A Transit Platform For Toronto

Two months from now, on June 26, Toronto will elect a new Mayor thanks to John Tory’s unexpected departure. There will be at least fifty candidates on the ballot, although most of them will garner only a handful of votes.

I am not one of them, and have no ambitions to high office. That said, I certainly have hopes that our new Mayor will have a strong pro-transit agenda and will actually care about the City rather than brown-nosing their way to small favours from Queen’s Park.

For those who are interested, here is the campaign-sized version of my advice and platform were I running:

  • Service is key. Run as much as possible, everywhere, and run it well.
  • Build budgets based on what you want to see, not on what you think you can afford. Just getting by is not a recipe for recovery and growth. If the money doesn’t come, then look to “Plan B” but aim for “Plan A”.
  • Fares are a central part of our transit system, but the question is who should pay and how much. Strive for simplicity. Give discounts where they are truly needed. Make the transit system worth riding so that small, regular increases are acceptable.
  • Focus on ease of use among transit systems in the GTA, but do not equate “integration” with amalgamated governance.
  • Transit property: parking or housing?
  • Foster a culture of advocacy in management and on the TTC Board.
  • Beware of lines on maps. A “my map vs your map” debate focuses all effort on a handful of corridors while the rest of the network rots.
  • Plan for achievements in your current term and make sure they actually happen. Longer term is important, but the transit ship is sinking. You are running for office in 2023. Vague promises for the 2030s are cold comfort to voters who have heard it all before.

That’s more than will fit comfortably on a leaflet, but, hey, I am the blogger who writes long form articles about transit. As a commentator, my biggest worry lies with those who say “TL,DR”. In the following sections I will expand on the bullets above. Thanks for reading.

How much would all this cost? In many cases the answer depends on the scale and speed of implementation. Although I have a sense of at least order of magnitude costs, I am not going to be foolish enough to put specific dollar figures here. For too long, City policy has started with a budget rather than a philosophy, an aspiration to be great, and settled for just good enough. We almost certainly cannot afford everything today, but we need to know what tomorrow we strive for.

If the 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy taught us anything, it was that we should first talk about aspirations, about what the transit system might be, rather than precluding debate with the classic “we can’t afford it” response. It’s amazing what monies can be found once information is out in the open. We commit tens of billions to construction, but are terrified, at least politically, by far lower costs to improve transit for everybody today.

I have deliberately omitted a discussion of security and related social services here. These are not just transit issues, but part of a city-wide, society-wide problem that will not be solved with a simple show of force. Recent trends both in public opinion and official responses at the City and TTC show an emphasis on providing support for those who need it: the homeless and the mentally unwell. This should continue and expand.

An inevitable question is who will I endorse? That will come later in the campaign as candidates flesh out their programs. Some make their beds with the provincial Tories. As enemies of the city, collaborators, they deserve only contempt. For others, we are in promising early days.

Service Is Everything

The agency is called the “Toronto Transit Commission” and that middle word “Transit” is key. That’s what we are selling, that’s how we hope to foster convenient, quick movement around the city. All the hand-wringing about congestion and pollution is worthless if there is no credible alternative. If you don’t want to pay for better service, you have no place in a transit debate.

The question then is what is “better” service?

The first and simplest goal is to put things back as they were in 2020, before the pandemic stripped the TTC of so much ridership. But we forget that in early 2020 people were crammed into buses and streetcars on some routes, and subway relief was top of mind for large-scale plans.

Early 2020 service will only work with 2023 demand because in many cases that demand has fallen, particularly downtown. This would give us some elbow room for growth, but would not address two key issues.

Crowding Standards

First is the TTC’s Service Standards which among other things define the crowding levels that are acceptable in planning service. These were changed by TTC management in the 2023 budget to enable service cuts. Two aspects were modified:

  • As previously approved by the Board, peak period standards reverted to 100% loads because the pandemic recovery has progressed to a level where these are necessary.
  • New, and only approved as part of the budget, were off-peak standards that take us back before the Ridership Growth Strategy of 2003 which embraced the provision of excess off-peak capacity to enable and encourage ridership growth.

Management refers to “Board approved standards” when defending service levels, but there was never a presentation to or discussion at the TTC Board of the effect of the off-peak change. The service details were revealed only at the last minute before implementation, but after the budget was approved. Such secrecy has no place in a public transit agency.

At a minimum, the standards should revert to their pre-2023 budget level as, indeed, they still appear in the version posted on the TTC’s website [see p. 13]. Going back to raw 2020 service levels is not enough, and any recovery plan must aim higher than the “just good enough” service of that era. That will not be achieved in one year, but it must be a minimum target.

TTC staff should report regularly on crowding conditions across the system at a route and time-of-day level. Current reports give little indication of “hot spots” and are often at odds with actual rider experience. This would allow the TTC Board and the wider public to see just how good or ill the service actually is, and would flag locations that deserve attention.

