The Government of Ontario has been responsible for a lot of hot air over the years, and that applies to all three political parties. But their agencies Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx have come up with the biggest pile of crap I have seen in a very long time going back to Bill Davis and the flim-flam surrounding his failed maglev train project.
The Scarborough Subway Extension Preliminary Design Business Case is a classic attempt to support a bad project by cooking the books outrageously and hoping nobody will notice. Even with their sleight-of-hand, Metrolinx cannot make the SSE look good as a business proposition. It fails not by a small amount that could be “adjusted” out of the way, but by a country mile.
This raises two fundamental questions:
- Is the methodology of Metrolinx’ so-called business cases a valid way to examine transit projects?
- Has Metrolinx used a comparison that so flagrantly misrepresents reality that it destroys credibility not only of the report, but of the organization?
This analysis has a fundamental problem. It compares two schemes, one of which is the flimsiest of straw men, in an attempt to make the subway look better than it is.
- One option is the extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard East with stops along the way at Lawrence/McCowan and Scarborough Town Centre.
- The other is a network that assumes the Scarborough RT does not exist, but is replaced with many, many buses.
The latter option has never been on the table.
Missing is the one we all know and love or hate. The Scarborough LRT from Kennedy Station to Malvern is not even mentioned, not even in the potted history of rapid transit plans which begins with the SRT in 1985, not with the LRT plan that first appeared in the 1960s. Possibly Metrolinx planners are too young to know about this, or they are willfully ignorant.
The result? The subway “saves” thousands of hours of travel time, makes trips far more convenient, gets more cars off of the road, and on and on. But of course it would, just as the replacement of any surface network by a subway would make a huge difference.
However, that should not be the basis of comparison, and Metrolinx/IO flagrantly spend page after page extolling the subway’s virtue versus “Business As Usual”, a bus network that does not exist and has never been proposed. Their rationale is that the SRT will not last forever but will succumb to old age, and a bus network will be the “base case” against the subway would be measured.
Based on available information, it is understood that the SRT would require substantial investment to remain operational during the business case’s time frame (beyond 2029/2030) and so it would be inappropriate to include it for comparison purposes.
It has been assummed that a replacement bus network has been established to provide the type and volume of transit connections required to serve former SRT passengers. In reviewing this document it will be of value to keep this assumption in mind as the Scarborough Subway Extension is not being compared against the SRT, but rather against transit network scenario where Scarborough is largely served by surface route buses. [p 17]
Indeed, some text reads as if the SRT was never there, and the subway is a spectacular network addition built out into an area that has never seen rapid transit.
This is a deeply dishonest presentation. It does not review the real alternative to the subway, and it grossly inflates the subway’s benefit.
I am under no illusion that we will ever go back to the LRT plan. If the government would just say “a subway’s what we need and what we will build”, fine. That’s a policy decision. But when a collection of well-paid staff and consultants cook up this sort of BS to give a political decision a patina of professional respectability, that’s going too far.
If Metrolinx has stooped to this level in order to please their boss at Queen’s Park, they have shown just how trustworthy their work on everything else must be. For starters, there’s the Ontario Line, but that’s a whole other article.
As an aside, the document is littered with typos showing that it was not carefully edited even though it was considered by the Metrolinx Board in January, according to the Globe’s Oliver Moore. It has almost certainly been pushed out the door at the last minute in anticipation of public meetings next week.
It is also ironic that Hamilton lost its LRT plan thanks to provincial complaints about runaway costs while two signature Doug Ford projects, the three stop Scarborough Subway Extension and the underground version of the Eglinton West LRT extension roll on despite bad economic reviews.
There is little point in my reviewing this document in excruciating detail because almost every page depends on comparisons with an utterly invalid base case. However, there is the occasional point worth noting, a few of which will surprise readers I am sure.
The Scarborough Subway Extension offers improvements compared to a Business As Usual scenario, generating $2.7 billion worth of economic benefits. [p 8]
The report neglects to mention that almost all of those benefits are travel time savings achieved by comparing trips on a subway extension versus a supposed bus network. Similarly the change in residential and work populations who would be near a rapid transit station is inflated by the total absence of any stations in the base case. Even with this inflated “benefit”, the extension comes nowhere near breaking even on a Net Present Value (NPV) basis.
After almost 30 years of continuous operation, the SRT’s vehicles are reaching the end of their serviceable life. The SRT system was designed to specifically accommodate the original Bombardier `Mark I` vehicles. The next generation of vehicles (used in Vancouver and elsewhere) are longer and unable to accommodate the turning radius requirements of the SRT infrastructure.
