Contemplating the Network Effect

In a recent Metrolinx Blog article (Phil Verster explains the network effect and how it will create new transit possibilities for generations of customers), the CEO discusses how the presence of a frequent, well-connected network of transit will change the way people move around the Toronto area.

This is little surprise to those who long advocated for a view of transit that addresses not just core area commuter traffic, but the wider need for travel around the region without using a private vehicle. GO Transit was conceived as an alternative to highway building in the 1960s, but expansion beyond relief for core-bound highway traffic is minimal. One need only look at traffic on Highway 401 (among others) to see the scale of travel markets that have not been addressed by transit in the past half-century.

Looking east to GO Exhibition Station from Dufferin Street, August 1972

Verster’s focus is the GO Expansion program. Important though that is, GO is hobbled by the geography of Toronto’s historical, radial railway network. There is only one cross-city line within Toronto (CPR) and one crossing the southern part of York Region (CNR). Both of these are busy freight routes where insertion of passenger services would be challenging, assuming that the railways even agreed to such a scheme, and their locations do not coincide with major population and job centres.

The railway network was created primarily to serve freight, and the early industrial districts of the region lie along rail corridors. The node at Union served not just passenger traffic, but also as an interchange with the harbour. That was very much the case until trucks took over much of the shipping market and highways became the focus for development. GO Transit inherited railway corridors whose locations fit a century-old industrial pattern. Modal interchange shifted to rail and truck terminals in the suburbs, and railways shifted much more to a line-haul role with trucks handling local distribution.

GO’s first half-century was a comparatively easy one taking the low-hanging fruit of existing rail corridors, building massive parking facilities along these lines, and basking in the arrival of thousands of commuters. That model does not work any more because the web of travel demands is much more complex than the legacy railway network. Parking garages are expensive and they occupy valuable real estate at stations.

Parking lots are a quick and relatively cheap way to address the “last mile problem” of linking stations to their customers, and GO is one of the largest operators of parking facilities in North America. As of April 2019, GO transit had 85,055 parking spaces while the rail network carried 219,000 daily boardings (the equivalent of 109,500 round trips). That is almost four parking spaces for every five commuters. (I have ignored the GO bus network here because it is much less dependent on park-and-ride demand.)

That model simply does not scale up, nor does it provide a “network effect” because it is highly dependent on personal vehicles. The system is capacity-constrained by would-be riders’ ability to get to the trains.

Canada’s most dynamic transit system must expand with new routes and more frequent service to meet demand that is bound to increase with a growing population. And it must deliver new opportunities to travel quickly across the region – helping people get to work as well as their entertainment, dining and leisure choices.

From new subway projects and light rail transit routes in, around and even under Canada’s largest city, to a massive expansion of the iconic GO Transit network, the work is big and bold.

From the introduction to Phil Verster Explains …

There has always been a problem with Metrolinx’ world view of the region’s transit system. It is not simply GO Transit, but also a myriad of local bus routes and a few rapid transit lines. In talking of the “most dynamic transit system”, does Metrolinx mean GO itself, or have they adopted various subway, LRT and BRT projects because they now have carriage of their construction?

Until Queen’s Park decided to usurp local controls and hand many projects to Metrolinx, the provincial agency was content to sit back and watch municipalities put these projects together on their own. There is no sense here that Metrolinx acknowledges that many of the projects now under its umbrella were inherited, not started, by that agency.

Verster – Customer choices. The big benefit of a network effect is that having different modes gives customers real choices on how they travel. If people have to make difficult and inconvenient choices – whether it’s about finding a parking spot at the station, makings connections, or using a bicycle for the last part of the trip – then we have to find ways of making it easier. But when we have easy transfers between buses, the subway and GO trains – and even bike sharing at our stations – we are creating more of a network effect.

This focus on easy transfers assumes that a local service actually exists. Parking is wonderful for an early morning inbound commute, but useless to trips later in the day or for trips that begin in transit territory and end at a parking garage storing other people’s cars. Bike share addresses only part of the market, and has limitations for trip length, weather, and the physical capabilities of the transit user. It is a boutique response to a much more general problem.

Thanks to provincial funding policies and the priorities of municipal governments, bus service is not uniformly available as a feeder/distributor service for GO’s rail network. Local network design can be complicated when a GO station sits in splendid isolation rather than in the centre of a developed neighbourhood that has transit demands beyond the occasional passing train.

Verster – We have it already. We have a network. GO trains move along seven routes, including the Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East, with parallel bus routes that run similarly east to west and run further to the north. With Bike Share Toronto you can pick up a bicycle at many of our stations. And our future plans include new links to partner services like the TTC, MiWay, Viva and DRT.

Future plans? New links to partner services? This tells us just how dedicated GO has been to recognizing those partnerships for the past 54 years. There are two big issues here:

  • Since its inception, GO existed to move people regionally and actively worked against proposals to use its services for local travel, especially within the City of Toronto. They have changed their tune, sort of, but decades of the former attitude are baked into how the network is designed and operated.
  • Nowhere within the article does Verster address fare structure as an enabler of networking, or a deterrent to travel.

To be fair, this is the result of provincial policy and years of Metrolinx fighting to preserve its revenue stream. However, the job of a regional planning agency is to plan, not to ignore the implications of existing policies. There is much talk of regional integration and Presto-card enabled travel across boundaries between service providers, but silence on enabling travel by reducing fares and increasing operating subsidies.

Short trips on GO now enjoy a reduced fare, but this was an ad hoc political fix, not a unified review of the network, and there is still no discount for a GO+TTC trip.

Metrolinx continues to think of its services as “premium” to the point where the fares on new lines like the Crosstown or Ontario are still speculative. They will be “TTC” fares, but what will the TTC be forced to charge to absorb the costs of these new routes?

