The Ontario Auditor General released her 2018 annual report on December 5. Many topics were examined by the AG, but two related to Metrolinx bear examination by anyone concerned with the future of transit planning and management with more responsibility shifting to the provincial level.
This article deals with the station selection process and the controversial recommendations for new stations at Kirby and at Lawrence East. I have written about this process and related issues before:
- Metrolinx Updates: New Stations Business Cases
- Metrolinx New Stations Report: The Details
- A Few Questions For Metrolinx
- A Few Questions For Metrolinx II
Updated: Links to Articles & Interviews
The Auditor General appeared on Metro Morning on December 6 speaking about, among other things, the cost of policy changes regarding LRT lines, and the evaluation of potential stations.
Former Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star claiming “I wasn’t meddling, I was building transit”. This is rich considering the effort Metrolinx went to in revising its evaluation of new stations.
Del Duca was notorious during his Ministry as using Metrolinx as an unending source of profile-building photo ops. He uses the Relief Line as an example of his intervention to get the project going despite early reluctance at the City and TTC level. This is a convenient rewriting of history and, in particular, of the huge difference between an RL ending at Danforth, and the one later evaluated by Metrolinx running north to Sheppard. The RL became popular and scored well once its extent and projected demand produced a significant dent on the Yonge line so that the Richmond Hill subway might be feasible.
A Few Thoughts About the Metrolinx Board
Although the Metrolinx Board meets in public from time to time, the legislation governing this body allows most issues to be debated and decided in private. There is no reason that this will change for the better. The chronologies set out by the Auditor General reveal situations where the Board was advised privately as issues evolved and met publicly only for the formality and patina of respectability conferred by their “approval” of matters already decided.
Throughout the station evaluation process, Metrolinx revised both published analysis and supporting documentation. This obscured the net economic costs estimated in the original business cases, making the results of the business-case analysis—both on Metrolinx’s website and in the published report to the Board—much less clear and transparent. [p. 315]
What is unclear is whether the Board actively participated in directions to staff that would lead to the rewriting of reports and recommendations, or merely chose to avert their eyes from the mechanics of political sausage making.
In any event, the process detailed by the AG throws into question everything that Metrolinx has done. Can anyone trust an organization whose professional opinion is so pliable, and which will defend recommendations, threadbare though they may be, so strongly? This is not just an issue for Metrolinx but for many public agencies involved in transportation planning notably the City of Toronto and the TTC.
To its credit, Metrolinx is developing a standard methodology for Business Case Analysis and will publish this in April 2019. However, the problem remains of just how well this will protect against hidden interference from politicians and their friends.
Metrolinx Business Cases
For many years, Metrolinx has used a methodology to evaluate projects that purports to establish the worth of a scheme, which could be negative, such as a new transit line or a significant change to existing facilities. The framework includes multiple factors examining projects from different points of view.
The Strategic Case looks at how a scheme works within the network and the wider public goals of supporting regional development. Factors include:
- Ridership projections
- Revenue and Operating Costs
- Population and employment served
- Travel time changes
- The reach of a new/revised service
- Effects on greenhouse gas emissions from trips shifted to transit
The Economic and Financial Cases review a proposal from two different monetary viewpoints.
- The Economic Case measures benefits such as auto operating cost savings, reduced emissions and air pollution, travel time savings, health benefits and reduction of accidents.
- The Financial Case looks at the cost and revenue estimates to produce a net operating cost as well as a “net financial impact” stating the total revenue over the study period minus the capital and operating costs.
The Deliverability and Operations Case concerns the implementation plan, procurement, operations, maintenance and risk management.
These factors overlap and the calculation machinery includes many assumptions such as future population and employment patterns, fare structures, operating and capital costs, trip diversion rates to transit, and the value of various benefits both to transit riders and society in general. Many of these are not published at a level of detail that would permit an outsider to understand how each factor behaves, and there is considerable leeway to affect the outcome by “twirling the dials” on factors readers cannot easily review.
A big issue with these analyses has been the question of how benefits are valued. For example, if a new transit service attracts people out of their cars, then this reduces the operating cost of those vehicles and produces environmental benefits, but it can also reduce travel time both for new riders and those on existing services. The values assigned to these and other benefits do not accrue to Metrolinx, but to the wider population. These savings, whether they be tangible (lower driving costs) or intangible (the value of time saved) are used to offset the hard costs of actually building and operating a service. While there may be an overall balance, the savings do not pay the bills which must rely on future revenue and subsidy.
