Ontario Line 2041 Ridership Projections

Several weeks ago, when Metrolinx began publishing its Neighbourhood Updates and Station Profiles, I asked for a consolidated set of ridership estimates. The material originally presented varied slightly from location to location, depending on each profile’s author. Most importantly, the numbers showed the utilization of each station, but not the projected loads on trains.

The stations might be a nice place to visit, but the real purpose of a transit line is to move people. For that, an important planning question is how many people actually want to ride in the peak period.

Metrolinx has now supplied this info (the have also updated some of their online information), and I present it here for readers’ interest.

The table below combines information from two Metrolinx sources:

  • The station-by-station projections sent in reply to my request, and
  • The projected numbers of transfer passengers, population and jobs taken from the station profiles.

To this data I have added a few extra columns to show the degree to which demand originating at each station is in the “inbound” direction heading toward downtown, and the proportion of demand at a station that walks in or out rather than transferring from another route. (Click on the image below for a larger version.)

A few things leap out of this table, notably the variation in usage at each station, and the large variation in whether traffic originates from or transfers to other transit routes, or is “local” to the neighbourhood.

Science Centre Station is particularly striking because 86 per cent of riders boarding or alighting there in the AM peak hour are projected to transfer to or from the Eglinton Crosstown line or from the local bus routes. Considering the scale of development projected for Don Mills and Eglinton, both commercial and residential, 14% for local walking access is a surprisingly low proportion.

Pape Station also has a low proportion of walk-in trade because activity there is dominated by transfers to and from Line 2 Bloor-Danforth.

Transfers to/from GO Transit are projected at 8,600 for East Harbour and 6,300 for Exhibition, and almost all of these are GO-to-Ontario Line given the highly directional nature of GO’s demand. These are the riders that Metrolinx hopes to divert from Union Station.

Metrolinx commonly cites the 14-15k total of GO-OL transfers for the two stations as if this were the benefit for each of them. The Exhibition Station Profile claims:

Giving customers another way to transfer between GO Transit’s regional rail services and the local subway system will take pressure off of Union Station, the country’s busiest transit hub. This new interchange will help reduce crowding at Union by about 14 per cent – or 14,000 fewer people – during rush hour.

Similar text is used for East Harbour Station. Moreover, this claim did not change after the much-vaunted “across the platform” transfer connections and their supposed convenience were dropped from the plans.

Where Are Riders Going?

Published Metrolinx data do not contain cross-tabs of origin-destination pairs and so we cannot see the details of where these riders are going, but one can get an idea of the popular locations by charting the boardings, alightings and accumulated loads on the Ontario Line for each direction of travel.

Westbound demand is the strongest in the AM peak hour accumulating to just over 20k on-train passengers in the peak direction during this hour. The overwhelming sources of riders in this projection are, in declining order:

  • Line 2 at Pape Station,
  • Riders boarding at East Harbour, primarily from GO Transit, and
  • Riders boarding at Science Centre, mainly as transfer traffic from Line 5.

The primary destinations are Queen, Osgoode and Exhibition Stations in that order.

Eastbound traffic will originate mainly at Exhibition Station. This demand is comprised partly of transfers from GO Transit, and partly of walk-in trade from Liberty Village. There is no local transit transfer component.

East Harbour is the principal destination along with the two downtown subway stations.

These charts show how important both the East Harbour development and the anticipated transfer of riders from GO onto the Ontario Line are for counterpeak demand. The inbound traffic is far more oriented to Queen and Osgoode Stations (showing the “relief” function of the corridor) than it is to East Harbour.

Jobs and Populations

The table is interesting for another reason: it shows the difference between population and job density in the old City of Toronto compared to East York and beyond, although these numbers must be taken with several grains of salt.

Some of the station projections look odd by comparison to each other. For example, Corktown Station will be in the middle of a large “Transit Oriented Community” and yet its projected usage is comparable to values for Leslieville (now called Leslieville/Riverside in deference to its actual location) where no redevelopment is planned.

East Harbour shows a much higher projected employment than resident population, and this appears to be out of line with recently announced development plans. This balance is important for demand projections because concentrations of jobs produce a different pattern of transit use than residential areas, and in general jobs tend to drive stronger peak demands.

Moss Park shows much higher projected usage than Thorncliffe Park, double the population and vastly more jobs. However, the area around Moss Park Station is already seeing redevelopment with condos, and by 2041 it could be a very different place from what we see today.

The Ten Minute Myth

Metrolinx’ use of the ten minute walking distance overstates the catchment area of stations, and this double counts the population and employment available at many locations.