The current network is tenuous because, like many cities, we have radial lines going into downtown, but we need more connections across Toronto and the whole region. This is why our current projects, like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the Ontario Line are being designed to create a lot of networking and interconnectedness to new and existing GO, subway and LRT lines. That’s how we deliver the network effect.

The Crosstown and Ontario lines go nowhere near the borders of the City of Toronto. In a decade or so, Eglinton will reach west toward Pearson Airport, the Yonge subway will push north to Richmond Hill, and the Scarborough subway will jump across the 401, but no further. This is not a regional network but rather filling in some of the long-overdue gaps in the TTC.

We know that municipal agencies do a tremendous job of helping riders criss-cross cities. Metrolinx is connecting everything we build to those existing systems as we double the size of Toronto’s subway network, quadruple the size and reach of the LRT network and double the intensity of the GO system. All of this expansion is being designed to connect and give riders more options.

That statement is something of an exaggeration. Some municipalities do a good job, but the quality of service is far from uniform across the region, and the pressures of lost ridership since March 2020 coupled with limited provincial funding do not bode well for coming years.

Verster – We are building a frequent rapid transit network that consist of subways, LRTs, buses and on-demand mini transit solutions. As we move forward, rail will always be important, and we need more rapid bus services, too. The idea is to expand the network by adding main arteries.

How to build that network is going to be an interesting challenge in the years to come. The arteries may connect to autonomous, self-driving vehicles or smaller buses that allow for Uber-type, or on-demand service. But that step will follow the phase we are in now, which is to build the network’s arteries.

“Build” is the operative word here. Metrolinx and its partner at Infrastructure Ontario have become a construction companies for whom the goal is to both create and expand transit corridors and develop land where possible around existing and future stations. Beyond the already-announced goals for GO Transit service, there is no mention of operations.

“Rapid bus service” deserves a special mention because, for Metrolinx, this is a very small-scale stuff. The chart below shows how Metrolinx views the evolving network. There remains a local component that would connect with regional services at widely-spaced stations. This is part of the Metrolinx mantra: stations should not be close together because stopping too often will deter riders. That attitude ignores the fact that riders much first reach a station. For a bus route (and probably for BRT, LRT and subway) that will not be with a last mile ride in an auto, but probably on foot.

Having reached a station, would-be riders could face a long wait if they have just missed a bus. The combined effect is not conducive to building ridership except among those who have no other choice. Metrolinx crows about having a large percentage of would-be riders within a short distance of “rapid transit”, but that is a very elastic term that includes services most riders would see as little more than a bus with a new colour scheme, and maybe even a higher fare.

Verster has the good sense of recognizing that building the network’s arteries takes precedence over “autonomous, self-driving vehicles or smaller buses that allow for Uber-type, or on-demand service”. There is a role for on-demand service in areas of low population, but they will not solve regional problems let alone provide a network solution. As to the technical capabilities of autonomous vehicles or the financial viability of Uber, those belong more in the realm of politicians who are desperate to avoid spending money on transit, and particularly on labour.

Source: Metrolinx 2041 Network Plan

Verster – We’ve become much more of a business rather than an agency. Being a business in transit is crucially important. You don’t make right decisions simply because you’re an agency. You make the right decisions because you are thinking as a business. That’s how we’ve strengthened our commercial resources and our project delivery resources.

That statement would be at home in a political campaign ad, but it is badly misplaced as a transit philosophy. Metrolinx might have “commercial” and “project delivery resources”, but that does not make a transit system. Moreover, “business” decisions depend on how you define the “business” you’re in.

Enabling travel has an economic benefit to riders, to employers, to operators of entertainment facilities, and to governments who depend on all of these to keep the economic wheels turning. Metrolinx has created a cottage industry in “business case analyses” that attempt to justify their projects in pseudo-economic terms, but no business could stay alive with a combination of very long term financial plans (60+ years) and benefits that accrue not to their own bottom line, but to society as a whole.

Politicization of project routes, scope and technologies have shown that what really counts is the guy sitting in the Premier’s office and the benefits, be they in votes or in balm to his ego, that the projects represent. Cost effectiveness and “business” have nothing to do with it.

Verster – It’s about ease of transfer and ease of movement. With the narrow platforms we have at Union today there is a bottleneck as it takes time for to passengers get off the train and across the platform. But once you get down to the concourse it flows easily. When the platform is full you can’t bring the next train in, because there is nowhere for the people to go.

To improve pedestrian flow, we need wider platforms so people will be able to move off of the platform easily. Whether they are walking out to an office or connecting to the TTC we want people to move easily through the station. This will prepare us for GO Expansion, when we anticipate we’ll have 43 train trips per hour moving through Union Station in peak period, compared to 23 before COVID.

To be fair to Phil Verster, he inherited the design at Union Station and the operating plan it supports. That said, Metrolinx as an organization and the Ontario government should have addressed this in the renovation work that is only now finishing.

A related problem is that even with a rework of Union Station, Metrolinx seeks to divert many trips away from it on the Ontario Line through transfer connections at East Harbour and Exhibition Stations. This will add substantially to traffic on the OL’s central section and could eventually compromise its capacity especially if further outward extensions such as north on Don Mills were contemplated.

Metrolinx has not produced a consolidated ridership model of its future network and of related TTC lines which new facilities like the OL are supposed to offload.

Verster – Transit makes growth happen. It’s a requirement for many businesses. So, we don’t just bring transit to where it already exists. Look at East Harbour, it has a very real access problem. It’s close to downtown, just over the Don River, but it’s difficult to get there by car. With the Ontario Line, it will be easy to get to work or a home there, and it’s going to be a superb Transit Oriented Development with space for new housing and jobs.

There is a fundamental difference between a site like East Harbour where there is no existing travel demand or pattern, and one where past decades have established how people move around. The combination of GO and the Ontario Line (not to mention TTC improvements in the eastern waterfront) will definitely make East Harbour a viable plan, but the same is not necessarily true in other locales with an entrenched pattern of auto-based commuting.