Actually, the SRT passed the 30 year mark in 2015, but who am I to quibble over Metrolinx’ flawed arithmetic? More to the point, the reason the later generation of vehicles used in Vancouver will not fit on the SRT infrastructure is that it was deliberately downsized on Queen’s Park’s orders so that the TTC could not revert to LRT. An “own goal”.
There are many benefits of any new and extended line for increased capacity and reach, not to mention spreading demand among stations, but these are discussed solely in the context of a subway.
The base network to which the SSE would be added is shown in the map below. Note that the east end of the Sheppard East Subway Extension, a line proposed for the 2030s, would be at McCowan. The Benefits Case notes that there would be a provision for a non-revenue track connection between the lines, but that they would operate separately, not with through running.
[…] future Line 4 Extension (Sheppard Subway) non-revenue connecting track in special trackwork area south of Sheppard Ave East and provisioning for future passenger transfer between Line 4 and Line 2 at this location. [p 24]
The extension itself has the familiar three-stop configuration although the station at STC will be on McCowan, not within the STC lands as in the original TTC proposal.
Demand modelling for the extension and other lines assumes that the GO+TTC “Double Discount Fare” is in place. This scheme is about to disappear thanks to Queen’s Park’s parsimonious attitude to transit funding (and probably because it is seen as a “Toronto” subsidy even though the main beneficiaries are GO Transit riders from the 905).
On one hand, the analysis talks about 38,000 people living in walking distance of stations.
All metrics related to walking distance access were calclulated [sic] using an 800m radius buffer (as the crow flies distance) around stations, where an 800m walk is considered to take approximately ten minutes at the standard average walking speed (5 km/hour). [p 28, footnote 5]
Elsewhere, however, the analysis is clear that a large proportion of the SSE’s demand will arrive on connecting buses just as happens today with much of the rapid transit network. Walk-in trade is a primary mode of access only in and near downtown.
The increased levels of rapid transit accessibility can be expected to strengthen the many communities of Scarborough. The Stations at Sheppard and McCowan, Scarborough Centre (at Ellesmere), and Lawrence and McCowan are all expected to attract a significant portion of their ridership from bus users. Connecting express bus services on Finch and Steeles with SSE stations further extends the impact of the Scarborough Subway Extension. [p 33]
An example of the distortion caused by the “BAU” comparison is the description of access to the UTSC campus.
Scarborough Centre is also the transit gateway to the employment and educational destinations of Centennial College’s Progress Campus (13,250 students and 2,300 staff and faculty) and the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (more than 13,000 students, 1,000 full time staff and faculty), which are served by bus connections. The SSE station at Scarborough Centre would be within close proximity to the employment area at Scarborough Centre and allow for shorter bus connections to these academic institutions than under BAU. [p 30]
Of course the subway extension makes the trip shorter if one ignores that the SRT already exists and could have been replaced by an LRT network with greater reach. There is no mention of the proposed Eglinton East LRT extension.
A trip to downtown is similarly distorted. Without question the LRT network scheme would retain the transfer at Kennedy, although it would have been substantially improved, but the LRT would have continued into Malvern. This is a worst case comparison on two counts both in ignoring what the LRT might have achieved, especially in northeast Scarborough, and by making the comparator a bus link from STC to Kennedy.
Traffic congestion caused by buses adds to the woes of the “BAU” scheme.
In the BAU, the volume of buses needing to be operated to replace the SRT in Scarborough is significant. These buses are competing for space with other vehicular traffic on many north-south corridors. Passengers on these buses are prone to delays from weather, road construction, collisions as well as general traffic congestion. The SSE in contrast provides a reliable service that is generally immune from disruptions at the surface level. [p 39]
A calculation of energy savings compares subway trips with bus and auto trips (not even allowing for electric buses), but the LRT option which is also electric is not mentioned [p 44]. The same problem crops up with estimates of pollution caused by various mixes of travel.
These are “true” statements, but a bus network has never been the alternative under consideration. The parliamentary term is “misleading”.
A heat map of jobs in Scarborough is quite revealing. STC must still compete with employment concentrations further west, and no development is shown around Kennedy Station even though it will be a major transit hub. The force-feeding of STC as an artificial node continues even though city planning reports consistently show low growth at this supposed centre.
