Eglinton Crosstown Delayed (Again)

In what must be the most anti-climactic news on the planet, Phil Verster, Metrolinx President and CEO, has announced that the Eglinton Crosstown Line 5 will not open as planned. I will let Metrolinx speak for themselves.

Statement regarding the Eglinton Crosstown LRT

Sept. 23, 2022

Today, Metrolinx President & CEO Phil Verster issued the following statement:

We had expected the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to be fully built, thoroughly tested, and in service this fall in accordance with our project agreement with Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the construction consortium responsible for building the project.

Unfortunately, while progress has been made, Crosslinx Transit Solutions have fallen behind schedule, are unable to finalize construction and testing, and therefore the system will not be operational on this timeline.

We know construction has been difficult for commuters, communities, and businesses along the Eglinton corridor. We are doing everything to hold Crosslinx Transit Solutions accountable and to redouble efforts to meet their commitments and complete the work quickly so we can welcome riders onto a complete, tested, and fully operational Eglinton Crosstown LRT as soon as possible.

Source: Metrolinx Blog

Anyone who has followed the construction project, to the degree it is visible at street level, would have trouble believing the line would be ready in 2022. Only a week ago, the project’s Twitter account announced that they had just finished structural steel at Eglinton Station. This is nowhere near the same as putting the last touch of paint on a building.

The TTC budgeted for a first quarter 2023 startup with training in advance, but that date sounds iffy considering Verster made no mention of a handover date from the builder, let along commissioning and opening the line.

If only Metrolinx were less secretive, less inclined to give us only “good news”, there would be more trust in their breathless announcements for all projects, not just Eglinton.

The key question, however, is not “when will it open”, but “how long has Metrolinx known”.

John Tory Has (Another) Transit Plan

On September 20, 2022, Mayor John Tory announced his transit platform as part of his re-election campaign. It contains little new but rests mainly on completing works already in progress.

He pledges to be “laser-focused” on four key projects that just happen to be provincial undertakings. How exactly Tory, or any other municipal politician can advance these, other than standing out of Premier Ford’s way, is something of a mystery.

The projects are, of course, the Scarborough Subway extension, the Ontario line, the Eglinton Crosstown extension “towards” the airport and the Yonge North extension to Richmond Hill. Collectively they represent a $28 billion provincial commitment that will keep the construction industry humming along for the next decade, but an unknown call on future city budgets to aid in their operation.

They also represent “investments” that will crowd other projects off of the table when Toronto calls on provincial and federal governments for more transit support. Toronto and Mayor Tory are thrilled to get such a huge transit investment, but whether this is the right investment is quite another matter.

The remainder of his platform focuses more on past achievements than new programs, and is silent on the question of how we will actually pay for much of this.

In the following text, the quoted items come from John Tory’s campaign website linked above. The order has been slightly changed to group related items.

  • Moving forward with the Crosstown LRT and Finch LRT, both of which will open soon.
  • Securing funding for the expansion of Bloor-Yonge station to meet current and future ridership demand.
  • Planning underway for the Eglinton East and Waterfront transit lines.
  • Investing in 60 new streetcars for the TTC through a $568 million funding commitment from all three levels of government.

Notable by their absence are the Eglinton East and Waterfront LRT lines for which the only mention is that planning is underway. I spoke with candidate Tory at the TTC’s August 20 open house, and he replied forcefully about his support for the Waterfront LRT and desire to see it built. Strange, then, that actual construction does not appear in his platform.

Many other items are works in progress or nearly completed including the original section of Eglinton Crosstown and the Finch LRT both expected to open fairly soon. Others include securing funding for Bloor-Yonge station’s expansion (a second platform in Yonge Station plus expanded circulation space between the Yonge and Bloor lines) and funding for 60 additional streetcars.

  • Introducing the City’s first-ever RapidTO corridor – a priority bus-only lane – on Eglinton East.
  • Creating the King Street Transit Priority Corridor to ensure more reliable and efficient streetcar service along the busiest surface transit route in the city.

The King Street transitway is a fait acompli as are the RapidTO bus lanes in Scarborough. The much greater challenge, on which Tory’s platform is silent, will be wresting transit’s priority back on King Street from the “wild west” that has evolved since the scheme was introduced. This is only one aspect of the need for much more aggressive enforcement of traffic laws and regulations so badly needed in Toronto.

