Metrolinx! The Musical!

Updated July 15, 2022 with monthly Metrolinx ridership recovery stats.

Metrolinx Board meetings are rather quiet affairs devoid of controversy, not to mention substance. They are pro-forma efforts at public meetings by an organization that does everything it can in private.

The breakdown of the agenda tells the tale. Contrast this with the openness demanded by legislation in municipal proceedings.

This is not new. In the pre-covid era, I would attend the meetings along with a dwindling band of reporters from the City Hall or Queen’s Park press galleries who eventually decided that it was not worth wasting their time unless there was some burning issue where an interview ambush might yield a juicy quote.

For two years, the Board meetings have been online with all of the technical foul-ups we have come to love through Zoom and its relatives. This month, in a grand return, the Board met in person. It was almost like the lights coming back to Broadway.

Metrolinx just loves to tell everyone how wonderful they are, how everything is going so swimmingly well. This time they even had celebratory video.

The meeting video is available for those who just must watch, although as a show it should have died on the out-of-town tryouts.

There are two common themes:

  • The overwhelming emphasis is on marketing and communications with as much “good news” as possible.
  • There is no discussion of policy. Anything substantive, if the Board discussed it at all, was handled in committee or in a private Board session.

I could not help thinking of how “In here life is beautiful” in Cabaret, or “Everything is beautiful at the ballet” in A Chorus Line. Alas, Metrolinx has not (yet) recruited the likes of Kander & Ebb, or Michael Bennett & Marvin Hamlisch to its burgeoning communications team.

Considering the years of debate over regional fare integration and the number of virtual trees felled for reports on the subject, Metrolinx is skipping over the complexities by simply offering a free transfer between GO and 905 area transit systems. Toronto/TTC? No.

It is hard to understand why we have excruciating debates about things like zone boundaries, time-based transfers or differing classes of service when the main agency, GO/Metrolinx, simply gives free transfers and deeper discounts to encourage ridership. If a municipal system tried this, they would be pilloried for wasting precious tax dollars on people who are not motorists.

The debate on all fare schemes is whether the marginal revenue is worth the complexity and the cost of administration, although the latter is much simpler with fare cards rather than conductors and paper transfers.

The related context is that we learn in the Annual Report for 2021-22 that the operating subsidy for GO Transit doubled to almost $1-billion thanks to the combined effect of lost ridership and continued, albeit reduced, scale of operation during the pandemic.

Operating expenses have declined little, despite service cuts, through the pandemic era.

The operating subsidy, however, has grown because of lost fare and other revenues.

The degree of belt-tightening at Metrolinx will be an interesting contrast to what might be forced on municipal agencies as special pandemic financial supports wind down.

There was no public discussion of how this situation can be sustained in coming years depending on the rate of ridership recovery.

The report on community relations was particularly galling because it pitched Metrolinx’ work as listening to communities as a positive contribution to projects. In fact, Metrolinx’ common strategy is to bull through their proposals and then “involve” the community in making the best of a bad situation with things like design competitions for decoration of new, unwanted structures. Even the canard about parks getting bigger thanks to Metrolinx continues to ignore (a) the relatively small amount of land involved, and (b) the much more extensive effect of the associated project on a neighbourhood.

The Board laps this up as if staff are doing such a wonderful job.

Updated: There was some discrepancy between ridership recovery numbers presented in reports and verbally at the meeting. Here are the definitive monthly numbers from Metrolinx.

MonthGO TransitUP Express
January ’2211.8%16.1%
February ’2220.3%22.6%
March ’2232.4%33.3%
April ’2233.5%41.0%
May ’2239.4%47.3%
June ’2249.5%59.5%

A log of the meeting:

0:00Start of video.
8:42Start of broadcast.
8:53Welcome. Recognition of Indigenous History Month. Land Acknowledgement.
10:21Safety moments. Video of a near miss with trespassers on the Milton line’s Humber bridge, and a presentation re grade crossing work to improve protection.
14:40Changes in Board composition.
17:30CEO Update.
Return of riders. Thanks to all staff for work during covid era.
GO trains getting longer as riders return. Much more weekend service on train and bus.
UPX ridership growing. Service is back to 15′ at peak, more to come.
As of last week GO weekend ridership is back to 100% of the pre-covid level.
As of the end of June, overall ridership was at 45% for GO, 56.6% for UPX.
The GO expansion consortium contract was signed in April, and already there are proposals to improve performance of planned network (unspecified).
Expanded contactless Presto payment options will pilot launch on UPX.
Free GO transfers with 7x 905 agencies Brampton, Burlington, Durham, Hamilton, Miway, Oakville, and YRT – a “big step toward integration of fares”.
Discounted 40% fares for youth and Post Secondary students up from 23%.
All of this will stimulate ridership
A construction worker fatality at Cedarvale Station (now known as Eglinton West) was the one dark note in this presentation, and it provided counterpoint to the overall safety message.
25:00Metrolinx participated in various events including Indigenous People’s Day and Pride Month.
In March, Metrolinx and VIA staff provided life-saving assistance to a passenger.
Metrolinx’ legal team has received an award for excellence in construction law.
28:00At this point, we saw the pièce de résistance, a video titled “We’re back!” It is about 2 minutes long.
31:55Communications update.
Ridership is steadily going up and has recovered to 51-60% depending on the corridor.
Weekend riding is driven by events and travel passes, as well as seasonal bus services.
Metrolinx is advertising in several languages, and with demographic focus such as the availability of a 40% discount for Generation-Z riders and a “you don’t need a car” campaign
Under a return to the office program, there is a 3-month $441 pass available to partner companies to encourage return to work.
Metrolinx has participated in many community events, and is using Presto Perks as another way to draw riders. The free transfer to 905 systems is seeing a 30% month-to-month growth.
Advertising is coming back as a revenue source.
40:56Project level communications.
Community engagement teams are “learning what matters most as we build more”:
· finding that “listening to residents does result in a better outcome for our projects”
· “park spaces are important to residents and in some cases we are able to make these park spaces larger”
· “bring community voice in our process through design excellence competitions”
46:45Capital projects update:

A slide show and quick overview of the big projects.

Finch West is at the vehicle testing stage.

Ontario Line site prep for the TBM is in progress at Corktown. There will be provision to “celebrate” the archeology in the site (unspecified). The “South civils” (tunnels west of the Don) and “RSSOM” (rolling stock, operations and maintenance) contracts are in review and will be awarded in the fall.

GO expansion was illustrated with a new Bramalea parking structure.

Eglinton Crosstown stations are gaining decorative artwork, and most station sites will return to “normal” by the end of the summer.

The first of two Crosstown West tunnel boring machines has advanced 275m, and tunnel construction will complete in 2024.

A Board member asked a soft question to staff about community engagement in the green areas where the line will be above grade.

Staff replied that they have held about 12 virtual open houses, met with community leaders, and sent flyers and postcards to the area. They claim that they are not done with the planning and design of this part of the project. A communications office will open soon at Scarlett Road, and there will be an in person open house in July.

A design excellence working group has been created to ensure the line fits seamlessly, and Metrolinx claims they will take care we take community concerns into project.

At the Davenport diamond, trains will be able to run over the new deck by year end with a planned service cut over in early 2023. The public realm below the guideway was described as an opportunity to work with community to ensure it fits, and Metrolinx intends to have “purposeful community engagement”.
1:02:15Annual report.
Metrolinx achieved a surplus of $55m which will be released back to the government. There was a $180m opex saving through business improvement plans. All good news here. The main discussion of this report was in the Audit Committee, which was private.
1:05:55Presto open payments and credit card support on contactless readers require a bylaw change. This is a housekeeping matter.
1:07:50Quarterly reports: all had been reviewed in committee.
1:08End of video

11 thoughts on “Metrolinx! The Musical!

  1. Board meeting stats show 39.4% of 2019 ridership in May as the blend of weekday and weekend with 30% weekday and 85% weekend shown on chart. Suddenly it’s 100% for weekend and 45% for weekday for June when verbally presented. That month over month growth trend does follow the trend line for previous 4 months. So… is Phil feeding the board with fake numbers?

    Steve: [Revised reply]

    The chart shows monthly numbers with a more or less linear growth. Therefore the values shown represent mid-month, while the accompanying text cites higher month end values as you note. Verster cited the “end of June”. This implies a sudden increase in the rate of growth from May to June. For weekends, this could be true given the emphasis Metrolinx has placed on marketing this type of trip. I am not so sure about weekdays, but by analogy to the TTC, I have seen a distinct change in how busy downtown “feels” over that period, and encounter more people who seem to be going to work when I ride in the morning peak.

    The problems here are (a) it’s a crappy chart that could use better resolution, grid lines and actual numbers, and (b) the mix-and-match between citing monthly values which average four or five weeks and last week of June which would be the high point if this were shown as a weekly rather than monthly series.

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  2. Thanks Steve; and it sure is tempting to snark a bit about ‘what’s a billion or two’ free-spending on capital isn’t necessarily arising in the operating, or at least won’t with some transit operators maybe. (Though transit is arguably helping reduce the health care budget given the great costs of collisions etc.). And there seems to be no Plan B for anything, so is the dip in riderships going to be with us for a longer time? Are computers becoming passe?