An important but overlooked aspect of crowding is that “accessibility” exists more in theory than practice. Crowded buses and streetcars have no room for mobility devices, let alone baby carriages and shopping buggies, and they can be difficult to navigate for those who are unsteady on their feet. In a worst case, would-be riders cannot board because there is no room for them and their device. At a time when the TTC is pushing more people to use its “family of services” rather than relying on WheelTrans, additional crowding on regular services is counterproductive.

Service Reliability and Management

Second is the matter of service management. I have written at length about the disparity between advertised and delivered service on the TTC. Despite many schedule changes with the alleged purpose of “improving reliability”, this is still a major problem across the system. It is clear that just tinkering with the schedules will not solve the problem, although it can address unreasonable expectations of driving time and the growing problem of congestion on some routes.

As service is trimmed and scheduled vehicles are further apart, the random gaps and bunching become more severe. What might have been an annoyance with frequent service becomes a major impediment to the convenience of transit. The gaps on the street are much wider than they appear on paper because of irregular headways.

This is not the place for a major piece on how this should be fixed, but the key issue is that TTC management must recognize that it has a big problem and correct it. Rote excuses have no place in responsible management.

Any new Mayor should work to ensure that the TTC Board and Management regard service quality as their top priority. There is no point in restoring crowding standards and service levels to 2020 if we do not also see reliable service across the system.

Budget For Growth

The entire City budget is up against a very hard wall of pandemic era revenue losses compounded by years of minimal tax increases. Yes, there are two extra levies (Rob Ford’s Scarborough Subway levy, now repurposed for other works, and John Tory’s City Building fund). Neither of these contributes to day-to-day City operations except indirectly by lowering future borrowing costs.

If the City is to recover and grow, it is essential that we know and understand just how much that will cost. Going cap in hand to other governments is a standard tactic, but unless we know what we need and what we will spend the new money on, the “asks” become a recurring chorus of “Please, Sir, I want some more.”

One-time funding is nice to have, but it does not solve any structural budget problems. For example, as I write this, the feds have announced $349 million for the purchase of eBuses and assorted equipment to outfit garages. That a generous contribution to greening the fleet, but these buses will mostly go to replace existing vehicles that are well past their prime.

In all the hoopla, there is no talk of improving service. Moreover, not one penny will go toward actual operation of these buses, and the only potential benefit on the operating budget will be lower maintenance costs. Some of those savings could be eaten up if eBuses do not perform as well as the diesels and hybrids they replace.

The new Mayor must look at transit not just as a way to decarbonize the City (and only a small portion of total emissions at that), but as a way to lure motorists out of their cars. This should not be seen just as a battle for the high-end, long-haul commuter but for trips taken by families who must have extra vehicles simply to make up for the shortcoming in transit service.

Too often “growth” is associated with new rapid transit lines. They are expensive, years in completion, and serve only selected corridors often with a downtown orientation. Meanwhile, the workhorse of suburban travel, the bus network, gets by with whatever service the TTC and its budgetary masters deign to provide. The long term plan for bus growth sees only a 1% annual rate, and that was a prepandemic plan. Some of that will be soaked up with congestion and the longer travel times that slowly loading, crowded buses bring.

Part of Toronto’s Net Zero plan includes a very large improvement in transit, but this section of the plan has not been endorsed by Council. The TTC, not exactly on the ball, did not even know it was under discussion and there has been no projection of the implications of large-scale growth in surface transit, both bus and streetcar, even if it takes years to implement.

All of those subways that Doug Ford will build for us will be bright and shiny when they open, but the Dufferin bus will still be the Dufferin bus.

A new Mayor must look to what transit could be, even if we cannot afford it today. Calls for new revenue should be tied to specific goals for improvement, not simply to keep the lights on and the wheels turning.

Fares: Who Pays How Much?

In pre-pandemic times, fares generated about two thirds of the TTC’s revenue with a few percent coming from ancillary functions like advertising, parking and leasing. The rest came from subsidies almost entirely funded by the City of Toronto. A small amount, under $100 million annually, came from Provincial gas tax, but the days of Queen’s Park picking up half the subsidy cost are decades in the past, and show no sign of returning.

In the 2023 budget, fares will bring in about 42% of total costs for the “conventional” system. (WheelTrans operates almost entirely by subsidy, and I have not included it here because historical farebox recovery figures did not include WT costs.)

A return to higher recovery will require both better ridership and higher utilization of the system. This begs an important question: what should the target for farebox recovery be? Should we aim at the historical level and trim budgets (and service) to achieve this? Would that even be possible without recovery of core area commuting? The importance of the subway in carrying large passenger volumes (and hence generating fare revenue) at a mostly fixed cost cannot be overstated.

Whatever target we choose be it 50 or 60 or 70 percent, we will face the compound effect of inflationary pressures and the desire to expand service. As new rapid transit lines open, they will add to the cost base even allowing for new fare revenue and possible reductions in surface network costs. There will always be pressure to keep fares down, sometimes for an extended period, with increases, if any, below the overall cost growth. At the same time, the City will face pressures to keep taxes and other revenue streams in check while serving many important demands of which transit is only one part.