As for RapidTO, many proposed bus lanes have encountered political headwinds because they would be on streets where space is much less easily set aside for transit. The Scarborough project was low hanging fruit.

  • Increasing subway service on Line 1 and 2 during peak periods to support return to office plans.
  • Increasing investment on 17 bus and streetcar routes this year, and increasing service on 29 bus routes and two streetcar routes beginning in September as riders return to work.

John Tory takes credit for recent service improvements in response to riding growth. What his platform does not mention is that service is still below pre-pandemic levels especially on the subway. Running more service, both to get back to January 2020 levels and to grow in the future will require money, and it is not clear where this will come from as provincial and federal governments are expected to reduce or cease their Covid budget supplements to cities in the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2023. The issue is not what the TTC managed to achieve for Fall 2022, but how long this can be sustained.

  • Rolling out the Automated Train Control signalling system on all of Line 1 and expansion of the Wi-Fi on buses pilot program this fall.

The rollout of ATC on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be substantially complete on the weekend of September 24, 2022, when the final segment from Eglinton to Finch switches over. There will be a clean-up phase to deal with changes identified since the project went live, but the main work is at last finished. It should be remembered that this project had a checkered life with a botched original implementation plan that was rescued by former CEO Andy Byford. The status of ATC for Line 2 Bloor-Danforth is not yet known, but is essential as part of the Scarborough Subway extension plans. (More about LIne 2 overall below.)

  • Bringing in the Fair Pass, a first-ever TTC discount for low-income residents, as well as free two-hour transfers on the TTC.

Worth remembering is that the Fair Pass and the Two-Hour Transfer were both products of community activism, not proposals that originated in the Mayor’s office. Both were hard-won in the face of budget hawks who saw them as added rider subsidies, not as investments in a better city.

The Fair Pass is still not fully implemented because the cost of extending it to the full projected market is not funded in the City’s budget. John Tory’s platform is silent on this.

  • Ensuring that the TTC continues to have the largest fleet of electric buses in all of North America. 

The City of Toronto has a Net Zero plan which sounds impressive, but only a portion of it has been endorsed by Council. Even the planned purchase of 300 battery-electric buses is not yet a fully funded project even though the TTC has been through a vendor evaluation and was expected to award contracts in September 2022.

The TTC will also require at least one more bus garage to handle the growing bus fleet assuming that plans to continue service expansion are not sandbagged. This type of change requires co-ordination of vehicle, plant and staffing many years in advance.

  • Implementing the SmartTrack program, with an agreement signed between all three levels of government and with Metrolinx now hiring builders for five new urban rapid transit stations.

SmartTrack, announced two elections ago when John Tory was first staking his claim to having a transit program, is a shadow of the original proposal. It is now a handful of new GO stations that will be built at the City’s cost, and marginal improvements in GO service that Metrolinx planned to operate whether SmartTrack existed or not.

Still to be settled is the question of GO and TTC fare integration.

SmartTrack was announced in 2014 as a plan that would solve every transit problem. In the intervening years, the program shrank, and Mayor rather than candidate Tory learned that there is more to transit than one commuter rail / surface rapid transit corridor including simple things like more buses for better service.

Ironically, the SmartTracker website telling us how much time we will all save in our travels is still active with the full proposed network for all to see.

  • Significantly upgrading the TTC system as part of the five and 10-year plan to improve customer experience and accommodate expected growth in ridership.

To say that this is a key investment made, as if it were a done deal, is a real stretch. The TTC has a huge backlog of capital projects many of which are not funded. A substantial collection of these are part of a Line 2 renewal plan that was first proposed, but not published, while Andy Byford was still CEO. It was pushed to the back burner because of the substantial cost. The plan includes:

  • New trains for Line 2 including vehicles for service improvements and the Scarborough extension
  • Automatic Train Control implementation
  • Station upgrades
  • A new storage and maintenance facility west of Kipling Station

The TTC plans to publish an updated Line 2 plan in 2023. There is no sense of how we will pay for it, nor how strong a commitment we will see from City Hall and other governments for special funding beyond their regular contributions.

Vital to any plan that will improve the TTC and handle growing ridership is a recognition that carrying more riders on a more attractive service requires more operating subsidies. These are not small scale investments in a demonstration project here or there, but a system-wide effort that will be invisible without significant new resources. Moreover, TTC management must be held accountable for operating and maintaining their system well rather than the lacklustre operation that passes for transit service on many routes today.