Verster – There are two really important levers we have in making the network effect possible. First, there is the opportunity to put plans together that look to the future and bring our region’s long-term transit requirements to life for today’s decision makers. Because we are putting those plans together now, we can create networks for the future. The second way we influence is through delivery. That’s how we make it happen. Whether it’s delivery of our capital plan or GO services, we are getting that network set-up.

Decision makers need to see not just the shovels-in-the-ground effect of capital construction, but the ongoing implications for operating and funding a transit network at every scale from regional down to hyper-local. We hear a lot about GO expansion and a few rapid transit corridors, but nothing about what the goals for a network of transit services would look like especially at the local level.

Metrolinx has not helped that discussion with openly musing about how it could take over the TTC and, by implication, run it “better”.

Verster – Our role relative to transit authorities, transit agencies and the TTC specifically is one of partner. And I would say it is to be a supporter. We need to help our partners to be successful. That’s one of the reasons we’ve made such substantial changes to PRESTO. We must listen to the other agencies, understand their needs and support their operations to be effective and successful.

Where we are delivering capital programs we are supporting agencies for the future.

This is an unusual tone for Metrolinx considering the widely-known constraints and cost of the Presto fare collection system. Until quite recently, Metrolinx openly dismissed the need to live up to their contract with the TTC. Functionality that is in that contract is still not available, and likely will not be seen until some new version of Presto (or a replacement) rolls out over the coming decade.

Too much of Presto’s design was driven by a combination of GO Transit’s fare model and the technical constraints of the original system. Other cities might have more flexible, modern products or simply buy off-the-shelf what they needed, but in the best Ontario tradition we have our own second-rate system.

Metrolinx is moving toward an account-based system and an end to proprietary cards, changes that will greatly improve the flexibility of what Presto can offer. Getting to this point has been extremely painful, and Presto’s limitations have affected the options for new fare tariffs. We are now at the point where new fare products can be bought through the Presto website, but only loaded onto a smartphone, not onto one’s card. This fractures the delivery of fares, and limits their availability to people who own the necessary technology.

A new system is intimately bound up in regional fare structures, a topic notably absent from Verster’s view of a network.

Fares, however they are calculated and charged, affect how people will use transit. Higher fares will divert riders to alternate routes or away from transit completely. Tariffs must encourage use not just for core trips, but at the margins through schemes such as fare capping, time-sensitive discounts, and a lack of barriers to transfers between modes and operators.

Auto users do not see each trip as an added cost and indeed the model of auto ownership encourages getting the most use possible out of a substantial investment. On transit, bulk discounts are not a giveaway, but rather a basic tool to encourage use. If, however, the “business” of Metrolinx is to minimize cost to the public purse, that will produce a very different fare system from one where public service takes precedence.

Not only fare structures escape notice in the Metrolinx article, but also the delicate matter of charging for parking. In years past, free parking was seen as a way to avoid local transit subsidies to move people to and from GO stations. This is a deep-seated entitlement for GO users. Any proposal to charge at GO lots would bring howls of outrage that would drown out complaints about construction effects on Metrolinx corridors. And yet Metrolinx shows no sign of slowing its parking-as-growth model.

Also absent is any reference to electrification of the GO network. Yes, there is physical expansion and more service coming, but not a word on electric trains. In our days of environmental crisis this is an odd oversight, and one cannot help being suspicious of how long it will take to see actual conversion of services across the GO network.

Yes, a network view is essential, but that network must be more than what it is convenient for Metrolinx and the Ontario government to build and operate today. Shifting travel away from automobiles will be very difficult. We cannot yet see all future effects such as the relative costs of travel modes and the constraints of environmental changes. These will dictate the goals of a transit network much more loudly than any pompous political announcement in front of yet another new map.

22 thoughts on “Contemplating the Network Effect

  1. Phil Verster on the network effect? More like Phil Verster on politically-driven job-and keester-saving strategies after years of sucking the life out of that non-existent network. As they would say in showbiz, it’s flop sweat.


  2. I’ve always thought that a radial LRT (roughly around the city of Toronto’s boundary), with express and local service would be a great way to glue together the spokes…the express service would tend towards underground, and local would tend towards on-street, with connections at every major spokes (Port Credit, Square One, Airport, Yonge, Allen, etc) …the Hurontario might be the beginning of this if it can get up to the 401 and then go directly across the city (express in the highway corridor, and local service along Lawrence/Wilson or Sheppard…to Kingston Rd).


  3. Phil’s word salad of brain farts is about as insightful as the back of a cereal box but then it’s only intent is draw the reader away from the fact that he is spending billions while their ridership is in the toilet for the foreseeable future. Luckily Phil doesn’t have to think like a business because no matter what cost per rider is, the public purse is there to balance the bottom line. Meanwhile he continues to fantasize about the paving of southern Ontario into low density suburbs where people have hours to travel from Brampton to Vaughan by GO transit to visit an exotic Costco.


  4. The best thing would be for Metrolinx to take over operation of the new Crosstown LRT as well as Finch LRT, plus any outside Toronto the Province is paying for so let them operate it. This might smarten up the TTC and the Union membership and encourage them to try harder.

    Steve: There is already an agreement in place for the TTC to operate the new lines (crewing and dispatching), but infrastructure and vehicle maintenance will be performed by the P3 company for each route. It is not yet clear whether the province will absorb all of the cost from the P3 side of things. Revenue is supposed to all come to the TTC. The whole arrangement sounds very ad hoc and cobbled together to keep peace in the family at least for the early years of operation.


  5. A network effect might be realized by extending the Crosstown LRT to Square One/Mississauga City Centre, where riders can interchange with the Hurontario LRT, GO interregional buses, and MiWay express and local buses. The Transitway was apparently designed to accommodate a conversion to LRT in future.