Over past decades we have seen various populist Mayors freeze fares and hold tax increases at or below the rate of inflation. Every year, City and TTC staff scrimp and save, and out comes, by magic, a budget that promises to do more with less. We need only look around the city to see where this has brought us.

Reduced and frozen fares can be pitched as a noble contribution to helping riders get by, but if they are not matched with a lasting commitment to higher subsidies, riders suffer in the end through declining service. The money to run transit must come from somewhere.

Whatever amount will be raised from fares, the main debate is who should pay how much. Toronto’s fare structure has evolved since public transit’s origins in the 19th century. The last major structural change goes back 50 years when the zone fare was eliminated and travel across “Metro”, as it was then called, could be had for a single fare. Later came the Metropass, and more recently the two-hour transfer, both of which lowered the cost for multiple rides.

Throughout all of this, we have had an “adult” fare and various discounts for seniors, students and children (who now ride free). A “fair pass” program extends pricing similar to seniors’ fares to low income individuals, although eligibility for this is limited and has not grown at the hoped-for rate due to City budget constraints. The problem lies not with reshuffling the existing fare structure, but with expanding access to the fair pass to a wider community.

One can argue about whether all seniors should get a discount, or if the children’s fare should be restored, but this only nibbles around the edges. The additional revenue from charging full fare to all riders (based on pre-pandemic stats) would be small because one would pick up only the “delta” between the current discount and the higher adult fare.

Moreover, many adults pay less than full fare through the benefit of passes, an option that would not be attractive to riders who travel less frequently. We give frequent adult users of transit a discount to encourage riding especially for “choice” trips beyond their daily commutes, even though this can reduce their cost per trip below the discounted level of other fares. Which goal are we trying to achieve?

The equity argument can be framed many ways, but the basic fact is that any fare based on age exists with both a political component and a desire for simplicity in extending discounts to groups who, as a whole, are perceived as “deserving” by some criteria. I believe there is little to be gained on this front. The added revenue from eliminating age-based discounts would be a one-time bump that might paper over a single budget year’s problems, but all fares would face the same pressure from there onward.

If there is any change in fare structure, it should not be regarded primarily as a revenue-generation tool even though that motive is hard to avoid.

This brings me to “fare integration”.

What Is GTHA “Integration”?

We hear a lot about fare integration and the onerous burden of the 416-905 boundary for cross-boundary travelers. Without question, paying a full double fare to make a trip from any system in the 905 into Toronto (and vice-versa) is demonstrably unfair when there is a flat fare within Toronto itself, and full transfer privileges between many of the 905 systems making that effectively a single fare zone.

Recently, the Toronto Region Board of Trade has advocated a zone-based system to “solve” the cross-border problem. I will not dwell on this at length, but rather observe that it is a complex scheme requiring major changes to regional fare policies and fare collection technology. It is a solution looking for a problem.

A standard fare should be established across the region with a time-based transfer window that ignores boundaries between individual transit systems. This would eliminate the cross-border problem overnight while presenting riders with a simple fare structure quite similar to what they have today.

Yes, there are issues to be ironed out with varying policies in different cities including discounts, pass pricing and the length of the free transfer. However, these would apply to any new fare scheme and are not an inherent barrier to the simplicity of a region-wide fare.

The elephant in the room is GO Transit and how trips on it should be priced. There is already a co-fare between 905 systems and GO so that a rider pays the GO tariff for that portion of their trip but rides the local bus system free. This privilege will, allegedly, be extended to TTC+GO rides later in 2023, although the announced policy appears to include only trips that cross the 416-905 boundary rather than trips within Toronto.

GO service levels will see considerable improvements over future years, although this may be tempered by the pace of core area trip recovery. With more frequent service, wait times at TTC-GO transfer connections will go down, and trips using both systems should be much more attractive, albeit only for those journeys where GO’s corridors coincide with riders’ journeys. Everyone is not going to Union Station, and this limits the role GO can play within the City.

GO should be providing low cost rides, in conjunction with the TTC, just as they do for systems in the 905. Implementation of such a scheme will require that Queen’s Park stop treating co-fares just as a replacement for parking capacity (not to mention vote buyers in suburbia), but rather as an important part of truly “integrating” their network within Toronto. Spinning cross-border double fares as a burden while forcing riders within Toronto to pay separately for a TTC+GO trip is a double standard, and this should end.

None of this requires integration of system governance, only the will to implement changes to tariffs. Most of the infrastructure to handle this change already exists within Presto, or will in the near future as the next generation of that system rolls out.

If there is a desperate need for governance change, it lies with the secretive and arrogant Metrolinx organization, but that is beyond the Mayor’s power. The Mayor cannot drive Metrolinx changes, but they can advocate for what a future Metrolinx might be: a true partner, open and collaborative.

Transit Property: Parking or Housing?

The TTC operates some large parking lots, notably on the outer reaches of the subway network, and also has some large properties devoted to maintenance and administration. Calls for these to be repurposed for housing tend to conflate several types of site and development, but they also raise a fundamental question about the transit system: should it be in the parking business?