A major contribution on the “benefit” side of the analysis is almost always the travel time savings for riders. For example, in the recent GO Expansion BCA, this is the overwhelming contribution to “value” in the analysis. Any factor that increases travel speed affects this measure, and in the case of stations “less is more” is the rule. Fewer stations make for faster trips and that translates to a higher modelled benefit. This has been at the heart of Metrolinx analyses for years and drives a pressure for wider station spacing even on urban lines like the Crosstown project. Adding a station to any route triggers a requirement to find an offset elsewhere such as a stimulus to riding that will drive up total rides even if they are all a bit slower.
A further problem with Metrolinx analyses is that the time period for comparison of costs and effects has grown to a 60-year horizon with the effect that far-distant benefits are shown as potentially offsetting short to medium term costs. This requires assumptions about the future of the transit system, the economy and regional development far beyond a period where anyone can reasonably know what will happen. In an effort to temper this, Metrolinx performs sensitivity analyses by changing factors to see what the effect would be. For example, if a more conservative set of assumptions goes into the model, what happens to the benefits, or does the proposal even fall into negative territory? How “successful” does Metrolinx and the region have to be in order to achieve its goals?
Needless to say, with such a timeframe, most of the readers, let alone authors, of these studies will be long gone before we could challenge their long term validity. The more subtle problem is that showing such long term benefits tends to paper over the fact that in the short to medium term, new facilities (particularly those requiring large capital investments) will not achieve anything near profitability and this shortfall must be financed. I will turn to this in more detail in a review of the Metrolinx GO Expansion BCA in a future article.
Kirby and Lawrence East Stations
The Auditor General does not mince words with her findings:
We found that the Minister of Transportation and the City of Toronto influenced Metrolinx’s decision-making process leading up to the selection of the two stations. As a consequence, Metrolinx inappropriately changed its recommendations on the Kirby and Lawrence East stations. Metrolinx’s initial business cases concluded that the stations’ costs and disadvantages significantly outweighed their benefits. Metrolinx overrode that conclusion and recommended its Board approve them because the Minister of Transportation and the City of Toronto had made it clear they wanted these stations. [p. 296]
The Auditor General reports that both of these stations originally fell into the “Not Recommended” category, and this is the position management originally took to the Minister of Transportation and to the Metrolinx Board. In the case of Kirby, the Minister wanted this station and issued a press release saying it would be included in Metrolinx plans even though management had recommended against this. Lawrence East was a different situation where the City of Toronto wanted this station as part of the SmartTrack scheme.
In both cases, the evaluation methodology was changed to shift the stations into a category that was recommended, albeit with very poor performance expected. Care had to be taken to craft changes to the methodology so that only these two would slip through without elevating other poor-performing stations to a marginally acceptable level.
The AG makes the point that a mechanism exists for a Ministerial directive that Metrolinx include stations that do not make the cut in its analyses, but that this would be done with the clear responsibility in the Minister’s hands. It should not be Metrolinx’s job to cook the books so that a favoured project looks better than it really is and provide cover for a political decision.
A written directive to Metrolinx from the Minister to add the Kirby and Lawrence East stations would have demonstrated greater transparency and accountability in that it would have signalled clear ownership of the decision. The public would have benefited from knowing that a government policy decision was overriding the results of Metrolinx’s business-case analysis. Instead, the Ministry of Transportation went so far as to issue news releases announcing the Kirby and Lawrence East stations before the Board had even met to make its final recommendations. [p. 296/8]
This is a fine idea in the abstract, but the reality of government is that politicians do not want to appear to “waste money”. A staff report saying “your pet station isn’t worth building” is hardly the sort of ringing endorsement Ministers want to have. This is not just a provincial problem, but a general issue across governments where a negative evaluation of any project will never see the light of day, barring a “brown envelope” leak to the media. Positive staff reports are routinely used to give projects an aura they do not deserve, a stamp of respectability from “professionals” who claim to have carefully reviewed and endorsed them.
At the City of Toronto, the experience of a former TTC Chief General Manager who opined that the Scarborough Subway Extension was not a good idea led to a new verb in civic discourse: to be “Webstered”. He retired somewhat sooner than expected.
The process is quite clear:
Metrolinx’s response to the influence was to make the Kirby and Lawrence East evaluation results look better. Metrolinx’s 2016 original business-case analyses of the Kirby and Lawrence East stations noted that both stations were expected to result in a net loss of GO ridership, a net increase in vehicle use (driving) in the region and an overall decrease in fare revenue. The business-case analyses did note positively that the stations aligned with municipal land-use policy, which slightly improved their evaluation results, but they still concluded overall that these stations were “low-performing” and “should not be considered further during the next ten years.” However, the Metrolinx Board Chair and Chief Executive Officer guided the process whereby the Metrolinx Board ultimately supported the decision to add these two stations.