For the extension to attract ridership, it needs to be built where people reside and jobs are located today, and where there is potential for growth in the future. Transit infrastructure has been found to encourage development activities in all categories of use, generating further economic benefits for communities and the region. This growth and development, in turn, generates more transit ridership.
The Scarborough Subway Extension connects two Urban Growth Centres (UGC) : Scarborough Centre and the Downtown Toronto UGC to other areas in the region by providing a rapid transit connection. [p 33]
The location of suburban centres was dictated more by political considerations than good planning. A link from STC to downtown is not a panacea for that node. Instead, it simply provides a way for people from Scarborough to get to downtown jobs faster. Dare I mention that the STC-downtown link has not appeared to be much of a boon to the former’s development? Line 2 is not packed with AM peak riders outbound to STC.
A fundamental problem at many suburban nodes is that much of their demand comes from auto-oriented areas outside of the transit system’s reach.
The airport is an excellent example of a major centre whose employees come from a wide range of origins. One line will not transform access for a majority of travellers. The same problem beset the Union-Pearson Express whose catchment area, especially when it stopped only at the terminals, did not include the location of most airport-bound passengers.
Metrolinx/IO plan to farm out the work to P3s in two separate contracts. One would be for early works and tunnel construction, while the other would be for stations and fitting out the completed structure.
The preliminary plan is described only in text, not in drawings. There will two tunnel boring machines (TBMs), one boring south from Sheppard and the other east then north from Kennedy Station.
This implies a single bore tunnel design with station platforms included inside the tunnel structure. This is implied but not clearly stated, nor is there any discussion of the cost and technical tradeoffs even though these probably favour the single tunnel design.
The indicative construction schedule assumes the use of two tunnel boring machines (TBM), with one launched southward from the future station box at Sheppard and McCowan and another launched eastward on Eglinton Avenue East between Midland Road and Commonwealth Avenue. The tunnel drive logistics are based on an analysis that indicates that a 2 TBM scenario represents a schedule savings compared to a single TBM schedule.
The first TBM will proceed south along McCowan Road to an extraction shaft located on the Scarborough Rouge Hospital property immediately north of Lawrence Avenue East. The second TBM will proceed east and north along Eglinton Avenue East, Danforth Road and McCowan Road, to the same extraction shaft. Open cut construction methods are expected to be used, with appropriate support of excavation, for the launch and extraction shafts, the three stations, all emergency exit building locations as well as the transition area between Kennedy Station and the south TBM launch shaft.
The scheme includes the creation of a tail track east of Kennedy Station that could be used to short turn part of the service. Partial versus full service to northern Scarborough has been an issue in debates over the extension, and in the TTC’s version, the turnback option had been removed. Now it’s back.
The Kennedy transition section extends roughly 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue and will include special track work and a pocket track to enable every second subway train to short turn to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs. [p 24]
The proposed additional fleet is not sufficient to operate all trains through to Sheppard especially if the TTC reduces headways on Line 2 with ATC by the time the extension opens.
It is assumed in this business case that 6 train sets will be purchased at a cost of $27,234,000 each, measured in 2020$ [p 60, footnote]
The actual service levels used for estimating the operating costs over the project’s life are not specified and, therefore, we do not know if there would be extra costs to provide more service beyond Kennedy.
This has a knock-on effect for Line 2 during construction because modification of the existing tail tracks at Kennedy Station will constrain operations there and it is not clear that the TTC could maintain the level of service now offered under those conditions.
Impacts During Construction
Line 2 – Operations at Kennedy Station will be significantly impacted during construction due to the limited overrun distance once re-alignment of the tail track in the transition section begins. The reduced overshoot distance requires a reduced speed on arrival onto the platform during construction. To mitigate this impact, the Kennedy pocket track/transition structure must be built in stages. [pp 64-65]
Anyone who has seen Kennedy terminal operations when one or both tail tracks are occupied will know how much more slowly trains must enter the station to avoid over-running the platform. This is enforced by the signal system and it affects the cycle time for the terminal. In turn, the minimum headway that can be supported especially if terminal operations do not run like clockwork (a common situation) produces backlogs of trains in the eastbound approach.
This is an appalling “analysis” of the Scarborough Subway Extension that purports to show its benefits compared with a bus network that has never been an option.
The point of comparison was always an LRT network versus one or more subway extensions, but that is not even mentioned. Instead Metrolinx and IO spend 66 pages “proving” how good the subway option is based on a false premise.
This is unprofessional and dishonest, and shows the level of moral rot that has set in at what should be a valued regional agency.