Whenever the TTC has considered removing parking lots from operation, the inevitable complaint is “what about the motorists, they will have to drive downtown”. To this I have a rather brutal answer: the land is more valuable than for storing your car, and you are a small minority of transit riders. In a pinch we can do without your fares, and look forward to your tales of congestion-free travel into the city.

That said, some parking lots do not lend themselves to development because they lie on hydro corridors which simply are not going to sprout new housing.

Some large TTC properties have already been studied for development such as lots on the outer ends of Line 2 Bloor-Danforth, as well as the TTC’s Head Office site at Davisville Station which is already flagged for transfer to BuildTO. Eglinton Station will see major redevelopment once the Crosstown project is out of the way. How much of this development will be affordable is quite another matter, and this will depend on funding commitments from all governments, not simply an assumption that the private sector will magically produce what is needed.

Parking lots that sit on top of subway structures have challenges including building around a working subway, noise and vibration transmission into a new building, and the difficulty of providing underground facilities like parking where the subway is close to the surface. In some cases, buildings sit astride former open-cut subway rights-of-way (south of St. Clair), and there is much more such land available.

The big offender on parking is GO Transit which, based on pre-pandemic ridership, had two parking spaces for every three riders on its rail network. This model is not sustainable at the scale of GO’s growth plans, and yet there is little sign of provincial support for local transit to provide frequent last-mile service. GO is one of the largest operators of parking lots in North America, a dubious laurel for a transit agency.

The main role for a new Mayor is to ensure that movement on plans to develop TTC sites does not bog down, and to champion a shift in land use from parking to housing.

A Culture of Advocacy

Long missing from transit debates at the TTC and the ruling faction at City Hall is any sense of advocacy for substantial improvement in transit. In particular the “what if” discussions of goals we might achieve, of what the city could be, are buried under back-slapping promotion of rapid transit schemes while riders wonder where their next bus might be.

“Red lanes” and transit priority might appear on a route near you within your lifetime, or maybe your children’s, provided that some future Visigoth Mayor or Premier does not cancel the program first.

We talk about “green buses” and their contribution to climate change while ignoring the bigger effect transit can have on auto usage and pollution if only there were better service.

This is theatre, not real advocacy.

I loathe the slogan “Scarborough Deserves a Subway” because it ignores so much more that Scarborough needs. The debate became a holy war about the Ford subway network versus the Miller LRT-based Transit City. Far more to the point is that subways are only part of a network, and if you’re not on Doug Ford’s map, you’re second class. That applies right across the city.

Advocacy must exist at both the political and the managerial level. Politicians who just want easy, good news will not advocate for improvements that require new funding or contentious tradeoffs about road space. Management who have been burned before with budget cuts think twice before producing a plan for significant growth.

The purpose of running more transit is to provide more convenient travel for all of our citizens. This might be the classic work trip, or an outing for an evening’s entertainment, but there are more. Post-secondary trips occur at odd locations, many involving counter-peak travel, and at off-peak times. Shopping and other family errands, comparatively easy in parts of the city with frequent service and a walkable “15 minute” structure can be challenging in neighbourhoods designed around car travel. Long commutes across the city can tax even the most dedicated transit user’s patience and drive the creation of a generation for whom “take the car” is their mantra.

These are different types of travel all with their own peculiar needs, but they should not be dismissed because the needs cannot be “solved” with a single subway project. Just within Scarborough, much travel, especially off-peak, is not aligned with the future subway corridor, nor with the two GO lines.

This is not to say that the entire TTC Board, let alone the Mayor’s Office and City Executive, should be stuffed with rabid transit promoters. But there has to be an openness to thinking about what transit could be doing, and could be doing better. The Board’s job is not to simply nod politely when management presents rosy reports, nor to collude in budget schemes that starve transit year after year.

As an example, the current fetish for so-called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a transit priority scheme consisting of little more than red paint on pavement, is a “solution” whose benefits will vary from route to route, location to location. In some cases, dealing with “hot spots” would produce much of the desired improvement without the contention of completely taking over road space from one terminus to the other. We have “transit priority signals” which in some cases do more to delay than speed transit by forcing buses and streetcars to await “their turn”. Road designs work against pedestrian access to transit stops, and in a misguided move for efficiency, the TTC removes stops so that buses can run faster even if riders must walk further.

Do we hear debates about these options? No. This leaves City and TTC staff to beaver on with consultations one corridor at a time for implementation, possibly, some day. The mere existence of this project is a catch-all response to cries for better service.

Business cases for rapid transit are built substantially on the supposed value of saved travel time, but the simple benefit of running more service, reducing waits between vehicles, is not counted as a “saving” for riders.

Being a transit user starts with stepping out your front door, but access and wait times are rarely considered when transit “efficiency” is the goal.

Transit advocacy requires looking at the whole trip, not just in finding ways to trim TTC operating costs.

The Lure of Lines on Maps

Political platforms are supposed to be positive, uplifting, with the sound of “yes, let’s do this” ringing in voters’ ears. I have one piece of advice that requires the word “no”.