Metrolinx removed Kirby and Lawrence East from the original list of “not recommended” stations and put them into a new category it created of “low” performing stations. It put the remaining “not recommended” stations into another new category it created of “very-low” performing stations. These new categories were used in Metrolinx’s June 28, 2016, report to the Board, which recommended building all but the “very-low” performing stations. In other words, Metrolinx made the Kirby and Lawrence East stations appear to have better evaluation results than the “very-low” performing stations to ensure the Board would approve building them. [p. 298]
When the AG talks about the CEO’s role, it should be clear that this process includes the term of Phil Verster who became CEO on August 24, 2017. In a conversation at a recent Metrolinx Town Hall, Verster claimed that the Kirby Station issue was “before my time”. This is true only to the extent that Ministerial interest in Kirby Station dates from mid-2016 (see chronology on p. 297), but the work to massage the recommendations and defend them to the media and public extended into 2018.
The publicly available information included in the June 2016 staff report to the Board of Directors to justify the approval did not highlight important details, especially that Metrolinx planning staff believed the Kirby and Lawrence East GO stations should not be considered for the next 10 years because of the significant delays and potential ridership loss they were expected to cause. Metrolinx’s updated analysis of the new stations, published in February 2018, presented a best-case scenario that assumed future changes to the GO system that, to varying degrees, are not certain to be fully implemented as planned when the stations are completed. The reanalysis also evaluated the stations using assumptions (such as auto-operating cost savings; growth in the value of time) that are not in line with Metrolinx’s current practices for evaluations of this kind. [p. 299]
One problem with Metrolinx’s multiple factor evaluations has been that the relative importance of each factor is unclear.
Metrolinx appropriately gathered comprehensive information for selecting new GO stations; however, it did not have a rigorous process for weighing all costs and benefits against established criteria. The information Metrolinx gathered on the Kirby and Lawrence East stations from January to June 2016 showed that the costs from an economic perspective significantly outweighed the benefits. Despite this, Metrolinx recommended the Kirby and Lawrence East GO stations in June 2016, on the basis of undefined “strategic considerations.” With such a vague process for selecting stations, any decision can be justified. [p. 305]
For the 2031 forecast year, the Kirby GO station was expected to result in:
- ridership loss of over 57,000 trips in that year;
- additional car travel of almost 40,000 kilometres per day (for commuters who switch from GO transit to driving); and
- an annual loss of over $900,000 in fare revenue.
The analysis estimated that these forecasted results would translate into a net economic cost to the GTHA of $478 million over 60 years. [p. 306]
The one strategic criterion the station did not meet was to improve transit service and increase ridership. As the analysis indicated, the area around Kirby GO station is not currently serviced by frequent local transit and is not close to key destinations, and travel time delays would translate to overall ridership loss. [p. 307]
An argument can well be made that Metrolinx overvalues the effect of additional station stops on ridership. The effect is probably a non-linear one where small changes will not discourage riders, but larger changes would. There is a general problem with the evolution of GO Transit in that its role is changing to serve more close-to-downtown locations as this will affect travel time for long-distance riders. Metrolinx plans to offset this with a combination of express trains and electrification to reduce the penalty of station stops. However, the original forecast made no assumptions about these possibilities and showed a negative value leading to a “not recommended” status for Kirby.
The corruption of the process began in June 2016.
The Minister of Transportation was the MPP representing the Vaughan riding, where a Kirby station would be located. On June 9, 2016, the Metrolinx CEO briefed him in person on the station selection status. The Metrolinx CEO let the Minister know that neither Kirby nor Highway 7–Concord (another station in the City of Vaughan) were included as recommended stations. The Metrolinx CEO stated in an email later that day to the Metrolinx Board Chair that he interpreted the Minister to be “disappointed” by the news. The Metrolinx CEO further informed the Board Chair that he was discussing an “alternative analysis” with Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer. [p. 308]
The first attempt to improve the numbers involved the use of express trains to ensure that riders from beyond Kirby Station would not be affected by its addition to the line. This did not solve the problem, as the CEO noted in an email.
Unfortunately, while [express train service] did “improve” the business case, both stations still perform relatively poorly. Based on this, staff would suggest that both stations be put into the “future consideration” category. I have the impression this will be looked at unfavourably at this point. I am going to think overnight if I have any other ideas. If we cannot develop a technical rationale, we may receive some direction on one or both of these. [p. 309]
Subsequently, events at the political level dictated Metrolinx’s actions, including those of its supposedly independent Board.