    But perhaps more useful in general would be more effort to promote the GO bus network, including the 407 corridor (Square One to Unionville per the map) and the buses that run from Square One to Pickering and Oshawa via 407 and 401…so more people would know at a glance what service options they have for suburb-suburb travel.

    Another thing GO could do would be to address the wayfinding issue their wayfinding consultant mentioned in 2013…and rename Square One as Mississauga Centre to improve the common naming with the city bus terminal and the other “Centre” stations/terminals (North York, Scarborough, Richmond Hill, Vaughan Metropolitan).


  6. Excellent critique. Fare structure is absolutely one of the biggest hurdles that is sorely lacking in affordability and barrier-free travel. I used to commute via the TTC to Vaughan from Coxwell subway station and I had to take VIVA for about 2km for the final leg. I would pay one TTC fare and one VIVA fare making the trip quite a lot more expensive than I felt was reasonable given how little I actually traveled on VIVA. This is a personal example of how the current transit experience burns users despite travel times that are often quite competitive with driving.

    As far as I am concerned, the lack of subsidy is a huge problem. All major cities that I am aware of with successful transit systems are subsidized much more than our systems. There seems to be a disconnect that both politicians and citizens are not understanding: subsidizing transit takes cars off the road which makes highways flow faster. This means highways are MORE reliable which means more trade, more profit, and more fuel efficiency for all the cars/trucks on these routes. This would drastically lower localized emissions as well, helping us meet environmental targets without simply relying on electrifying everything alone and hoping for the best.

    This applies to GO transit too and why I am not too peeved at this point that they have not really mentioned electrification. They really need to build a network that functions efficiently as is with existing diesel traction otherwise simply switching to electric trains will not yield the necessary results. Diesel trains, in comparison to the huge number of cars they can effectively remove from roadways, are quite efficient even despite their “dirty” fuel source. I say Metrolinx needs to focus on operational improvements and network efficiencies with train movements first then reap the benefits of electrification later. It doesn’t make sense to electrify when they couldn’t even get the Union Station renovation done right the first time. Building all the overhead infrastructure before the network is matured would be a huge financial blunder in the making.

    Getting more people onto public transit should take priority over new rolling stock. That brings us full circle to improving user experiences, much more competitive fares, and the ability to traverse the GTHA with fewer barriers (both physical and financial). More transit oriented housing development would help too instead of just building giant, largely empty parking garages. As you’ve stated, the parking is overkill, especially for the post-pandemic world. I can think of a number of GO parking lots which would be much better off as housing centers. As to why these seemingly obvious improvements seem to fall off Metrolinx’s radar, well, that is another question altogether.

    Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. GO will have to spend big to replace its locomotive (diesel or electric)/coach fleet. Critical GO routes run on CP and CN rails, so modern signaling systems, which give more frequent service, will be a challenge. Sounds like a lot of empty talk to me.

    Steve: The really frequent service will be constrained to the parts of the network that Metrolinx owns.


  8. I wish I could reply directly to comments…

    Anonymous wrote: “I used to commute via the TTC to Vaughan from Coxwell subway station and I had to take VIVA for about 2km for the final leg. I would pay one TTC fare and one VIVA fare making the trip quite a lot more expensive than I felt was reasonable given how little I actually traveled on VIVA.”

    I’m not going to dismiss his/her experiences and I don’t know his/her physical abilities, but I do present an alternate POV.

    Years ago, when I lived at home in northern Scarborough, I worked a summer in York Region. On days when I couldn’t bike to work, I would take the bus. I lived maybe a 2 km walk from the McCowan/Steeles intersection, so I would walk to the bus stop north of Steeles and pick up the 129 north into Markham. This saved me the TTC fare, and I got in some light exercise. Would it not have been practical to walk that final 2 km?

    Steve: A 2km walk is not trivial for many people especially if the weather is less than ideal, or at night, among other issues.


  9. Main freight lines have signals at about a 2 mile spacing minimum. On sections with long distances between interlockings they often have no signals until 2 miles before the interlocking and then a signal at the interlocking. This does not allow for a very frequent service since freights require two miles to stop safely without damaging the track or their wheels and brake shoes.

    GO was installing a Communications Based Train Control System (CBTC) about 4 or 5 years ago and I do not know where it is at or if it is still happening. This would only be on lines that it owns and only on GO equipment unless Transport Canada imposes Positive Train Control (PTC) as is the case for most US lines. VIA, CP and CN trains will rely on the wayside signalling so if they are operating on GO lines the trains spacing will be greater around those units.

    Metrolinx’ current plan is to buy Electric locomotives to haul conventional bi-level coaches. This will result is some improvement in travel times but not as much as true EMU service would. If they got EMUs it would not necessarily make the current coaches redundant. Most modern EMUs only power 2 out of 4 or 6 cars in the unit and the existing stock could be used for those unpowered middle coaches. Minor modifications would be needed to carry more power cables.

    Electrically powered trains could only operate on lines owned by Metrolinx as CN and CP refused to let Montreal Electric equipment operate over their tracks. This will result in arbitrarily ending of some service before the trains got to the logical endpoint. Metrolinx refuses to look at dual powered Multiple Unit trains. Stadler builds Dual Powered FLIRTs (Fast Light Intercity and Regional Trains) for use in Britain, on Trinity Rail in Texas, and on the Ottawa line under construction. They did this by putting in an extra, short car into the middle of the consist which contains 4 small diesel generators which provides head end and traction power when not under powered over head. By putting in a number of small diesel generators, there is room for a passage way so people can move between cars in the unit.

    Alstom could make these powered cab cars and generator cars and place 2 to 4 existing bi-levels into the train. These could run on electrified and non electrified trackage without having to change locomotives or trains. Here are some reasons for doing this:

    1. It would not make existing equipment redundant.
    2. It would allow equipment to run on all track whether electrified or not.
    3. If they put up simple overhead they would not need to have a ground person to connect trains to wayside power or to disconnect it.
    4. If they put in automatic couplers that make MU control and brake hose connections, they would be able to shorten or lengthen trains very easily. If they had 4 and 6 car units they could tun trains of either 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 cars which would allow more flexibility in meeting capacity needs.
    5. In case of a major electrical power outage, no trains would be stranded.