Avoid the temptation to draw maps. We already have plenty of plans, flawed though they might be, and changing them would be a challenge considering that the biggies are under provincial control.

There is a handful of major projects still looking for funding including Waterfront transit expansion and the Eglinton East LRT. They already on the map, but what they lack is a champion.

The moment you draw a map, the debate becomes “why this line, but not that one” and some elements might find their way into your scheme just to avoid criticism. This is the chicken-in-every-pot planning methodology. It is easier to include everyone’s pet projects to placate their advocates rather than to become embroiled in arguments about their value.

Toronto’s needs lie in its surface transit system and across the whole network. Improving that network should be the top priority, particularly for the short term and ridership recovery.

Plan for Achievements in The First Term

Over my decades of transit advocacy, the greatest disappointment was the fate of David Miller’s Transit City Plan which was unilaterally killed by newly-minted Mayor Rob Ford. Had Miller stayed for a third term, that plan would have taken root and we would be riding some of the network today.

Although he was first elected in 2003, Miller did not present his LRT network plan until his second term in 2007. That would prove fatal.

The moral of the story is simple: don’t wait. There is much to be done, and it cannot all be achieved overnight. Some progress will require a new, friendlier administration at Queen’s Park. But dithering while we wait is an excuse for inaction, not leadership.

Dealings with Queen’s Park will be challenging, especially if active sabotage of Toronto plans replaces benign neglect. That said, an alternate voice is needed, one that can make common cause with other Ontario municipalities and inform plans for a future provincial government.

In the short term, the key issue will be service. This affects day-to-day lives across the city. Service will be central to restoring ridership and ensuring transit’s continued importance. If transit slips into a spiral of decline, you might as well tear up your transit platform and with it any so-called commitment to transit riders.

Finally, of course, you have to be re-elected in 2026. Have something to show for your years in office.

25 thoughts on “A Transit Platform For Toronto

  1. Steve, as the field narrows, I think a valuable followup article would be to compare the leading candidates in terms of their understanding and policies on transit.

    Steve: I intend to do that closer to eDay.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Whenever I hear Doug Ford, or his cronies or his disciples at city hall, use the word “efficency”, it tells me “cuts in service”, “reduction in state-of-good-repair”, “more dirt and trash because of reductions in everything including cleaning”, “longer waits for everything”, “unavailable resources”, and “abandoned ruins”.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Regarding parking lots in hydro corridors. Has anyone done the math on cost of burying the high-voltage wires for a stretch, vs revenues from building on the land that would be freed up (save an underground ROW)? Not everywhere would pay off, obviously, but I wonder if around Finch and Finch West stations would. Or Kipling and Islington.

    I would hope Hydro One has, but their attitude towards burying anything higher-voltage seems… suspect.

    Steve: Hydro One has good reason to avoid burying their lines which operate at between 115kV and 500kV. A major issue is that if there is a failure it is harder to locate and repair than an aerial line. In any event, they certainly would not allow structures to be built over buried cables. As for the value of the land above, if we were liberating it for housing, that’s a real value, but parking?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. On the subject of “fair” fares a suggestion is to make Presto good for 4 hours between rush hours. Say, 10 AM to 4 PM. Mon-Fri. This to encourage more use of transit during these “off hours”. It might also reduce rush hour crowding.
    It would also allow more 8 hour shifts rather than broken shifts rush hour only.

    Steve: That is one of many possibilities. The big issue for Presto is that until they move to an account-based “back end” and get rid of the need to reprogram every device in the system whenever there is a tariff change, it will be very difficult to implement changes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I saw on the news that mayoral candidate Josh Matlow promises to restore the cuts to the TTC budget, taking $50 million from an existing reserve. At least one candidate is talking transit.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Not really in scope of Toronto mayor, sorry, but to explain the topic of transit-oriented development in hydro corridors:

    The burying of the hydro cables would be to build housing on top, not parking lots.

    The Hydro One corridors next to Finch and Kipling are 230 kV AC.

    There’s an underground line under Berlin at 380 kV AC which is in a ~3 m wide service tunnel. (There are also so many buried 110 kV lines that they’re not notable, it’s just standard for distributing electricity in a city.)

    There’s also a number of 400 kV lines underneath London.

    Superior European technology?

    Put the 3 m tunnel under a new street, and sell off the rest of the 80-100 metre wide hydro corridor around subway stations to housing developers at market price. From rough math, just the part within 5 minute walk of Finch station would be something like $300-500 million.

    Steve: Thanks for the info and links.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think any transit platform now has to incorporate how they will clean up the mess left by the crosstown consortium.

    It is incredulous that the crosstown consortium didn’t catch 260 QC issues from non revenue track built in 2021. The horror that is the crosstown will last to the next mayoral election.

    Steve: The problem is that a lot of the mess is in Metrolinx’ hands, or their contractors, and the City won’t be allowed to touch their infrastructure.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Further regarding fares and Presto rejigging. I suggest running a “pilot”.

