. These are not the full cost estimates necessary for consideration by Council. Further work will be required to appropriately account for financing, procurement model, market assessment and other critical factors. The final cost estimate, subject to the variability ranges noted below, will include these inputs.

This additional work will be undertaken by various TTC staff as well as city officials from corporate finance, financial planning, city planning and other divisions. [Tweet from Jennifer Pagliaro, February 7, 2018]

I wrote to the TTC’s Brad Ross about this conflicting information, and particularly about the question of how an RFP could be issued in 3Q18 when Council would not be approving that the project pass beyond “stage gate 3” until 2019. He replied:

No RFP will be issued until after Council approval. You will note in the Key Issues and Risks section of the scorecard from November reads, “The performance scorecard will continue to report relative to the project’s original scope, budget and schedule, as approved by Council in 2013, until the project is rebaselined at the 30% stage in late 2018.”

To be consistent with the report to Council in March 2017, only the revenue service date was revised in the scorecard (from Q4 2023 to Q2 2026). The TTC recognizes and acknowledges that this has led to confusion. The TTC will be taking steps to ensure greater clarity in its next CEO Report in March 2018. [Email of February 9, 2018]

The February CEO’s report states:

Work continues to progress design towards Stage Gate 3, expected in fall of 2018. At this time, the project will provide initial cost inputs from the TTC team (includes detailed costs for the Scarborough Centre station, tunnel, Kennedy station, systems, property and utilities). Further work is underway by the new Chief Project Manager with key stakeholders within TTC and the City to define the activities, approval process and timelines to arrive at the final Class 3 Cost Estimate, Level 3 Project Schedule, and associated Risk Analysis.

As requested by City Council, a report will be presented at the first opportunity to the Executive Committee, TTC Board and City Council, which is expected to be Q1 of 2019. [pp 15-16]

The debate, as it now stands, is about releasing whatever material will be available in September 2018 so that it can inform the election debates. Additional costs as cited by the city would sit on top of the September numbers, but at least voters and politicians would know whether the SSE’s cost has gone up just for the basic construction, let alone factors related to financing and procurement that would be added later.

Meanwhile, SSE promoter Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker speaking on CBC’s Metro Morning said:

I don’t think it matters what the costs are.

This has been taken to read that money is no object, and that well may be the political reality in Scarborough – there is no way the many politicians who have so deeply committed to the subway project can back out. De Baeremaeker continued:

Whether the costs go up or the costs go down, people who have tried to sabotage the subway and stop the subway, will continue to try to sabotage it, they’ll continue to try to stop it, and they will never vote for it. So I would challenge the Councillors who say “I want to see the cost”. My response is and if it’s a reasonable cost, will you support the subway? Well, no. [At 3:26 in the linked clip]

What De Baeremaeker does not address is whether he has an upper limit beyond which even his enthusiasm might be dimmed. Also, on the question of a “reasonable cost”, what has been lost here is the fact that the subway “deal” was sold on the basis that the $3.5 billion included the Eglinton LRT extension to UTSC Campus. What had been a $2 billion-plus subway when it was approved as a compromise by Council, quickly grew to $3 billion-plus, and the LRT extension is left to find alternate funding. One could reasonably ask whether the LRT was ever really part of the deal, or was simply there as a sweetener that pulled in wavering supporters who now see just how gullible they were.

A related issue that has not yet surfaced is the question of whether building the SSE for a 2026 opening will require concurrent changes in timing and/or scope for the planned renewal of the Bloor-Danforth subway including a new signalling system and fleet. A report on the renewal is expected in April 2018, although this date has changed a few times over past months. The TTC/City capital budget and ten year plan do not reflect this project, at least with respect to timing, and probably with respect to total cost.

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King Street Update: January 2018 Data (Updated)

Updated February 5, 2018 at 2:30 pm: Charts showing comparative travel times between Jarvis and Bathurst for the period from March 2016 to January 2018 have been added to give a longer context to the effects of the King Street Pilot. Scroll down to the end of the article for the charts and commentary.

This article updates previous posts about the effect of the King Street Transit Pilot on TTC vehicle movements.

Please refer to previous articles for commentary on the transition from the pre-pilot to pilot results and for the period up to the end of 2017.


Toronto’s weather has been much harsher this winter than in previous years, and this affected some aspects of service quality through late December and early January, notably headway reliability. Low temperatures were not kind to the older streetcar fleet, and snow affected traffic conditions over the full route, not just in the pilot area. [Source, Environment Canada historical data for “Toronto City”]

WeatherStats_201709201801 [PDF]

Travel Times

Data for January 2018 show that the travel times through the pilot area between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets continue to be both below the pre-pilot values, and generally without the day-to-day “spikiness” in the range of typical travel times.