    Verster talks about a transit network but how can he do that with a straight face when he is going to put artificial barriers to the service passengers want by refusing to run dual powered equipment? He could put a diesel locomotive on one end and an electric one on the other but this would result in hauling a dead locomotive around while not reducing round trip time appreciably. Metrolinx needs to think outside the box and look at something that does not fall conveniently into one of their preconceived packages:

    a: Diesel Locomotive Hauled Coaches, b: Electric Locomotive Hauled Coaches, or, c: Electric Multiple Unit Equipment.

    Metrolinx is an out of control Octopus that is trying to run everything and does not listen to anyone. It is time to reign in this beast.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I follow the Metrolinx blog articles and was wondering what Steve would think about this one, so thanks for the post!

    I second the point that to talk about having a network, yet if I take a 1 stop GO train trip from Agincourt to Kennedy Station and a short subway ride I pay a double fare which is the same price of the GO train taking me all the way to Union.

    I searched Metrolinx for info on fare integration and the last they said anything on the matter was before Doug Ford was elected, so my guess is this is a case of Metrolinx being political and staying mute on a topic with no current support, sadly.

    There are a couple things that bothered me about the Metrolinx post. The first is the reason why having a better transit network is important. It’s underwhelming and is not a transit first vision: “reduce crowding on existing lines”, “meet demand that is bound to increase with a growing population”, and “deliver new opportunities to travel quickly across the region”. Nothing on the needs and benefits to shift from cars to transit.

    The second is when Verster mentioned “we need more rapid bus services”. What I’m sure he’s talking about is the Rapidways that Metrolinx has been involved with building in the suburbs. I only have experience with the Viva ones, but so far they are a pretty clear example of a waste of capital. It’s a refrain that Steve has to often sing, where the money from the politicians focuses too much on building and not enough on service and transit priority, and we’re left with shiny empty bus stations in the middle 6 lanes of cars.

    We can create more rapid bus services overnight by putting paint on the road and taking 2/6 car lanes and giving them to buses, and adding express routes.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’d add a nuance to Robert Wightman’s post. I would prefer new rolling stock for high frequency service. High frequency requires minimum station dwell times, achieved with raised platforms, level to coach floor and 5 or 6 doors per side of coach. GO’s coaches are step up, two doors per side and bi-level.

    I fully agree with what Robert Wightman said:

    Metrolinx is an out of control Octopus that is trying to run everything and does not listen to anyone. It is time to reign in this beast.


  12. Thanks to Steve and commenters, again, for both technical info and good political statements.

    I haven’t met Mr. Verster, but there’s a chance the wordsmiths in Mr. Ford’s offices had a hand in it all; for ‘messaging’ is important.

    In biking, we’ve tended to have a ‘notwork’, with very serious even fatal consequences at times. With what’s been underway/over-turned, we’re having the opposite of network development, but far more of continued overload of existing spines with the subway extensions, and yet we really do need a triage of network options before Eglinton opens, which for me, leads to surface vs. Ontario Line (Lyin’?) excess, with a better process for a better subway project still as a priority, and a silver buckshot approach too, so that Main/Danforth (as one example) clearly has a strong hand in preserving inter-connection options and developing them too. Even doing this AHEAD of massive building, and tough.

    Another site/situation is the Celestica site to NW of Eglinton/Don Mills, and if we did the top-down approach that Mr. Ford prefers, we’d finally do that EA as urged in the last Metro OP to explore what connection would be possible between Oriole and some Relief project, and also preserve corridor options vs. short-term taxes/jobs/profit.

    True transit advocates would also point out the vast subsidies to private vehicles; which about 25 years ago Vancouver found was more obscure, but 7 times what transit got.

    All major parties and all levels deserve some brickbats/ousting on the transit/transpo/climate/energy files. An Greens aren’t necessarily any better depending on whether they swallow how ‘green’ e-cars are (not). (E-bikes can be a major fix, relatively, but currently it’s another mess with all sorts of passholes and fastholes with weight and no respect on-road, and the federal level under Harper made it part of the problem by not adopting more Euro standards where the heavier ones had to have licensing/insurance).


  13. @Bill R:

    The kind of rolling stock you want is Heavy Rapid Transit and not Inter Regional Commuter Rail. You can not have high platform loading on major rail lines if freights are going to go by a speed. There needs to be about a foot clearance between the freights and the platforms unless the freight go by at slow speed. IIRC there is only 1 way freight that occasionally uses the Weston sub by the high platform areas. The alternative is to have gauntlet track so that the passenger trains switch onto tracks that are close to the platforms while the freights stay clear.

    GO was designed as a Commuter Rail and Inter Regional service. It was that stupid report that John Tory brought forward called “Smart Rail” that only showed the stupidity of those who crafted it for him when they didn’t realize many of the items were impossible. What you want Bill is Heavy Rapid transit and that is not what GO should be. We are having that problem with the Subway being extended well into GO Territory, Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Richmond Hill. By the time the trains get into Toronto there will be almost no seats for riders from Toronto. GO was designed as a longer haul premium fare service and to try and change it will make it serve neither market well.

    Metrolinx should be dismantled, most of their large number of employees terminated or reassigned to useful work and it should be replaced by what was originally there, a body composed of representatives from the various municipalities to coordinate inter regional service. Not to run The Northlander to Moosonee.

    Steve: For those who don’t know, Metrolinx, not content to run transit in the GTHA, is now meddling in the Ontario Northland.