    Print special transfers of a distinct colour changing it every day along with the actual date just as is done now. No route name necessary. Quickly recognizable. Encourage people to go extra places while out whether or not necessary, to window shop, enjoy a meal etc.

    Steve: These would be challenging to dispense except for front-entrance fare collection on buses.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such a good read Steve 100% agree we need to properly fund service, and continue to increase or run as much service on top of that I’m tired of the cons trying to water down words ie: efficiencies instead of what they actually are which is cuts. I’m also glad to hear that some running for mayors are talking about more funding or bringing back service that was actually cut etc. I know it’s not probably popular but we need to have an “adult” conversation about tolls or gridlock/congestion charge especially on the more conservative people who constantly have no problem cutting service or making users pay more but not car users. To end I’m tired of as a transit user being treated as third class

    Liked by 2 people

  10. One of the simplest and lowest cost forms of fare integration would be to include bike share in the two hour transfer window. The infrastructure and operating budget for Bike Share is already half paid for by parking fares, so it would make sense to also integrate Green-P with bike share. The cost sharing structure would be relatively simple…

    1) If only TTC was used 3.30 goes to TTC
    2) If only Bikeshare was used 3.30 goes to Bikeshare
    3) If both TTC/Bikeshare were used 3$ goes to TTC and .30$ goes to Bikeshare
    4) If you use Green-P then you can use bikeshare while you are parked/paying a fare (no cost sharing since it’s the same org and parking already subsidizes bike share)
    5. More complicated fare structure may apply for e-bikes

    There might be some limits (like you have to have a credit card registered with Presto/Green-P). But this would massively improve the last-mile and delayed vehicle situation for a lot of people.


  11. Service Is Everything

    Regarding cuts to service including vehicles in use etc.

    I suggest a “pilot” (Toronto loves pilots).

    Eliminate as many as possible “sorry” buses. Since the purpose of buses being on the street is to provide service (not wear rubber off tires) I suggest eliminating these by putting buses in service ASAP to start of route and likewise keep buses in service until close to garage. There would be minimal cost to add this service since the Operator is going from/to route start/end points in any event and being paid same amount. Even if paid a minuscule additional amount it would be worth it to improve service.

    Steve: I believe that the TTC already has a pilot to put more buses in service earlier on pull out trips, but it’s still early days. As for streetcars, it was supposed to be policy that they run in service, but that seems to not be observed by some ops who get annoyed with people who wind up on the wrong vehicle. This is very annoying for riders who know perfectly well where it is going but cannot board.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I have a question for you: why doesn’t TTC fix Victoria St tracks north of Queen and use it for Queen detours?

    Steve: Victoria Street has been a mess for several years with construction projects, especially the St. Mike’s Hospital expansion which ran very late. Myself, I think that the Dundas diversion is too far north of Queen, certainly not easy walking distance particularly as it drifts northward the further west one goes.

    An alternative could be to split the line in two turning the east end cars via Church, Richmond and Victoria. The problem is that the furthest east a west end car could get is to McCaul Loop and that misses a subway connection. Alternately, they could run down Spadina to King and then east, but a loop is messy because key curves are missing. For example, Spadina-King-York-Queen would work, but they forgot to put an east-to-north curve at King and York the last time it was rebuilt (or some bright spark decided to save some money at the expense of flexibility). The holes in TTC’s institutional memory have cocked up a few key intersection rebuilds where strategic curves would have helped, and we only get the chance once every 20-30 years. And I am baffled as to why when installing southbound track on York they are not just continuing south to King.

    I can think of other alternatives like Distillery Loop via King, but this gets entangled in construction projects and diversions further east. It’s a real mess, and it wasn’t helped at all by the screw-up in timing of construction of the diversion track. At some point over the summer, the work on the Don Bridge on Queen will be finished, and this would be a good time to restore/create a Queen East route (we could call it the Queen Victoria line).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “And I am baffled as to why when installing southbound track on York they are not just continuing south to King.”

    Bring me up to speed on this, please. What track is being added? How far down York?

    Steve: York will become a two-way street and a southbound track will be added from Queen to Adelaide. In the best cocked up procurement tradition, the City is doing Adelaide as an add-on to an existing contract, but for reasons passing understanding, Metrolinx is still responsible for contracting the York Street work. I fully expect them to screw this up somehow.

    The lack of planning for useful additions to track connections on the streetcar network, including York all the way to King southbound, and the missed opportunities to add curves when intersections are rebuilt is typical of the TTC.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Steve, right now you do not have a thread on Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is “Off Track”, and I have nowhere else to post.

    CBC 2023-04-27: Perhaps the single-biggest issue among a litany of problems, [Metrolinx CEO Phil] Verster said, is that track laid in 2021 was built outside of Metrolinx’s specifications and the mistake is only now being fixed by CTS. A misstep of just a few millimetres runs the risk of a train climbing onto the tracks and derailing, Verster said. “This is not centimetres of error, this is millimetres of error. Anyone who builds track should know that. It is unfortunate this didn’t get done right,” he told reporters. “Despite our urging and our guidance, it is only being rectified now and it will have a two month impact, at least, on the completion of the project.” “My biggest concern is that the quality is right and we get a safe transit system. We are building infrastructure here for the next 100, 150 years, and we’ve got to get it right,” Verster said alongside Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney. The pair laid much of the blame for the delays at the feet of Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS), a consortium of four companies contracted by Ontario’s previous Liberal government to design and build the Crosstown.