On June 15, 2016, the Metrolinx Board held a special meeting before a scheduled public Board meeting scheduled for June 28. The Metrolinx Board Chair explained in an email to other Board members that the purpose for the meeting was as follows:
Before our June 28 public board meeting, the Minister and Mayor Tory want to make an announcement about the Smart Track stations Mayor Tory will be recommending to Council. They want this to be a positive announcement reflecting City-Province-Mx [Metrolinx] cooperation. We did not want the Minister doing so without the input of the board in advance. To permit the joint announcement and preserve confidentiality, we agreed to this special meeting. We will then revisit the same issues in public session on June 28 but by then, it would be too late to do other than approve the staff report. Thus the real substantive meeting is this one on Wednesday [June 15].
On June 16, 2016, the Ministry of Transportation asked Metrolinx to review draft news releases announcing new stations. Four of the news releases announced stations that Metrolinx was planning not to recommend: Kirby and Lawrence East, as well as Highway 7–Concord and Park Lawn. [p. 309]
Staff got to work figuring out how to justify new stations. The first change was to move the dividing line between “recommended” and “contingent” stations from an economic cost of $250 million to $300 million. This allowed the Don Yard project to shift into the “contingent” group. However, this tactic would not work forever because the line would have to shift to above Kirby’s cost of $478 million, and this would bring other unwanted stations into the “contingent” category.
An internal review document of the business cases stated that the cut-off point for station selection seemed “to be set arbitrarily” and some “valid basis” for their inclusion needed to be provided. [p. 310]
To get around that problem, Metrolinx split the “not recommended” group into “low-ranking” and “very-low-ranking”.
Metrolinx did not post the [June 2016] Summary Report on its website until September 2017. When it did, it posted an edited version of the Summary Report provided by the consultants. These edits included changing the consultants’ group name of “Recommended” stations to “Best Performing,” and “Not Recommended” to “Low Performing.” Metrolinx’s renaming of the groups and removal of the word “recommended” made the results of the consultants’ analysis less clear to the reader and obscured the negative evaluation of the Kirby and Lawrence East stations arrived at by the consultants. [p. 316]
The role of political influence appears with the delicate term “sensitivities”:
Kirby and Lawrence East were the only two stations in the “low-ranking” group. Metrolinx defined low-ranking stations as “sites with poor economic performance but advantaged by strategic factors or sensitivities.” [p. 310]
Those “sensitivities” no doubt included the political aims of the Minister of Transportation and the Mayor of Toronto.
In March 2018, Metrolinx published its Draft Business Case Guidance, which states that business cases are only one of five inputs Metrolinx considers in decision-making. […] Metrolinx considers public engagement, policies and other investments, emergent trends and conditions, and capacity to deliver in addition to business cases. Based on our review of the process which led to the approval of Kirby and Lawrence East stations, a sixth input—stakeholder influence—was also an important input in Metrolinx’s decision-making.
Repeatedly adding further “strategic considerations” to the decision-making process makes it possible to justify any decision. Similarly, putting so much priority on these vague strategic considerations—and less weight on net economic costs—makes the decision-making process seem arbitrary. This is especially concerning because it resulted in Metrolinx choosing just those two stations that the Minister and the City of Toronto influenced it to choose.
Metrolinx’s Board Chair recognized this in a June 13, 2016, email to other Board members. At this point, Metrolinx was expecting to recommend just the 10 stations and not Kirby or Lawrence East.
The Chair wrote:
[T]here will be disappointed local communities both in Toronto and across the GTHA which will be very disappointed not to have achieved a station. The Minister will be bearing the political burden of explaining these outcomes which is why staff have worked so hard to be principled and evidence-based in reaching their conclusions. Absent that, our conclusions could be seen as arbitrary and essentially political which could open a Pandora’s box of new demands across the region. [pp. 310-311]
This is precisely the problem with the naïve idea that a government organization can maintain a veneer of professionalism under political pressure. When the “political burden” of justifying a decision that goes against professional recommendations lands on a politician, they will quickly find a way out. If the organization tasked with providing advice does not or will not say what is expected, there are always willing consultants whose opinions can be procured to support any position.
A year later, Metrolinx was still brewing up a new analysis to support political demands, and incorporated substantial changes including a blatantly distorted value in the economic analysis. These are summarized in three figures from the AG’s report.
“Fare integration” has been the holy grail of much planning at Metrolinx over the years both as a political imperative (reducing cross-border penalties) and as a way to boost ridership. The fundamental political problem has always been that either subsidies must rise to offset the foregone revenue, or somebody’s fares must rise so that other’s fares will fall. The latter was a zero-sum exercise that hobbled Metrolinx planning until a point where the need for some added subsidy was recognized. This was announced in the short-lived budget of the Wynne government, but there is no reason to think it will survive into the Ford era. Even the proposed “integration” was only for 50% off the full adult fare with less for seniors and nothing for passholders who constitute the largest block of TTC riders.