  14. Of course there’s another aspect of missing opportunities, maybe, and that’s what may or may not be happening with what’s been termed the “missing link’, not that I follow it all too closely. But there’s a good project to enable freight rail traffic to start to bypass the Toronto area out near Milton, though it’s a costly thing. However, it’s better value really, than a couple of subway follies and the burial of Eglinton LRT too, as it theoretically frees up a new corridor through the near-core of Toronto. Federal level should be hit with ‘why spend so much in pipelines and Muskrat Falls, vs. investment into enabling another commuter rail/transit option.

    Steve: Don’t hold your breath for that “missing link” to unlock all manner of transit problems. The main impetus for it has nothing to do with the North Toronto CP line, but rather to eliminate a bottleneck east of Milton that limits growth of GO service.


  15. @Robert Wightman
    I’m afraid I don’t [know] what Heavy Rapid Transit or Inter Regional Commuter Rail mean.
    I see railroad tracks running through Toronto that should be used for public transit.
    It seems to me that EMU’s can run on these tracks. These tracks can be dedicated for passenger service by day and freight overnight.

    The issue of train profile envelope has been dealt with in other countries with retracting station platforms.

    Modern signal systems, and mixed signal systems are used all over the world.
    It is possible to have modern signaling systems by day to handle the different rate of flows of different kinds of passenger trains using ATC and switching to railroad signals overnight.

    The issue of different track ownership has also been dealt with in other countries. This is not a technical problem, but a power struggle. It’s a reflection of our society, that we can’t solve this solvable problem.

    Steve: The issue of track sharing is much more one outside of Toronto itself because that is, mostly, where the railways own tracks that GO uses. However, for GO to operate the service levels they want, the frequent service must extend beyond the 416 into CP/CN territory.

    This may be a power struggle, but the basic fact is that the railways exist to move freight, and they do that all day long and cannot be restricted to overnight operations. The Province of Ontario has no power to compel them to change their operating hours.

    As for EMUs, the railways refuse to allow electrification on their lines. Full stop. Unless the trains are self-powered, EMUs are a non-starter in their territory.

    While it might not be ideal, planning for increased use of rail corridors generally should take place without a precondition that would be very difficult to implement.


  16. @ Hamish Wilson;

    The missing link is dead because Metrolinx has used a significant piece of it to build their vehicle maintenance and storage facility for the Hurontario LRT Line. It is on the West Side of Kennedy Road between 407 and the Hydro 550 kV power line corridor. Metrolinx has effectively made the missing link impossible. Also CP wanted nothing to do with it as it would have put their trains on CN controlled track between Milton and NE Scarborough.

    @ Bill;

    Heavy Rapid Transit is the Yonge and Bloor Danforth lines of the TTC. It is marked by lots of wide doors and limited seating. IIRC the new Toronto Rockets have fewer seat than the old Gloucester cars which were 18 feet shorter. GO represents Inter Regional commuter rail. It has more and wider doors than conventional passenger equipment and it is remotely operated. VIA requires a crew member to open the door, lift the trap door to reveal the steps, and then go down the 4 steps to put down another step by hand. People then have to climb or descend these very narrow and steep steps. I watched a VIA train take 10 minutes to load 50 passengers at Niagara. As soon as it left the weekend Niagara GO train came in and loaded over 700 in under 2 minutes. VIA equipment is 19th century technology.

    I do not know how well retracting platform technology works as I only know of limited applications, but I would not want to see what would happen in a severe winter ice and snow storm.

    As Steve pointed out the freights operate all the time, not just overnight. While you can switch between signal systems, it has to be done every time a CN, CP or VIA train operates. CN and CP still have trackage rights on the lines they sold to Metrolinx and would complain if their ability to operate was too severely limited.

    North America rail service is hobbled by an archaic set of rules and practices because of the long freights. I toured Europe for 74 days a few years ago and very seldom saw a freight over 20 cars long. The longest was 40 cars. North American freights are now reaching over 12,000 feet in length with a stopping distance near 2 miles. Different sets of conditions require different sets of rules.


  17. @Robert Wightman

    I thank Steve and Robert for the genteel tone of their explanations. These are recurring issues, which try their patience and they sometimes are not as tolerant. They are in this to further public transit and understand I am too.

    We know that the CP mainline runs through the center of Toronto.
    We know that Lac-Mégantic was a CP rail disaster.
    A task force was established to move the CP mainline out of Toronto but could not formulate a solution.

    Toronto’s urban sprawl is ceaseless. The need for additional populace amenities such as roads and public transit, conflict with established roadways and train track use.

    I acknowledge Steve’s and Robert’s explanations. I still feel there is a need to provide commercial freight traffic a way “around” Toronto so that the current rail infrastructure could shift emphasis to public transit.
    We all felt that the car lobby was dominant, yet the King St Pilot defied them and declared that public transit takes priority over cars. This was a breakthrough moment.
    The dilemma is serving the public interest in the face of commercial interests.

    Steve: The difference with King Street is that we own it and only need the political resolve to use it differently. The CPR is quite another matter.


  18. Can I ask why people are are always so down on GO?

    Yes, we need better local transit.
    Yes, we need to solve the last mile problem.
    Yes, it’s sad we have such large parking garages at GO Stations.
    Yes fare integration and what not needs to be addressed.

    But I know I’d much rather have people drive/taxi to their local GO Station and then take transit from there than drive the whole way.

    We’re finally getting some ‘goodish’ GO Train service in the GTA with roughly hourly or better all day service on many lines. This is something to celebrate as opposed to always being down on the the last mile problem. First get people used to take the train all the time. Not just for commuting. On weekends. On evenings. It’s a great thing if we manage to fill up these GO parking garages. That means so many people are using transit. That’s something to celebrate.

    Then yes, we need better feeder service like buses and connections and bike lanes. These are and will be built depending on the region to solve the local problem. I know where I live, my local GO station is having the arterial road rebuilt to it’s own bike path, pedestrian path, and bus lanes. I don’t know how successful it will all be or how long it will take, but I know everyone is using the GO Train service at all times of the day. This is what we want.