    My comments:

    1. In 100+ years the TTC has never had a problem with the rails like this.
    2. Blame game – point fingers at everybody but accept no responsibility. “Despite our urging and our guidance … ” Two years to identify the rail problem!
    3. They still do not explain the problem except in vague terms.
    4. “two month impact, at least, on the completion of the project.” Oh, sure. Better have the TTC take over everything and convert to TTC gauge while we have the chance.

    Steve: I believe that the problem has been misrepresented as one of gauge when the real issue is the rail profile which does not match the wheels on the new cars. This is similar to a problem with track in Ottawa, and the fix involves grinding the railhead to change the profile, not relaying all of the track. Yes, the TTC has been laying track forever, and they just drop it in the street and start running service. Same with the subway.

    What is particularly galling here is the contempt with which Metrolinx described the TTC’s ability to execute projects when the province took over the Ontario Line. They had to walk back their comments, but this would prove to be the same sort of historical revisionism we have seen more recently with the Ontario Place fiasco where the government just makes up justifications for their actions out of thin air.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Thank you Steve, and commenters, and yes, transit is declining to beyond transick to trans*t, as is the case with the City as well, including roads.

    And so, with respect, there are three policy gaps in this post, and now is the time for discussion as there is the election, as perhaps we might elect some urban/transit/enviro champion, though that’s uphill and maybe naive.

    1. Private cars (and suburbs) are subsidized, though carservatives will deny this. A big trouble is that the TTC budget is all by itself, and the car subsidies are often well buried in multiple budgets and many levels. If the vehicle drivers paid at the same proportion as transit riders, maybe it’d be a $500 annual Vehicle Registration Tax, but more likely $15009 or $2,000 – which would be billions and less congestion too, as high odds there’d be fewer cars on the roads. So I don’t know why City Hall isn’t pursuing this, but perhaps it’s related to the data (not) coming from the province, as there’s only one level of car driver, unlike taxpayers. Or at least the TO core taxpayers are outvoted by the more suburban majority, so….

      (The Eglinton morass does seem like it’s a harbinger of what’s up for the core for the next few years and I note within this:

      “…said Verster, who added that between 80 to 90 per cent of transit mega projects worldwide experience scheduling or budget issues.” And this point seems to have been missed by others, oop$$, but it’s only billions of tax $$)

    2. There’s a HUGE set of issues with the multi-billion boonDougles of the main transit plans, and a strong sense that we’re in for a few years of Trouble and a Bad Result at the end of it. This is hinted at only; but we need a mayor who will lead the Council/Clowncil to ask for better plans with less harms/more value. And this very much includes the Ontario Line, though we need investment in transit and a Relief function, so it would be great! to keep that spending, but with more for the operations.
    3. Women take transit more than men do; and mobility and the harms do feel gendered. Maybe readers know of a City/area that does waay better than we do here at having better service/projects – and I’d guess Europe would be a good place to start.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Steve: “I believe that the problem has been misrepresented as one of gauge when the real issue is the rail profile which does not match the wheels on the new cars. … the fix involves grinding the railhead to change the profile. “

    Thank you, Steve, for providing insight to the rail problem, but it still leaves unanswered questions. The same manufacturer builds both TTC streetcars and the LRT cars. Are the wheels different? Gauge is simply the width of the track, is it not, regardless of rail profile? Why would the rails have a different profile?

    Not just Ontario Place, but Ford’s government is guilty of historical revisionism regarding the Ontario Science Centre, according to the Toronto Star, Saturday April 29. OSC is getting run down due to lack of funding, and attendance was down due to Covid, but has sprung back above expectations. And when Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is eventually open, TBA, attendance will receive a boost.

    Steve: Please see the following comment from Stephen Saines which contains some of the info you’re looking for.


  17. Steve wrote: (re: “millimeters, not centimeters”)

    This is similar to a problem with track in Ottawa, and the fix involves grinding the railhead to change the profile, not relaying all of the track.

    This probably goes back to the ‘tram’ vs ‘train’ track-head and wheel profile being dissimilar, not the gauge itself. I tried explaining that in a few newspaper reader comment strings, but alas…no wonder the likes of Fords and Metrolinx get away with using it as a feint of hand. I’m sure many of the other ‘excuses’ are just as weasel-like.

    To further confuse things, there’s been developments in profiling that render the difference virtually moot. Here’s the ‘rote’ explanation:

    Trams use bigger crossing angles and tighter curve radii are more likely than for train tracks. To cope with this difficulty the wheels of trams temporarily transfer the weight of the tram onto the flange to reduce wear on both the frog point and the horizontal surface of the tram wheels.