The sample below shows the travel times for westbound vehicles crossing Jarvis Street between 5:00 and 6:00 pm from September 2017 through January 2018. Horizontal lines give the daily values, while vertical lines bound periods where conditions changed.

  • The orange line is the 85th percentile below which most times fell, but it must be remembered that 15% of trips lie above this.
  • The blue line is the 50th percentile where half of the trips are above and half below.These two lines are close together because the data values are clustered over a short range in most cases, and so one gets from the 50th to the 85th percentile with a small increase in travel times.
  • The vertical red lines show the bounds of TIFF. For September 7-8, the travel times are tracked over the planned diversion via Queen Street and so they are much longer than trips via King.
  • The vertical yellow lines bound the period when Queen was closed at McCaul.
  • The green vertical line shows the beginning of the King Street Pilot. (Although it is green, this band may show up as black depending on your display.)
  • Where there is a gap or the value drops to zero (no examples on this chart), there were no vehicles making the trip on the day and hour in question due to a long delay or diversion.

The two sets of charts linked here contain data for five representative hours of operation starting at 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, 5:00 pm, 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm. These are in the same format as previous charts except for the addition of one month’s data.

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Crowding on the TTC

With recent events of major subway delays and discussions at the TTC Board about a “Ridership Growth Strategy”, the whole question of “what can we do” is swirling through the Toronto media and online. This article is an attempt to pull together threads from several reports and discussions.

This is a very long read and I salute those who stay the course to the end.

In brief, there is a capacity crisis on every part of the TTC system that is the product of years of pretending the problem is not as bad as it looks, and that a few magic bullets can solve everything. This is compounded by underinvestment in the bus network, by Bombardier’s sluggish delivery of new streetcars, and by subway planning that leaves major components either unfunded or missing from the long range capital plans.

There is no easy fix to any of this, but that is no reason to throw up our hands in hopeless resignation to further decline of our transit network. Recovery has to start somewhere even though the benefits will take time to appear. Politicians are afraid of spending money and driving up taxes. Staff act as enablers by concocting budgets that fit within available funding. The numbers “come out right” only because we ignore the full scope of our needs and how badly we have deferred addressing them.

This article does not propose specific remedies, but sets out the history of what has been done (or not done) over past years. Reading through all of it, I cannot help thinking that “Ridership Growth” is a laughable goal considering how hard Toronto has tried to stifle transit’s capacity and attractiveness. But at least the TTC Board is talking about trying to build more demand on its system. To do that, they must first acknowledge the accumulated shortfall between transit we think we would like and transit that is actually on the street.

For convenience, the documents referenced are all linked here:

  • TTC Ridership Growth Strategy (2003) Report
  • TTC Ridership Growth Strategy (2018) Report & Presentation
  • TTC Corporate Plan (2018-2022) Report and Presentation
  • TTC Crowding Standards (January 18, 2018) Presentation
  • TTC Subway Crowding (January 18, 2018) Report
  • TTC CEO’s Report (January 2018)
  • Toronto Budget Committee (January 23, 2018) 2018 Capital and Operating Budget Reports & Minutes
  • TTC Presentation to Budget Committee
  • TTC Briefing Note on Overcrowding
  • Yonge Subway Extension – Final Report on Transit Project Assessment Process and Future Actions (December 17, 2008) Report
  • Yonge Subway Extension – Recommended Concept/Project Issues (December 17, 2008) Presentation
  • Yonge Subway Extension Post Transit Project Assessment Process Technical Amendment (May 1, 2012) Report & Presentation
  • Yonge Subway Extension Conceptual Design (March 2012) Report [Large PDF]
  • VivaNext Yonge Subway Extension Page
  • Metrolinx Yonge Network Relief Study (June 25, 2015) Presentation
  • Amended 2012-2016 Capital Program and 10 Year Forecast – Shortfall Reduction Plans (September 16, 2011) Report

2003 Ridership Growth Strategy

Although the 2003 RGS was recently dismissed by current TTC Chair Josh Colle as if it were yesterday’s answer to transit problems, the context in which it was written is as fresh today as it was 15 years ago.