For example, Moss Park’s ten minute circle (roughly .8km) reaches almost to Yonge and the employment shown in Moss Park’s profile is probably more conveniently served by Queen Station. To the southeast, the employment concentration around Corktown Station is within a ten minute walk of Moss Park, but there is little doubt which station will actually serve the area.

Spadina-Queen Station’s ten minute circle overlaps those of King-Bathurst and Osgoode.

This should not affect demand projections because trip assignment models should use only the most convenient path for each trip, but it does inflate the apparent demand available to each station. However, one cannot sum the population and job numbers for each station and cite these numbers for the line as a whole.

Metrolinx falls into this trap on two counts. The total of the ten minute populations in the table above is 227,500. Within the commonly cited stats for the Ontario Line, Metrolinx claims that there will be “255,000 more people within walking distance to transit”. (See “Key Facts” on the Ontario Line’s engagement page.) However, this both double counts people living in more than one station’s catchment area and ignores the fact that the majority of these people already have transit in walking distance.

Only East Harbour is a station that is not immediately next door to an existing transit service, and even that site is about a five minute walk to Queen & Broadview.

One cannot help wondering if the Metrolinx planning template see stations in a greenfield context far from any existing station and in territory untapped by any transit. That might apply to a GO extension, but not as an addition within an existing network.

Choice vs Captive Transit Demand

Data for “no car households” are shown for the stations south of Pape, but not for the northern segment. These are current day values, and they have not been projected into the future to show the effect of many new transit-by-choice residents in areas that will develop around the stations.

For ridership projections, a “no car household” can represent people who have no economic choice as well as those for whom the decision to go car-free is a lifestyle decision made possible by living in easy reach by transit, cycling or walking of common destinations. To put it another way, car ownership in Regent Park is low of necessity. In the Entertainment District and King West, it is a choice that helps to make a downtown condo affordable.

The Effects on Peak Demand for Lines 1 and 2

The Ontario Line is projected to reduce peak point demand on Line 1 Yonge by 6,000 per hour. This is measured between Bloor and Wellesley Stations southbound in the AM peak where a “business as usual” approach would see a demand of 41,000 compared to the projected 35,000.

Demand at Bloor-Yonge is projected to fall by “up to 22 percent” (see Key Facts linked above) or 14,000 people. This is calculated by summing the boardings and alightings on both lines which would be 65,000 without the Ontario Line, 51,000 with it in place. It is obvious that many of these people are counted twice as they transfer, as opposed to trips that begin or end at this station. However, the percentage reduction in pedestrian circulation within the station is probably in the ballpark as there are many more transfer passengers than local riders.

From past studies of the Relief Line published by Metrolinx, we know that the reduction would be even greater if the line went further north on Don Mills to Sheppard assuming that the Ontario Line could handle the increased demand.

Peak Hour vs All Day Demand

I asked Metrolinx whether they had off-peak demand projections for the Ontario Line, but they replied that “Daily [demand] was determined based on expansion factors to capture the off-peak ridership at the system level.”

The total peak hour boardings for both directions in the table above is 55,500 (31,100 westbound, 24,400 eastbound). According to the Key Facts table, all day boardings would be 388,000, a ratio of 7:1. A fairly common rule of thumb for demand estimates on an urban system is that the peak hour represents half of the peak period, and there are two peak periods per day. This would make the total peak boardings 222,000 (four times the peak hour) leaving about 166,000 for all of the off-peak.

Because all-day projections are based simply on scaling up from the peak hour, there is no separate detail on the anticipated off-peak demand pattern. Regular riders know that the patterns for various parts of the existing network differ greatly from the downtown portion of the Yonge line where there are many generators of off-peak trips (thinking of pre-pandemic conditions).

More Questions for Metrolinx

To clarify some of the issues raised here, I have submitted a follow-up set of questions to Metrolinx:

  1. After deducting the transfer passengers from total boardings at some stations, notably at Science Centre, the remaining “walk in (or out)” trade seems rather low. Does the projection for Science Centre reflect planned development at this location?
  2. The projected demand at Corktown, where there will be a large “Transit Oriented Community”, is comparable to that at Leslieville (Riverside) where no development is intended. Does the demand model reflect the TOCs that will be encouraged at various locations on the route, and how do you account for the low demand at Corktown and Gerrard (for example) where new development is likely or planned?
  3. The ten minute walking distances for most stations overlap with the effect that population and jobs will be double-counted.
    • Do you have catchment area values for each station individually without overlaps?
    • Does the demand model look at the entire network and model each rider once, or is demand at each station modelled independently based on population and jobs within a ten minute walk?
  4. Ontario Line materials claim that there will be “255,000 more people within walking distance to transit”.
    • All of the station sites are already served directly by transit or with a short walk (East Harbour). The operative word here is “more” which appears to be untrue. Transit service and network access will be improved for many people, but none of them is without service today.
    • The number cited appears to include populations from overlapping catchment areas and therefore double-counts many who will benefit.
    • Would Metrolinx care to comment?
  5. The figures for congestion within Bloor-Yonge station double count passengers transferring between routes who are both an alighting and a boarding. Do you have a count for the number of trips that either begin or end at Bloor-Yonge Station?

17 thoughts on “Ontario Line 2041 Ridership Projections

  1. Expert analysis.

    “The operative word here is “more” which appears to be untrue.”

    Metrolinx tell an untruth??? Naahh… Like the Joint Corridor will quieter than it is today with 1300 more trains per day than there are currently… Like an above-grade route is less impactful on our community than a subway….the list goes on and on….

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  2. “Science Centre Station is particularly striking because 86 per cent of riders boarding or alighting there in the AM peak hour are projected to transfer to or from the Eglinton Crosstown line or from the local bus routes. Considering the scale of development projected for Don Mills and Eglinton, both commercial and residential, this is a surprisingly low proportion.”

    Do you mean high rather than low? I think what you’re saying is that 14% coming from the immediate area is surprisingly low. Apologies if I’ve misunderstood!

    Also, in what year do their projections show they will look foolish for having built a “light metro” rather than another subway line? I assume they’ve ensured this is well after most current planners’ retirement dates?

    Steve: Yes, that paragraph suffered in editing. I will fix it. Thanks for the catch.

    There are a few things working together here. Originally, the RL did not have the task of offloading GO Transit for Union Station relief. Metrolinx, in converting it to the Ontario Line, invented a new raison d’etre that also added many thousands of passengers pushing up the peak demand. But their heart is set on a light metro. They will all be long retired before they have to answer for this.

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  3. Metrolinx is basically repeating the work that the TTC has already done with its Relief Line AND the TTC’s stats on its current routes.

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  4. With a peak load of 20,300 people per direction per hour, then if they run every 2 minutes, they can get 675 a train – which is probably near the design capacity.

    Doesn’t leave much room for long-term expansion, particularly if they expand the line north of Eglinton – or gosh, there’s growth in transit.

    I wonder where a relief line for the relief line would go

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  5. > I wonder where a relief line for the relief line would go

    Ironically, possibly somewhere near the Uxbridge sub…

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  6. I combined the AM alightings counts from both the WB and EB Ontario Line trains. The 6 busiest stations according to their model are:

    Queen: 12,100
    Osgoode: 9,000
    East Harbour: 7,800
    Spadina-Queen: 5,000
    Moss Park: 4,800
    Exhibition: 3,700

    East Harbour has a surprisingly high count, just below Osgoode, but way ahead of Exhibition. Exhibition is close to Liberty Village, a significant employment area.

    Wondering if that reflects the scale of offices planned in the vicinity of East Harbour, or rather AM transfers to GO trains and reverse GO commutes.

    Another interesting note is the high projected volume of counter-peak (eastbound) AM boardings, one third of which is supposed to come from a single station: Exhibition. That might actually work, as it will be easy to board the EB trains at the Exhibition as long as it remains the terminus. The transfer will be convenient for GO riders from LSW, and even some riders from LSE might choose to ride past Union and then backtrack on OL to avoid the crowds.

    The only caveat is that any further westward extension of OL becomes questionable. Once the Exhibition station is no longer the terminus, the EB trains will come there already loaded, and the transfer from GO will become less appealing.

    Steve: Metrolinx is hoping for large scale transfer traffic off of GO onto the OL for riders to bypass Union. That coupled with demand at East Harbour seems to be a substantial portion of their projected demand almost to the point of overloading the line.

    It is worth noting that the outbound transfer is not as easy (not across the platform) and will be onto GO trains that are substantially loaded from Union. I don’t think their model works very in that regard, and they are only looking at the best case AM peak demand. Also, as I noted, some of their “Transit Oriented Communities” don’t appear to generate much demand at all suggesting that the model numbers are out of date.

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  7. Great post – I’ve been hoping for this kind of data. Thanks Steve.