Cheaper fares attract more riders, and any part of the cost/benefit analysis will be affected through related metrics including time savings, reduced auto use, and so on. It is not clear whether the financial impact includes the lost revenue through reduced fares which would only be partly offset by more people riding.
Express service reappeared as part of Metrolinx’ plans in the February 2018 report. Previously it had been rejected as part of service designs for most corridors because of track limitations (the ability of express trains to bypass locals) and the problem that “local” stations would have infrequent service. This bumps into the service levels and ridership claimed for SmartTrack where a train every 15 minutes will not provide “rapid transit” service within Toronto thanks to longer transfer times. There is some debate about whether a mixed express and local operation is possible on all of the SmartTrack corridor because of right-of-way limitations for passing tracks. The service design still shown by Metrolinx for the Stouffville corridor has a mix of express and local trains with 20 and 15 minute peak headways respectively. Notable by their absence from the map are the SmartTrack stations including Lawrence East.
Express service does not currently exist on the Barrie and Stouffville lines. When Metrolinx looked at implementing it on the Stouffville line in 2016, it concluded that significant infrastructure costs, major property acquisition requirements and unacceptable community impacts constituted “fatal flaws” to its implementation. Metrolinx told us that it has since focused on how to reduce the significant infrastructure costs of express service for the Barrie and Stouffville lines, although its February 2018 updated station analysis does not include any information on this planning work. Metrolinx informed us it is planning to require the contractor it procures for the station work to achieve express service, and it is exploring options such as constructing short “passing tracks” to enable express trains to bypass non-express trains. Nevertheless, an achievable and sufficiently cost-effective express-service solution has not yet been finalized. [p. 314]
It is a mystery how the contractor for the new stations construction could possibly be responsible for solving the infrastructure problems of express operation. GO is already in the process of expanding trackage in the Barrie and Stouffville corridors, and anything beyond what is now underway would be an add-on that might not be compatible with what is being built. Moreover, the ability to use passing tracks is closely tied to service frequencies, stop spacing and schedules so that express trains overtake locals at precisely the correct time to pass them without being delayed. As local stops are added to a route, this becomes more difficult until a point where a dedicated express track is essential.
The Benefits Case Analysis for the GO Expansion program shows considerably better service on the Stouffville corridor with trains inbound from Lincolnville every 20 minutes running express south of Unionville overlaid on a local service every 7.5 minutes from Unionville south. It is unclear how this could be operated, especially with the additional SmartTrack stations (also missing from the Expansion BCA), without a dedicated express track.
One cannot help thinking that Metrolinx continues to engage in wishful thinking to achieve political objectives.
Level boarding would eliminate the step up to GO train entrances from the platform and speed loading. This would save on stop service time, but it requires changes to all platforms with potential operational impacts especially where corridors are shared with freight trains, not to mention for express GO trips that would pass the platforms at speed.
Metrolinx’s 2018 business case for level boarding found that it poses many challenges, such as modifications to existing trains and stations, and will take many years. [p. 314]
The business case document for level boarding might well have been available to the AG, but it is not posted on the Metrolinx site (notably it is not on the benefits case page).
In estimating savings to motorists who would no longer drive to work, Metrolinx used the fully allocated cost of car ownership rather than the marginal cost of operation. This presumes that a commuter could reduce their car ownership, but that is only possible if they have reliable, convenient “last mile” access to transit service. A parking garage at Kirby Station does not qualify, and the need for a car, if only for a park-and-ride trip, would remain.
According to Metrolinx’s March 2018 Draft Business Case Guidance document, the $0.66/km rate is no longer considered appropriate when there is no evidence that new GO riders will completely give up their vehicles. Although Metrolinx is undertaking further research in this area, currently the extent to which transit users give up their cars as a result of a new transit investment is unclear. [p. 314]
The value of time saved has always been a contentious issue in Metrolinx analyses because it forms one of the largest paybacks against the investment in infrastructure and better service. By escalating the value of time, the analysis offset the discounting of future costs and revenues so that “time saved” in the future was worth more proportionately than it would otherwise be. This is particularly important with a 60-year time horizon where, normally, future costs and savings would have only a small effect on the net present value.
