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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?