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  3. From what I can see as a regular commuter from Hamilton, ridership definitely coming back, though fairly unevenly. Case in point, while last week, Wednesday and Thursday many seats were occupied out of Hamilton GO Centre, and platforms along the way had substantial amounts of waiting customers (especially at Burlington & Oakville GO), Friday was only nominally more busy than Saturday. To what extent hybrid work will continue to dominate, and what effect the return of school will have in September remains to be seen (though the latter is quite noticable when driving in – traffic is much lighter on the 403 & QEW once school is out).

    While the other lines are in far better shape than at any point during the pandemic, the Lakeshore West line is actually still behind on service vis-a-vis 2021. Currently it’s:

    ·hourly out of West Harbour;
    ·half hourly from Aldershot;
    ·2 peak bound local trains from Hamilton GO; and
    ·a peak bound local Niagara train that is integrated with the hourly schedule from West Harbour in the morning, but provides a net extra trip in the evening.

    Compare this to service in 2021:
    ·hourly from West Harbour;
    ·half hourly from Aldershot;
    ·every 15 minutes from Oakville all the way to Oshawa;
    ·2 express trains from Hamilton and 1 from Niagara, timed to meet a connecting local train at Oakville and in effect providing a train leaving every 15 minutes at peak on the whole line.

    I am very interested to see what level of service will be offered come September, and if it will correspond with more service on connecting transit agencies (I’m looking at you Oakville Transit – an agency that times nearly every route to the GO train times at Oakville GO).

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  4. Thanks Steve; and it sure is tempting to snark a bit about ‘what’s a billion or two’ free-spending on capital isn’t necessarily arising in the operating, or at least won’t with some transit operators maybe.

    It’s too bad there wasn’t a billion or two of free-spending capital for the Ontario RT line through Riverside when there’s so much free-spending being done in Etobicoke, Scarborough, and Richmond Hill. Staging and building several new bridge spans while simultaneously re-grading an active rail corridor is an expense that easily runs into multiple hundreds of millions.

    Metrolinx intentionally feigning and failing to look at the costing of the alternative and to pretend that capital is suddenly scarce and precious is 100% because of its cancerous senior elevated light metro advisor.

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  5. The free transfer to 905 agencies is 100% Premier Ford’s vote buying (as is the bigger post-secondary discount) before a boring election with the worst turnout since before Confederation. He knew going into an election that if he was going to save auto drivers $100s annually on licence stickers he couldn’t do nothing for transit riders other than promise new infrastructure in a decade.

    I hate that Metrolinx claims provincial government vote-getting as its own work on fare integration. I strongly think that Metrolinx likes to pretend the TTC doesn’t exist or is some tiny mom-and-pop sized transit operator.

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  6. If anyone wants to blame anyone for how Metrolinx operates, point your finger right at the Premier’s Office. It’s the Premier’s Office that is running Metrolinx, pure and simple.

    The fact that the 905 gets a free connection between the GO train and the local transit agency and Toronto doesn’t proves that. The current Premier has shown his true feelings about Toronto ‘turning’ on him and his brother since day one. I doubt Metrolinx would have done this on their own without oversight from their political masters.

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  7. TTC and GO having a reasonable co fare (like premium fare to ride GO in Toronto) would save a lot of time for TTC riders, especially with travel not oriented downtown. The billions going into building highway 413 would pay for this subsidy for 3 generations and would bring more economic benefit than another ring highway that won’t solve the issue of the 407 being the most expensive highway in the world. If Metrolinx wants to increase ridership post pandemic it is gonna have to incentivize TTC riders to get on the GO, not with $30 family passes on the weekend.

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  8. Folks who aren’t paying attention may not realize it but the ones who are watching definitely know Metrolinx is a political organization filled with boot lickers. You can note how Ford and Metrolinx were willing to spend big $$$ to make underground accommodations and adjustments in swing ridings within the 416 and 905 suburbs but not downtown.

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  9. And the envelope containing the month that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will open in 2022 is…? After the commercial…

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  10. GO rail service is falling apart while all these “amateur night in Dixie” theatrics are being performed by the imported flack division execs and their growing cadre of sycophants in what is loosely known as Metrolinx Communications. The number of trains being cancelled, the delays being inflicted on VIA and the growing list of lame excuses for service failures are all mounting. I love reading that the reason for train cancellations on the Barrie and Stouffville lines is often “freight train traffic.”

    Metrolinx is a sick and increasingly sickening operation — just as ScotRail became under the same head honcho, who never mentions his extremely brief tenure on another U.K. rail project from which he suddenly “quit” to take the nick-of-time Ontario plum engineered by Glen Murray, Rob Pritchard, Michael Schabas and other politically-aligned cheerleaders.

    As Dave Gunn always says when we discuss depressing transportation matters like this that trigger bad memories, “I’ve seen this movie before and you aren’t going to like the ending.”

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