The same December 2014 memo from the Ministry of Transportation cited in Figure 12 stated that Metrolinx should use a 0% value-of-time growth rate because a growth rate of 1.6% could have a “significant impact on the [economic value] of each project and a potentially significant impact on the ranking or prioritization of a group of projects.” The memo also noted that organizations in other jurisdictions, including Transport Canada and the U.S. Transportation Research Board, do not assume time grows in value when they assess the economics of transportation projects. [p. 314]
December 2014 is well before any of the work under discussion here had begun.
Collectively these changes made a big difference in the “performance” of new station proposals, but the problems do not stop here.
What the report lacked was “sensitivity analyses,” which would have presented a range of estimates about the economic benefits of the stations if, for example, any of the initiatives were not implemented or were implemented differently than assumed under the best-case scenario. Metrolinx did undertake such sensitivity analyses internally, assessing how the estimated benefits of each station changed with the addition or removal of each initiative. However, it did not include a range of possible benefits in the report published for stakeholders and the public.
Similarly, the 2018 Reanalysis Report did not include sensitivity analyses for different assumptions about vehicle-operating costs and the value of time, presenting only one scenario, which maximized the stations’ economic benefits. [p. 317]
The Auditor General’s report is unquestionably clear that there was an abuse of process at Metrolinx right into 2018 to convert a negative recommendation to a positive one, and that this was done at least with the knowledge if not the active participation of the Board.
Metrolinx plans to improve its processes, but this comes just at a time when political meddling will grow substantially with a government that knows what it wants to do and will not brook criticism.
From Steve’s blog
Under comments for March 7, 2018
The AG shows no examination of ridership!
From 4.1.3 Business-Case Analysis Concluded Lawrence East GO Station of the report –
The report highlighted City pressure in influencing the Lawrence station. Here is one reason the City required a Lawrence station. The RT was closing down and the Scarborough Subway Extension has no Lawrence stop. From City report dealing with Lawrence Kennedy page 42
Note this is actual TTC data. We are not dealing with errors in ridership forecasts. Reputable forecasting models use as much actual data as possible. I was told Metrolinx uses a survey and Statistics Canada census data from the last census, as base data, not TTC data.
From the Metrolinx Technical report for the Lawrence Station, you can see Metrolinx fudged estimates were 9.200 passengers on 15 minute headways. The RT has 10,500 passengers on 4-5 minute headways. It is not possible to increase traffic by reducing frequency.
The error is that Metrolinx did not take into account bus and transit utilization of the Lawrence station, solely the walk-in catchment. The City required a replacement for the Lawrence RT station, a factor Metrolinx never considered.
The AG clearly missed the boat.
Steve: Many of the ridership estimates for various Scarboro corridors and services are polluted by the constantly changing mix of service frequencies and stopping patterns on GO/ST, subway alignments and stations, and of course the now-discarded LRT route. I don’t believe any of them, and I particularly don’t believe any of the so-called professionals who fronted for these projects at various public meetings.
I don’t think that the AG missed the boat, and she described in great detail the machinations around the change in Metrolinx official stance on the worth of the two stations. That is what she was asked to do, not look more deeply into Metrolinx (and City) ridership estimates.
SMART (The California commuter that uses the same DMU trainsets as Union-Pearson) uses high level platforms with a gauntlet track (A second set of tracks parallel to the platform tracks, shifted by a couple of feet) for freight trains.
Steve: This is workable provided that there is enough spare room in the corridor to accommodate the extra track separation at stations. Lawrence East is a tight spot already without a few extra feet on at least two tracks for clearances.
Please keep in mind that the political interference mentioned in the auditor’s report was committed by the Liberals. Under the Liberals, we had multi-billion dollar scandals and bribery scandals and what not but not even a single corruption scandal under the Progressive Conservative government. I am no fan of Doug Ford but I appreciate that Ford governs ethically and honestly.
Steve: I was going to say that Ford hasn’t had time yet, but then thought of the Hydro One fiasco, the fire sale of the Hearn site to a political friend, and the machinations to ensure that a friend of the family got to take over the OPP when he was not qualified until the government changed the rules. Then there’s Bill 66 which includes provisions such as those related to the Green Belt directly contradicting campaign promises by Ford himself.
Ethically and honestly? Ford does not know the meaning of the words. All he knows is bullying and bombast and taking care of his friends.
Of course any historical review will reveal Liberal problems, but I hope the AG still has enough real independence in coming years that she will be able to light fires under the Tories’ feet too.
My purpose in writing this article was to show the degree of Metrolink collusion in this practice which demolishes their often-polished reputation for being an impartial source of information about transportation planning. They will cook reports for Ford just as they did for Wynne and for McGuinty before her. Or they will find themselves out of a job.