I am not convinced that Mayor Tory is even aware of the calls on City funding that the transit improvements he touts will require. If he is, then he owes voters an explanation of what we can actually afford to do and when. If he is in the dark, just spouting feel-good slogans like “SmartTrack”, then Toronto will wait a long time for substantially better transit.

Open House at TTC’s Harvey Shops

On Saturday, September 17, the TTC will hold an open house at its Hillcrest facility with guided tours of the main Harvey Shops as well as the Streetcar Way building.

Photo credit: TTC

This is being done as part of their annual United Way fundraising campaign.

BlogTO got an advance peek and has an extensive photo gallery for those who cannot be there in person.

Updated: The article mentions registering for the event. @TTCHelps confirms that this is not required. Just show up.

No need to sign up – once you’re inside, there will be a tour guide who will walk you through our facility so everyone gets to participate. There are multiple volunteers, so there will be plenty of sessions.

@TTCHelps Twitter Feed

Service Analysis of 38 Highland Creek for August 2022

Back on August 20, when I was part of a Twitter thread about lousy service on 7 Bathurst, the day of the TTC’s birthday party at Hillcrest, one person said “I have the same problem on Highland Creek”. When I looked at the tracking data, the result was stunning, and not in a way anyone would like to see.

This article reviews 38 Highland Creek for the month of August 2022. The short version is that on weekdays, the route is somewhat unreliable and suffers at time from missing buses, but on weekends, the problems are worse than anything I have seen in my travels through operating stats.

The route originates at Rouge Hill GO Station, and travels west to Scarbourough Town Centre. There is a bit of a meander via Lawrence, Port Union and Lawson to get across the 401 to Kingston Road, thence via Military Trail and Ellesmere to STC.

Map credit: TTC

There is a 38B/938 split operation to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, but that is not currently running. Only the 38A to Rouge Hill GO is part of the scheduled service in August 2022.

The Short Read

Service on 38 Highland Creek can operate on fairly reliable headways, but is often disrupted, especially on weekends. The primary issues are:

  • Missing buses create service gaps that are not filled by re-spacing other vehicles.
  • Travel times on Saturday afternoons appear to be inadequate leaving no margin for recovery at terminals.
  • Bunching on weekends, and particularly on Saturdays, is chronic to the point that four or more buses operate in packs for extended periods with little apparent effort by line management to space out the service.
Continue reading

Service Analysis of 7 Bathurst for August 2022

The 7 Bathurst bus is notorious for its irregular service, a rather comic situation considering it passes right by the TTC’s main shops and offices at Hillcrest including the building housing Transit Control.

During many periods, the scheduled service is every 10 minutes. Additional capacity is provided on weekdays by operating some runs with articulated buses. This has the effect that service is more frequent at times on weekends than on weekdays.

A common sight at Bathurst Station is at least one Bathurst bus taking an extended layover, or considerable periods where there is no bus to be seen. I have reviewed this route before, but a recent event triggered my return visit. On August 20, 2022, the TTC held its covid-delayed 100th anniversary public celebration at Hillcrest, and the Bathurst bus was the logical way to get there by transit for most people.

Alas, this was something of a challenge thanks to service gaps. When I left Hillcrest, I gave up waiting for a southbound bus due to crowding and walked north to Davenport and the infrequent, but also reliably uncrowded bus there. Was this a one-day problem, or was the Bathurst bus really that bad all of the time? This article reviews vehicle tracking data from August 2022 in an attempt to answer this question.

Something worth mentioning here is that if there is a very wide gap followed by multiple buses close together, the number of long headways is outnumbered by the short ones. However, most would-be riders see and are affected by that single long wait for a bus.

Stats that only count the long headways can give the erroneous impression that they don’t occur often enough to be a problem. Stats that only report average headways will not see a problem at all because all buses are present even if they are running in packs.

With a six-minute wide target for acceptable headways, a service that runs more often than every 10 minutes will only count the one very wide headway as being off-standard, while a parade of buses bunched behind it are considered to be “on time” for headway reliability. This is utter nonsense as any would-be rider will know.

These are fatal flaws in TTC service quality reporting.

Continue reading

Where is my Streetcar?