There is a growing expectation that transit in general, and the TTC in particular, must take on an increased role in providing travel for people in Toronto if the City is to grow and thrive economically and in an environmentally-sustainable way. Each level of government has recently announced plans and policy initiatives, that highlight the need for greater use of transit in urban areas – the City with its Official Plan, the Province of Ontario with its “Smart Growth Council” and “Gridlock Subcommittee”, and the Government of Canada with its approval of the Kyoto Accord. Achieving these policy objectives will require a fundamental shift in transit’s role in Toronto and the relative importance of automobile travel.

Unfortunately, these initiatives follow on the heels of a consistent lack of government support for the TTC in the past decade. Provincial funding was reduced a number of times in the mid-1990’s and is only now being partly restored. The TTC’s ridership and market share has fallen significantly during this period, to a large extent because of lack of government support. While there is no simple “magic answer” that will reverse this trend, government support for the TTC must be real and pronounced if the current widespread public and government expectations for improved transit are to be met.

The TTC’s mandate is to operate and maintain transit services that provide safe, fast, reliable, convenient, and comfortable travel in a cost-effective way. The TTC’s highest priorities are to our current passengers, and to maintain the existing system in a state-of- good-repair. The TTC needs a substantial, ongoing, funding commitment to meet these basic priorities and fulfill its role of providing transportation services to a large proportion of Toronto’s population. Once these needs are met, the TTC could attract more people out of their automobiles and onto transit with a stable source of increased funding and a commitment on the part of the City to implement policies that support efficient transit operations and transit-oriented development in Toronto. [Executive Summary, p. E-1]

Two points here cannot be made too strongly:

  • There is no magic answer, and
  • Looking after the system and riders we have today is essential to attracting new riders.

Investing in improved transit service makes sense for many reasons, but it must be done in a way that provides significant, measurable, and real returns on investment. If taxpayers’ funds are to be used to improve transit services, there needs to be a strong business case to prove that the money is well spent, and that any funding provided will generate significant additional ridership. There is no simple, low-cost solution to achieving increased transit ridership, or to reduce congestion and pollution. Attracting new riders to transit will require substantial increases in government policy commitments and subsidy, on a consistent basis, over a number of years. One-time funding arrangements and individual mega-projects will not result in significant changes in overall travel patterns over the long term or over a wide area. A consistent, long-term, staged program of providing priorities for, and investing in, expanded existing transit services, using proven technologies and operating strategies, provides the best opportunity to achieve sustained increases in transit ridership.

The underlying issue will continue to be the extent to which the City and senior levels of government will be willing to take the steps necessary to invest in transit to achieve their broader objectives. [p. 3]

There is a section titled “Why people choose to use transit” that is too long for me to quote in full here [see pp. 5-6], but a few excerpts are worth including:

The key factors governing mode choice are speed, reliability, comfort, convenience, and cost. Different segments of the market put differing values on these factors, and an understanding of market segments is critical to determining the potential for attracting transit riders. In addition, some modes of travel are simply not available or practical for some trips – few people will make very long walking trips for example – and people do not necessarily have an automobile available for any given trip. The availability and attractiveness of various modes is also very dependent on the location of both the origin and the destination of the trip being made.

The situations where transit can compete effectively with automobile travel are those where there is good pedestrian access to transit at both ends of the trip, and where transit can provide comparable speed to automobile travel when all factors are considered. Under these conditions, transit travel becomes attractive to many potential users. These conditions exist for travel to and from downtown Toronto in peak periods, where the roads are congested and rail lines (GO and subway) provide a comparable travel speed to automobile travel. There is also excellent pedestrian access from the downtown rail stations to destinations in the downtown. Transit achieves a 60%-to-70% mode split to transit in these favourable circumstances.

There is an obvious problem with this observation, and it applied even in 2003: much GTHA travel is not oriented to downtown and its concentrated destinations, and riders will not fall into transit’s lap simply because this is the obvious way to travel. Indeed, in many cases transit will be the last, not the first, choice. This begs the question of whether there are some trips for which making transit even grudgingly acceptable simply is not economic, but at the same time whether there are trips that are poorly served by a downtown focus on travel. This question is not new to transit debates.

If we abandon trips that are harder (or more expensive) to serve, or provide only minimal service to “show the flag” with a route map whose many lines hide less-than-ideal service, do we risk alienating potential riders especially in an era of population and density growth? Market conditions could evolve to give transit a greater role provided that it is there to establish credibility and a base of demand. This is not just an issue for the far suburbs in the 905, but for areas in both the outer 416 and in more central, redeveloping industrial neighbourhoods.

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