You might want to be more worried about the people still inside Metrolinx who helped create this mess for and under the protection of the not-so-sadly-departed Liberals. These Grit grifters are still in full sway, along with recently-arrived, Liberal-friendly consultants, including the one who brought us the Glen Murray high-speed rail fantasy. Their names never appear on the documents presented publicly at those MX “bored” meetings, but their fingerprints are clearly visible to those of us who know what’s going on inside that shop even still under a new government.
But please don’t worry about these many “poor” denizens of the Sunshine List at Metrolinx and MTO. I hear they all come from tightly-knit families in hard-scrabble neighbourhoods, so they should be able to easily make those breathtaking paradigm shifts in their careers and personal lives.
Did I mention the thoroughly rotten safety culture that developed at Metrolinx under the Grits? The daily TSB safety filings, which aren’t available to the general public, make for some horrific reading. Ponder such death-defying goodies as CROR Rule 42 violations and “exceeding the limits of their authority.” You can then multiply those “oopsies” a few times over each week and sometimes even within the course of a single operating day. Gosh!
I have NEVER known a country and a government SO INDECISIVE about getting its public transport into the modern age of much larger subway systems and high speed train service like Europe and the U.K. than Canada. When it comes to spending money on public transport, Canada is at the bottom of the list with a government that just doesn’t care!!!
I wish to reiterate this.
From Steve’s blog
Under comments for March 7, 2018
Bill R said: Metrolinx was asked to provide the assumptions and details how the Metrolinx station riderships were arrived at. Ridership is greatly affected by frequency. They were asked to supply frequency assumptions. At the public meeting, the whole audience asked for an answer, no response.
In a public session where the whole audience asked for an answer, Metrolinx refused to answer a basic ridership question. There is absolutely no accountability of Metrolinx to the passengers, only to their political master.
The citizens require public transit. There is not enough money to do all projects. It is reasonable to ask that decisions be made in an evidenced based manner. Politicians don’t agree, they believe whoever has power should make the decision.
Government staff like Metrolinx and the AG are failing the citizens. We get the government we deserve.
Steve: There is a devastating Twitter thread by Ben Spurr tearing apart Steven Del Duca’s self-serving op-ed in the Star.
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This is another example of politicians using their power to override common sense. Tory’s SmartTrack uses GO trains, railroad coaches with two steps to track level and two doors per car. A DMU (or EMU) has high level platforms and multiple doors to significantly reduce station dwell time. Being lighter, the acceleration time and more importantly the deceleration time is much reduced, making service faster.
A sensible SmartTrack would incorporate the Union-Pearson line in the West and build two dedicated DMU tracks in the Stouffville corridor (replacing the SRT) and traverse King Street to skip Union Station.
Politicians are not transit experts, yet get to waste tax payer money on impractical fantasies.
I think we have some competition.
Perhaps, however the existing RT connection does not go anywhere of note, whereas the RER alternative would provide a substantially faster transit route to the financial district. Connecting people to very meaningful employment destination may have the potential to offset the loss due to frequency. So there is doubt about your assertion.
Steve: The assertion of a faster trip depends on two factors. First is the frequency of service which, depending on which fictional account from Metrolinx one reads, could lead to non-trivial waits for connecting service. Also, the proposed transfer connection at Lawrence East Station to the bus feeder route is considerably less convenient than what is now in place, and this will add to the transfer penalty. Many who have jobs in the core are not bound for the immediate area around Union Station, and the time to transfer and double back must be included in the total travel time.
Be careful what you assume about “faster” travel just because one link in the path appears to be better. For some it will be, but not for everybody.
Generally when it comes to transit projects there are serious problems quantifying value and cost. Deloitte concluded that the TTC’s project cost estimates have a long history of containing critical flaws that lead to serious doubts about the reliability of their cost estimates. There are a lot of good reasons to question most project valuations. The problem for the AG is quantifying the value of a project where a noteworthy portion of the value is intangible. So regarding your conclusions based an overly simplified estimate, it is at best questionable.
Steve: One must also consider the political imperative to lowball cost estimates so that projects don’t seem too daunting and funding can be obtained based on the original estimate. This applies to the Line 1 signalling project and the Scarborough Subway Extension, to name two.
Locomotive hauled coaches, DMUs and EMUs can be built with either high level loading or low level loading. The problem with putting more doors is that it reduces seated capacity while improving loading time. A trade off has to be made between these two.
Verster wants all, or most, GO station platforms to be at the level of the accessibility platform and go out to the edge of the car. This makes sense because it improves service with the existing infrastructure while high platforms would require a very costly do over of all affected stations.