    The other thing is that sometimes connections do need to be made. I was personally disappointed that the Concord GO station was cancelled. A very basic minimal/transfer style station would have been great there. It would have connected anyone on the Barrie line to the Viva Rapidway/407 rapidway and given everyone access to those nodes.

    It’s just very complicated and things can’t always be done at once. But I think Metrolinx and GO are building the base. The last mile problem is a complex one; especially due to bad urban planning policies over decades; but that is the city we have. Changes here will probably be slow. Bureaucracy is crazy complex. I don’t envy it. In my area there’s a trail I bike that needs a bike path under a GO train bridge. Everything is there, but the path is blocked as Metrolinx and the city work out whatever agreement they need to allow the path (maintenance…). Something so simple and obvious that would cost next to no money is blocked due to bureaucracy for years.

    Metrolinx is at least by building out the major network, you allow people to solve their own local problem while we chip away at the last mile problem. I’ve walked, biked, ubered to my local subway/go train depending on my need. In all cases, this has only been possible because Metrolinx first built the major node (subway/go train station) with good service.

    Steve: I’m not down on GO, but rather on a management outlook that seems to regard their responsibility for a “network” as ending at the bounds of their parking lots. Without a strong support for last mile services, notably local bus networks, GO is of limited use for offpeak and counterpeak travel to locations that are not in walking distance of stations. New “transit oriented development” is nice, but it tends to be residential and many existing destinations need another hop to get there.

    Metrolinx sat on their hands as intercity bus service declined, and is content to let ad hoc van-based services spring up where there is enough demand to support them. That is not what building a network is all about, but with our current government’s outlook that the private sector will magically provide everything we need, good “GO Transit” service that covers the region and is not tethered to the rail corridors is a long way off.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. @ Bill:

    Lac Megantic was not a CP Rail disaster as the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic was operating the line and they were taking all sorts of short cuts to reduce costs, including leaving the train on the mainline overnight without putting on enough hand brakes or setting a derail.

    There is only one way to get a freight train from Montreal to Toronto on CP and one on CN and they both go through Toronto. All the other lines have been torn up in the name of progress. Freights could be sent along the Lakeshore GO corridor but that would really impact GO service. If you really want to bypass the GTHA you would probably have to start you new line north of Lake Couchiching and reconnect near Coburg and that is not going to happen. When CP built their yard in Agincourt it was in the middle of nowhere and CP convinced Scarborough to zone the land industrial all around it. Since residential property generates more income for developers than industrial, the developers convinced Scarborough to rezone most of it to residential. The new residents then wanted Scarborough to enforce noise bans on the yard. That did not happen because only federal regulations apply to CN and CP.

    Steve: In 1969, I think it was, I went out for a walk out in Scarborough by taking the McCowan bus to its then northern terminus at Middlefield Road, the SW corner of the CP yard. I walked up Middlefield to Finch and then out that two-lane dirt road to what is now the Zoo past an apple orchard and a field with sheep grazing. That yard really was in the middle of nowhere, and yet the TTC had a plan back then to build LRT out to Malvern and then west along the hydro corridor. Imagine how differently Scarborough might have developed.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. yaminb said:
    Can I ask why people are are always so down on GO?

    I was personally disappointed that the Concord GO station was cancelled. A very basic minimal/transfer style station would have been great there.

    Yaminb gives a perfect example of the easiest problem with GO. They are not accountable to you. There is no one at GO who cares what you think or understands your fundamental transit requirements. No one at GO would listen to you, you don’t matter. They want to look good spending mega dollars.

    I’m in Scarborough. GO is improving service on the Stouffville line. To do so, they were going to disrupt traffic flows by closing down streets with level crossings, because of the increased frequency of trains and build overhead crossings on streets which changes the character of a neighbourhood and they refused to build a grade separated connection at Scarborough Junction. There was nothing local residents could do. GO is unaccountable. (We are less upset now because of a rumour that the Federal government will be footing the bill to make the necessary grade separated crossings for a High Frequency Rail plan.)

    The premise of GO is not to provide effective transit service to passengers at reasonable cost. To be effective means to identify passenger needs and preferences and address them. GO dreams up high order plans, spends big money to implement them and is oblivious of the people they think they are supposed to be serving and complaints from local residents.

    To be fair, GO has many constraints imposed on it as already noted in this thread. GO should do a better job of communication. Long time readers of this blog will know that the design of Union Station is a major constraint. This is not covered by the media nor communicated by GO.

    GO never announced that it had cancelled its multi-track plans on Lakeshore East despite building a maintenance works in Whitby.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Steve: In a recent Metrolinx Blog article (Phil Verster explains the network effect and how it will create new transit possibilities for generations of customers), the CEO discusses how the presence of a frequent, well-connected network of transit will change the way people move around the Toronto area.

    What a brilliant article written by Mr Verster. I agree with Mr Verster 100%. When was the last time that Bruce McCuaig, Rick Leary, or Andy Byford talked so much sense? Andy Byford in particular was always running to the media self-promoting himself which eventually landed him the top transit job in New York City but Byford never made half as much sense as Mr Verster. Byford also happily supported projects that he did not even believe in (Scarborough subway) just to please his political masters who could extend his contract.

    Steve: If only Verster actually fought for a true network rather than the low-hanging fruit of the GO network plus a handful of new rapid transit lines. In McCuaig’s day, Metrolinx was not pushing big plans because that was the political context. Rick Leary, for all that I disagree with him on some issues, has at least published a capital plan that lays out TTC’s actual needs rather than the mythology that passed for a capital budget for decades beforehand at the City’s behest. Andy Byford was pushing for some of this change, but it didn’t surface until after he left. The work, however, was inherited by Leary who got the kudos for it. Even then, he screwed up a big chunk by attempting to push the Bloor-Danforth renewal project off into the 2030s from which it has only recently been rescued.