    One thing that stands out to me is the number of alightings at Exhibition. It’s more than East Harbour, but East Harbour is supposed to be a massive job centre. I’d assume Ex will be subject to significant variations, with far more AM peak alightings in the summer than the rest of the year. I wonder how they’re factoring that in. Does the number seem off to you (compared to East Harbour)?

    Steve: Please see my reply to the preceding comment.

    Yes, I think their numbers are off because of changes in land use and because of their presumed volume of transfers from GO to the OL for AM peak trips at Exhibition and East Harbour.

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  8. One variable that has yet to be considered is how the potential ridership feels about Metrolinx. If transit is designed to serve citizens versus imposed on people then maybe people might actually use it.

    Steve: People will use Metrolinx’ lines whether they like the organization or not. For one thing, the network will be restructured around trunk services. For another, the people who will use the line are not, for the most part, living in areas where Metrolinx has undermined community support.

    The area where Metrolinx could really piss off people on a wide geographic basis would be to force a fare scheme that drove up fares for longer trips on the local transit services, new or old.

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  9. I question whether the extension west of Queen/University is justified at this time; reducing overcrowding on GO trains and at Union Station seems like doubtful logic for spending hundreds of millions to reach Exhibition. In my opinion the money would be better spent extending the line northward to Don Mills and Sheppard; apart from the subway connection there, numerous high rise apartments exist near Don Mills Road, north of York Mills Road.

    Steve: I agree, but there are planners at Metrolinx who have been itching to build a line to the Exhibition for ages. Premier Ford and his love to prove the City of Toronto wrong on the Relief Line gave them the perfect opening to advance that scheme, even though Metrolinx’ own projections showed that a Relief Line North to Sheppard would have a huge effect on subway crowding. The idea that Union Station was “full” has, I suspect, been milked for all it’s worth and I do not believe the projected transfer volumes.

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  10. “I question whether the extension west of Queen/University is justified at this time; reducing overcrowding on GO trains and at Union Station seems like doubtful logic for spending hundreds of millions to reach Exhibition. In my opinion the money would be better spent extending the line northward to Don Mills and Sheppard; apart from the subway connection there, numerous high rise apartments exist near Don Mills Road, north of York Mills Road.”

    I have to agree. What we’re seeing is what we always see: the 905 (and 705) tail wagging the 416 dog. The city is, once again, paying to give the suburbanites an option that they may or may not use. Not all, but many of the traditional GO Union Station commuters have a car they could be driving to work. Instead, they get a subsidized alternative (including the huge subsidy of free parking). The York University extension allows suburbanites to fill up subway trains before they ever get to the 416 taxpayers who are footing the bill. The Ontario Line is sucking billions out of the city budget, disrupting the life of city-dwellers, and has been rejigged to give suburbanites another subsidized option if they choose to leave the car at home. In the meantime, residents of the city are left to crowd in buses.

    It seems Metrolinx exists solely to accrue power and gain control of all transit. The only reason it has not already swallowed the TTC, with the help of Doug the Thug, is that the TTC contains the poison pill of billions in unfunded below the line projects.

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  11. My interpretation of the chart.
    I would challenge the WestBound alightings
    Spadina-Queen 3,000
    King-Bathurst 1,200
    Exhibition 3,700
    and EastBound alightings
    Flemingdon Park 1,000

    I would submit that these overstated alightings are a result of overstated boardings at WestBound Cosburn, Gerrard, Leslieville and Eastbound King-Bathurst, Spadina-Queen, Osgoode and Moss Park

    Metrolinx is obligated to hit 388,000 daily boardings and can only do so by raising peak hour ridership, to Steve’s point Peak Hour vs All day demand.
    If the Peak Hour boardings were too low, they could never reach the ridership of 388,000 daily boardings.
    Metrolinx has no credibility in providing all day modeling which is done with City models.

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  12. A question of semantics. When referring to “rush hour”, the expression doesn’t refer to one hour but rather the entire morning and evening “rush”. Does Metrolinx’s term “peak hour” refer only to one hour and if so what does it consider the duration of the morning and evening surges? Does Mx plan to run all day simulations of ridership?

    Steve: Demand models are typically run for the peak hour. As a general rule the full peak period is about double the peak hour. If the model says 500 peak hour riders, that means you get 250 on each of the shoulder peaks, and these are probably concentrated in the half hours closer to the peak. The AM peak is easier and more important to model because the work trips and school trips happen more or less in the same period. In the afternoon, the school trips start earlier and so the PM peak, while it might have the same number of rides, does not have them as concentrated in time.