TTC website and related services claim to provide riders with information about streetcar and bus routes so that riders have up-to-date information. This is critical not just for schedule changes, but many diversions and special services related to construction, street festivals, civic events, to name a few.

Alas, the actual structure and behaviour of the TTC’s website works against easy navigation. Information is scattered in different parts of the site. Some of it is out of date. Some of it is incorrect and contradictory. Some notices that should be there just don’t exist at all.

The current site is the product of a redesign that is now about a year old. There has been some tweaking along the way, but the site still leaves a lot to be desired. This article is an exploration of the TTC website structure as it relates to current service information and planned changes.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 12:50pm: Sundry typos and grammatical fixes.

The Short Read

The TTC Website has evolved since the current version went live. It was far from perfect then, and has since grown additional problems even as those from version one were fixed.

This article looks mainly at service information, probably the most common reason someone would go to the TTC site. There is a big problem that this information is scattered through many places and is rarely complete on one page. Attempts have been made to cross-link some pages, and more of the frequently used pages have gained banner links on the main page.

However, the whole thing has a feeling of being built and maintained by multiple people who do not talk to each other, and who do not explore the various places information might hide to ensure that “their” part of the site is consistent and complete.

This compounds problems that arise when the announced version of services do not match what is actually operating. You might or might not track down information about your route, or even worse be given wrong info. A related problem is that trip prediction and planning apps do not necessarily use the live configuration of routes and can mislead riders about how they might travel and where vehicles actually are.

The TTC really needs to do a thorough review of how it publishes service information and ensure that “one stop shopping” is available for information about routes, or where appropriate, areas of the city that are affected by multiple changes.

Continue reading

Service Quality on 85/985 Sheppard East: May-June 2022

This article continues a series reviewing service quality on major routes lying primarily in Scarborough. See also:

Routes still to come in this series include:

  • 102/902 Markham Road
  • 43/943 Kennedy
  • 68/968 Warden
  • 38 Highland Creek

Routes in the Eglinton-Kingston corridor will be reviewed as part of a “red lane” update in the Fall.

Service on Sheppard East has three distinct components:

  • The main 85 route operates from Don Mills Station to Rouge Hill GO Station with a short turn service to Meadowvale Loop and limited service on a branch to the Toronto Zoo.
  • The express service operates two branches from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Town Centre (985A) and to Meadowvale (985B). Weekend service was restored on May 8, 2022. The express service is scheduled to operate with articulated buses.
  • A separate branch operates between Yonge-Sheppard and Don Mills Station providing a surface alternative to Line 4 Sheppard Subway.

Here is the summary information for schedules in effect during May and June 2022.

85 Sheppard East Local Service

985 Sheppard East Express

The service in effect until May 7 is shown below. Express service was suspended on weekends as part of the pandemic cuts. Sheppard East is an unusual route in that the “express” service runs more frequently than the “local” service. The express portion of the route extends east to Morningside Avenue during peak periods. During off-peak periods, the express service ends at Midland where the 985A branch turns south to Scarborough Town Centre.

On May 8, the weekend express service was restored. Note that there was no corresponding reduction in the local service, and so this was an improvement to the route.

Continue reading

TTC Announces 2022 Tiff Diversions

Updated September 7, 2022 at 3:30pm: The TTC has updated its description of the 504 King diversion to reflect the fact that the King/Sumach intersection is not yet open. All east end 504 streetcars will run as 504B between Broadview Station and Church. There will be no service on Sumach/Cherry to Distillery Loop.

The Toronto International Film Festival will block King Street again this year causing chaos on transit service downtown. However, the planned diversions are different for 2022 given that 504 King is already broken into two routes, east and west, thanks to various construction projects.

Here is the map of the planned service. (Sorry about the resolution. This is what is on the TTC’s site.)

Update: The map below has been revised to show only the 504B service. It also shows the Dufferin/Queen diversion in Parkdale, but as I write this, many buses are now operating via King Street both ways.

The 504C bus (the west end service already diverting around construction at Shaw Street) will divert around Tiff via Spadina, Richmond/Adelaide and University Avenue. Given the lack of bus-based transit signal priority in this area, the buses should spend a lot of time waiting to make turns.

The 504C bus now terminates at York, but it will be extended to loop via George, Front and Jarvis (another badly congested street). Extra service will be provided, according to the TTC, but as extras don’t show up on the vehicle tracking apps, riders will be frustrated in knowing when or if something will show up.