    Frankly, if it were not that the pandemic has pushed back timelines on a lot of things, including TTC demand growth, we would be in bad shape due to Leary’s foot-dragging on capital projects. To be fair to him, that is partly due to pressure from City Hall to avoid making the capital shortfall look too big.

    Phil Verster will find himself in a very difficult position when the network he talks about has to be translated to reality by actually building and operating it, but it suits the Ford government for Metrolinx to sound as if there’s a lot going on in the transit world.

    The context for those you criticize was/is much different.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Mary-Ann George said:

    Transit governance in Ontario is fundamentally flawed — rather than reducing political interference in transit planning, the province has managed to increase it exponentially.

    Conceptually, a governing body co-ordinating the disparate autonomous transit authorities in the Golden Horseshoe should be effective. Strategic route planning, infrastructure design and construction and fare co-ordination require a higher order body to take on the scope.

    Metrolinx has failed to take leadership. The width of the Don Valley Expressway, 404, Gardiner and the continued widening of the 401 are demonstrations of Metrolinx’s failure. Hamish Wilson has often asked, can’t we build rapid transit on top of [or under] these ribbons of asphalt? Why has Metrolinx failed to understand where these drivers want to go?

    There is no body of studies to provide data on public needs or preferences. There is a lack guidelines in designing projects that are less destructive to the local communities, such as Melbourne’s approach.

    The Eglinton Crosstown put families out of business and the Ontario Line devastates families in Riverside. This is wrong.

    Metrolinx has had too many management failures. Private/Public Partnership (P3) projects have failed, like the Ottawa LRT and Eglinton Crosstown and the budget is over a billion for more changes on the UPX. They have never learned their lessons and continue to engage in more P3’s. The Presto Card implementation is a fiasco.

    There is dishonourable managerial conduct at Metrolinx. The Business Case Analysis of the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) stated that spending $5.5 billion to serve 103,000 daily trips was better than to do nothing. I claim management deliberately obfuscated the report, any reader can be the judge. It is totally unreasonable to suggest a positive business case. Most dishonourable, unprofessional conduct.

    The Star reported that Metorlinx paid $27,000 to social media influencers to create a favourable spin for the Ontario Line and that Mx’s CEO spent time trying to suppress the disclosure of this information.

    Let’s talk about the Ontario Line.

    Toronto faces many transit challenges, there are services that are jammed like the Yonge Subway, Yonge/Bloor station, there are regions that are underserved like the Dufferin/Bathurst corridor and Victoria Park in need of infrastructure improvements and there are yet to be served regions for city expansion. Metrolinx has not presented any strategic plans to explain how the Ontario Line justifies to be the next project.

    Worse, there have been so many fundamental changes in describing the Ontario Line, that it is clear Metrolinx is making it up as they go along.

    Twenty years ago, the TTC identified that the Yonge subway would get crowded south of Bloor because of the increase of passengers transferring from the Bloor/Danforth. The Thorncliffe/Flemingdon Parks (T/F P) neighbourhoods were considered the major contributor. A “Relief” line was defined as serving T/F P through Riverside, connecting to the Yonge subway. The whole route was an engineering challenge, Pape Village, Riverside, crossing the Don and connecting to Yonge. While very expensive, an underground route was decided.

    The Pape Village/Riverside citizens believed that Public Transit was a worthy cause and accepted the disruption the route and construction would cause. The project was a TTC/City effort and the project would be very expensive. The shifting from Pape to Carlaw was very costly. All this to address the initial project goal of a “relief” to the Yonge (south of Bloor) congestion.

    Circumstances have changed in those 20 years. Huge apartment complexes had sprung up along the Sheppard subway, along Yonge from Sheppard to Finch, at Eglinton and St. Clair. The Yonge subway is now packed from Sheppard to King.

    It is the Yonge line that is in need of urgent relief and the Yonge Extension to Richmond Hill compounds the problem. The Ontario Line cannot offer sufficient relief to the Yonge Line.

    In Steve’s blog post a table combined station-by-station projections and projected numbers of transfer passengers, population and jobs taken from the station profiles.

    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 projected 388,000 daily boardings for the Ontario Line 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’s modeling of ridership has always been suspect. They were asked the simple question at a SmartTrack meeting, of what frequency of service assumption was used, they refused to answer. They don’t correlate their simulations with actual TTC data and don’t do all day modelling.

    The Star has published an op-ed calling to stop the Ontario Line.

    As to project roll-out, I refer to Steve’s post.

    There are three key issues:

    • Metrolinx has not published a study of the consolidated noise effects of all services in the corridor. The only published information addresses GO improvements separately from the Ontario Line.
    • The studies do not deal with a “do nothing” possibility where rail service increases, but using diesels rather than electric trains.
    • The studies do not distinguish between the current situation where there is a train now and then, and one where there will be a train of one type or another more often than once a minute.

    Walter’s comments

    If Exhibition, Corktown and East Harbour were destinations, perhaps this should have gone along King instead of Queen.

    The sharp curves at Moss Park, Corktown and Gerrard, as well as the steep grade changes do not seem worthwhile. I would have kept tunneling under the Don River (along roughly the old DRL route).
    Reaching grade for 1.5km hardly seems worthwhile, from the grades, the portals, and the reduction in future GO expansion potential for track or station. I would have gone shallower after East Harbour/Broadview, continued along (or just south of) Eastern, over top of the Carlaw sewer, and make 1 turn to head north on Pape.

    At Thorncliffe, the most valuable land adjacent to a Station is being used for train storage. The train yard, or part of it, should be moved north of the CPR tracks.

    Stations should be protected for 120m length, and/or Spanish solution (3 platform stations) should be built for all busy interchange Stations (E.g. Osgoode, Yonge, East Harbour, Pape).

    And Robert Wightman

    Metrolinx is an out of control Octopus that is trying to run everything and does not listen to anyone. It is time to reign in this beast.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.