    For commuter rail operations, the peak is about two hours, but for urban rapid transit it lasts longer. Having said all of this, we really don’t know what the “peaks” will look like for a few years until commuting patterns settle into whatever “normal” will be in a post-covid world.

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  13. Steve: The projected demand at Corktown, where there will be a large “Transit Oriented Community”, is comparable to that at Leslieville (Riverside) where no development is intended.

    You are mistaken. Massive amounts of development is being planned throughout the Ontario Line corridor. The city sees this as an opportunity to cash in on development fees and property taxes. Even homeowners who are initially resistant to change cannot resist the temptation of selling when a property developer offers them two or three times their property’s market value. The Ontario Lane will completely change the neighbourhoods that it passes through thanks to massive property developments. Much of the details are meant to be strictly confidential at this point which is why I have to post anonymously.

    Steve: Well, Metrolinx has claimed in response to direct questions that there is no “transit oriented community” planned at Leslieville/Riverside. It would not be the first time that they lied .. oops .. that their official spokespeople didn’t know what they were talking about. Gerrard is an obvious site, but Riverside not so much so.

    Also, I am leery of trusting a pseudonym as the source without something more concrete like a pointer for “rocks to look under” that would support your claim.

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  14. It would be helpful if Metrolinx would let us know what size of equipment they are going to operate. They mention either running 4 car train 80 m long or five car trains 100 m long so it would seem the length of their cars will be 20 m, or 66 feet for the metrically challenged. The missing item is their width. Will they be 2.65 m like the Eglinton LRT or closer to the 3.124 m or the Toronto Rockets. I suspect that they will be somewhere in between.

    Also, what will be the propulsion system of these trains? Will they be three phase rotary motors or Linear motors? Metrolinx seems to have their heart set on running a lot of elevated lines so that might indicate something like the BC Skytrain ART III cars which are 2.65 m wide. A little more information would be helpful.

    Steve: On one hand Metrolinx seems to have made a lot of decisions about the OL, but when pressed they say that it will be up to the RSSOM (Rolling Stock, Systems, Operations and Maintenance) bidder. Just ne more way Metrolinx dodges actually answering questions.

    There seems to be some consternation with the low passenger volumes of the Ontario Line stations but they are not out of line with most of the rapid stations in Chicago which can be downloaded here. Capacity is a product of trains per hour times capacity per train. Since Toronto’s original signal system was 1930s technology, they went for large trains and 2 minute plus headways. If this line is to operate at 90 second headways then there will be 40 trains per hour vs 30 therefore they can achieve the same capacity with 3/4 the capacity per train.

    Toronto does have some low usage stations. In 2018 the following stations were under 10,000 passengers per day: Summerhill, Rosedale, Dupont, Glencairn, Downsview Park, Highway 407, Old Mill, Castle Frank, Chester, everything on Line 3 except Kennedy and Scarborough Centre, and everything on line 4 except Yonge and Don Mills. The more recent the line the less like are its stations to have large passenger volumes.

    The province seems to be building lines to suit its ego and not necessarily the transit needs.

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  15. I’m very glad for Steve and commenters – there’s a degree of complexity, and while we’d like to think that those in charge/paid are somewhat atop it, it seems that the public interest is again not the top concern, and we’re not getting good enough transit nor good value for the billions, again.

    The situation needs a reset/rework; and given the great decline in GO/TTC riderships it really does seem it’d be smart to take an extra year or two for a rethinking exercise, and a more open process too, where we have more options for both routes, and the parts of the routes. But it gets back to the politricks – where are the provincial Liberals/NDP on the issues? And are we going to let the federal Liberals off the hook for letting the City of Toronto be so messed up (again), which does include the transit, and also, for shovelling out the billions unthinkingly, with the ‘rationale’ that the federal level is only helping to support transit, (but not its planning, nor the citizens/users – where a few million in better planning could save us a few billions perhaps hmm?)

    All that said/written, the main issue seems to be N/S Relief, and yes, we really should work to have better linkage between GO and any possible new line as per that last Metro OP that had an EA by GO for that NofEglinton segment, only 25 years ago. And while that’s a longer time ago, since the 1957 plan had Relief N, S, NE, and W out to c. Islington, taking another few years may be sorta OK, though the climate emergency really does require action, and where’s the triage option please, using political will and not mega-projects/tonnage of concrete? (though we do need to be ‘dreaming’ of ‘unrealistic’ things that cost a lot sometimes).

    Thanks again all

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