    But as Steve alludes to re: Ottawa, the answer is grinding rail and lathing wheels.

    But this only raises further questions as to how K/W go it right, and Metrolinx (via Translinx) got it so wrong? The K/W consortium was also a P3 model, many of the same players as Translinx…many questions arise.

    On the shared ‘train and tram track operation’, of course the builders of the bogies would know the specs they finish their wheelsets to. And lo and behold, it’s the same supplier to Crosstown! Even more questions arise.

    And none of this is new to engineering:

    Institution of Mechanical Engineering
    First published online May 9, 2017

    Analysis of design and performance of tram-train profiles for dual-operation running

    “One of the key issues in developing a dual-operation wheel profile was managing the contact conditions within the wheel–rail interface. The interface is critical not only to the safe running of the vehicle but also to maximise asset life and to minimise wheel–rail damage. A combination of vehicle dynamic simulations and bespoke software was used to allow the development of a new wheel profile for tram-train operations.”

    I suspect K/W had early discussions with Transport Canada on exactly this and other aspects of sharing track (gauge itself was never a problem, albeit perhaps for turn-out radius, switches, and other spots that are factors no matter what the profile) so how could Metrolinx possibly not know of this issue?

    Questions, and more questions…

    Steve: And the whole business of profiling the track and sending wheels through the lathe decreases the life of the asset and represents an ongoing maintenance cost. The TTC has wheel lathes and track grinding equipment too, but they don’t have to re-profile every new piece of track they install. But remember how they were called incompetent by Metrolinx, and also how the “Transit City” cars were forced to be standard gauge because otherwise nobody would bid on them.


  18. Trying to get more info/reference on my above post, as to what could have gone wrong…and I’m running short of time, perhaps Steve could dig further on this, but incredibly, as far as I can tell at this time, the *TTC’s specs and guidelines* pertained.

    Final engineering drawings and chapters may be different, but my immediate question is: “Who spec’d rail profile”?

    Steve: That document predates the Metrolinx takeover of the project.


  19. Too bad all the grrrrinding of the teeth of area residents and businesses (and some taxpayers/groups in all parts of province) couldn’t be redirected to grind off what’s needing to be done right?

    But at least Eglinton was in the 1957 plan, and it is in the right places, or will be, though we really do need some triage relief for when it opens on the east of Yonge N/S axis.

    As for part of my earlier comment, thanks Steve, and presumably you’re just too busy at times to be tackling everything as you’re strong on Twitter, thank you!


  20. Regarding the LRT track problem I recall them testing the LRV’s at various speeds on the above ground eastern portion gradually going from very slow to faster and faster until full speed. 60 KM ? There was no mention of any problem. What happened?

    Steve: Full speed is 80 km/H in the tunnels, so they may have found problems at higher speeds. Issues such as hunting and corrugations don’t always show up at lower speed.


  21. I have never, I repeat ever, known someone more committed than you. Your articles are so well-researched and comprehensive. You’re basically a transit genius. Of course, there’s always room for improvement but you should be proud of yourself!

    Steve: Many thanks! Yes, there’s always room for improvement.

    There are some who ask why I don’t do videos, and the answer is simple: the stuff I write about requires a lot of text, and video explainers take a ton more production without necessarily adding content. They also force you to “read” the piece at the presenter’s pace, not your own. So for anyone who’s waiting, sorry, you will have to make do with text and still images.


  22. After playing “Follow the Hyperlink” from Stephen Saine’s post I have discovered that there are a lot more rail and wheel profiles than I imagined. One would think that for a project as big as this, and the Ottawa LRT the people installing the rails would talk to the people building the cars to make sure their track worked with car’s wheel profile, but alas that does not seem to have happened.

    The talk that railway wheels do not run on their flange is not always correct. There are cases where the diamond for lightly used lines forces the cars on that line to run on their flange over the rail head of the main line. There is one on the diamond between the CN Halton sub and the now abandoned Orangeville branch line. It has guard rails to keep the wheel in place and the train goes over at a very slow speed. It is not a common practice.


  23. Olivia Chow is leading and it would be wise for all of us to unite behind this leading left candidate because if we split the left vote, then we make it possible for a right wing nutcase like Giorgio Mammoliti to get elected. This is why I will be voting for Olivia Chow.


  24. Does TTC have any way to track ridership data using big data sources? A contract with a org like Rogers or Google could be helpful in getting detailed sets of data re: ridership, wait times at specific stops, etc that could help implement high yield, targeted service improvements. Especially once service extends into the subway network.

    Steve: I’m not sure what use they make of this info. I do know that the City uses such info regularly for traffic modelling. There really needs to be a consolidated view of riding and service using vehicle tracking, on board passenger counts and stop/travel time info as you suggest.


  25. I wonder if Josh Matlow wouldn’t be stronger at fighting Doug Ford than would Olivia. Both would be good mayors but remember Ford changed the rules for Toronto and Ottawa when it it comes to controlling Council. Running Toronto is what this is all about for Ford and he must be stopped. He thought he would have John Tory.


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