The south platform at Bramalea station, track 4, was close to being finished then was almost completely torn out. Since then there these square pillars appearing all on the platform that are about the height of the accessibility platform. Does anyone know the official reason for this? My supposition is that they are using this as a test of Verster’s plan since this track will never see freight trains.
The problem with the Lawrence East station is it was designed to fail. If it was designed properly it would have the potential to be a worthwhile asset that serves the community.
Although it is taboo these days to talk about parking lots, Lawrence East has access to the hydro field and can build a parking lot similar to the one at Finch and Yonge which functions quite well. As much as we need to build transit oriented communities, we must also respect communities that cannot easily transition to a transit only life style. If the station is to be successful it needs to be designed to be aligned with the underlying needs of the community. Unfortunately the current design is not.
Steve: Do you understand that the new Lawrence East SmartTrack Station will work completely different from the existing RT station? Instead of looping down to track level, the buses will stop at the crown of the bridge, and there will be stairs/elevators to take riders to and from the ST platform. There is no provision for access from at grade facilities such as parking. This is what passes for good station design.
However, as for transit oriented lifestyles, there simply isn’t enough space beside any station to handle riders arriving by car at demand volumes beyond an am peak inbound. This is the problem GO faces in trying to move beyond a commuter peak into downtown.
City planners made the decision to replace the Lawrence RT station with a SmartTrack Station and not include a subway stop on the Scarborough subway extension. The public registered their objections and concerns and vigorously and actively participated in the consultation process. The current RT frequency is 4-5 minutes, it is single TTC fare and it has a safe convenient transfer from bus to RT. SmartTrack requires a $1.50 fare increase, has far less frequency and a far more encumbered transfer path.
The record shows that the SmartTrack team did not honour any of their objectives – integrated fare, useful frequency of train service, viable replacement of the RT station, incorporate public feedback and even failed to provide modeling statistics based on 6-10 minute service and a incremental fare of $1.50.
This is why I am saying that the Lawrence East station is designed to fail, because I agree with what you said earlier.
The goal should be to reduce the total time some of take to get to and from the station, not to increase it. The station needs to be redesigned if it is to succeed.
Maybe on average, but depending on the station design at Lawrence East the availability of the hydro corridor and the local road system it is likely that reasonable accommodation can be made for those arriving by car.
The problem with the RT is that its main purpose is to go to an old mall and create a forced bus transfer that can easily be replaced by the Eglinton east LRT. Fundamentally the RT provides little to no value for the average trip. Unlike the RT the purpose of the RER station at Lawrence East is to ensure that people have proper access to quality employment opportunities. That is why it is important to design it so that it will overcome the objections that you have raised.
We should not misconstrue the performance of the SmartTrack team with the inherent viability of the Lawrence East Station.
The SmartTrack (ST) team is very much part of the problem. The RT line is being retired. The whole Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) exercise at $3.5 billion was to replace it. Once the Lawrence station was removed from the SSE, it was important for the ST team ‘to reduce the total time some of take to get to and from the station, not to increase it.”
At every public meeting, these issues have been raised and are documented in the TPAP file.
The design is by Metrolinx and City Planners and TTC approve the design. Metrolinx is not accountable to the public and do what they like. The TTC is missing in action. City Planners are pressured by the political climate of the Mayor.
The City paid Metrolinx a fixed price contract for 6 stations, including Lawrence. The King St. station has taken a disproportionate amount of the budget. The original Lawrence design was high cost. The current design is the cheapest possible to meet functionality.
Steve: Strictly speaking the City has not paid yet as the final design costs have not come to Council for approval. However, the effect is the same. Liberty Village Station eats up a fortune, and everyone else gets second best.
Another example of stupid political interference is the political requirement that the RT stay in service until the SSE is completed. The Ontario government had proposed to build a two stop subway extension and pay for it. The TTC pointed out that the project cost did not include the cost of the shuttle buses required when the RT was shut down to build the subway.
Politicians believe the cost of the shuttle buses to be so important, that they required the RT to be in service during the construction of the SSE.
Steve: The idea of shuttle buses was central to the anti-LRT argument, and if ST would have triggered the same change, this would blow a gaping hope in the subway boosters’ claims.
Because the Mayor’s office has the power, City Planners did not point out that this interferes with the ST schedule and certainly complicates the design of the Lawrence station. The ST budget needs to be increased to improve the Lawrence station design. This is totally Tory’s decision. He could increase the ST budget or accept shuttle buses for the RT closure for more design flexibility and absorb the cost.
We have yet to meet a politician who has transit expertise, yet political interference clearly increases the cost and hampers the benefits of transit projects.