Meanwhile the King car will operate with a 504B service from Broadview Station to Church, and a 504A service to Distillery Loop (assuming that the King/Sumach intersection is actually open by then). This could very well be another case of the TTC issuing customer information that is not grounded in the reality of what is happening on the street.

The 503 Kingston Road service will be reduced to a shuttle between Bingham and Woodbine Loops on Kingston Road.

This operation is planned to occur from 5 a.m. Thursday, September 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 12, as well as from 3:30 to 6:15 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, September 12 and 13, 2022. It is not clear how the transition will occur for the PM peak periods on September 12/13.

The 304 King Night Bus is supposed to run from Broadview to Dundas West Station, but I suspect that it will have to divert around Tiff at least for the period of September 8-12 due to the Tiff Festival setup in the road lanes of King Street.

Service Changes Effective September 4, 2022 (Updates)

Updated September 3, 2022 at 8:45am: Additional diversion details with maps added.

Updated September 3, 2022 at 1:40pm: Photos of Church & Carlton added.

Updated September 3, 2022 at 4:10pm: Route of 506 shuttle bus clarified.

Updated September 5, 2022 at 7:30am: Additional details regarding 504 King and 63 Ossington diversions which are not yet operating as advertised.

Updated September 10, 2022 at 6:25pm: The City of Toronto has announced that the KQQR intersection and construction will switch to “stage 3” configuration on Tuesday, September 13. Construction work on College Street will begin on Monday, September 12. There is no announced re-opening date for King & Sumach yet.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 10:15pm: As of about noon today, the 504C King bus was operating via the “Stage 3” KQQR routing using Parkside Drive.

Some of the streetcar service changes originally planned for September 4 will not occur on that date because of construction projects that are running late.

503/504 King/Kingston Road Diversion via Queen & Parliament

The construction at King and Sumach is not yet complete and this will have the following effects:

  • The 503 Kingston Road cars will continue to divert via Queen & Parliament to route.
  • The 504A King to Distillery cars will be routed nominally to Broadview Station via Queen & Parliament, although I suspect there will be a lot of short turns as their schedules do not have enough running time for this.
  • The 504B King to Broadview Station cars will continue to divert.

The 504/506 shuttle bus which, at least in theory, provided service to the Distillery District, will not be continued due to low ridership. One might observe that the appalling headways on this route contributed to its invisibility and low use.

Riders are advised to use the 121 Esplanade/River service instead.

KQQR Project Diversion

The TTC has a handout for the change to the 504C west end bus diversion around both the Roncesvalles project and the new project at King & Shaw starting this month.

Note that this map shows the 504A service restored to Distillery Loop which is not yet the case (see above).

Updated September 5 at 7:30 am: Although the new diversion via Parkside and The Queensway was supposed to begin on September 4, buses are still operating via Roncesvalles. Also, the south leg of the KQQR intersection is not yet open, and so the diversions through Parkdale via Triller to King eastbound and Dufferin to Queen westbound are still in effect.

The intersection of King and Shaw has not closed yet, and eastbound buses are operating straight through without diverting via Douro Street. Westbound buses are diverting via East Liberty Street as shown on the map.

According to the City’s project site, the north leg of the KQQR intersection is to close on September 6, but the same page also advertised the opening of the south leg on September 2.

At Dundas West Station, 504 King buses appear to still be loading on the street, not in the loop, based on tracking data from NextBus.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 10:15pm: As of about noon today, the service was operating via Parkside Drive as shown in the map below.

63 Ossington King/Shaw Diversion

In addition to the diversion of bus replacement service for the 504 King car shown above, the 63 Ossington bus will change its south end loop as shown below.

Updated September 5, 2022 at 7:30 am: The extended loop had not yet gone into operation because the King & Shaw intersection is still open.

506 Carlton Diversion

By September 4, the work at Church & Carlton was supposed to be complete and the streetcar diversion for the Bay-to-Bathurst project was supposed to begin via Bay-Dundas-Ossington. However, there was a surprise thanks to Toronto Hydro at Church and Carlton where a vault under the intersection conflicts with the new, lower foundation that the TTC would have installed.

Pending a resolution of this problem, the 506 Carlton cars will divert via Parliament-Dundas-Ossington.

The 506 shuttle bus was already planned to operate from Ossington to Castle Frank Station, and so it will cover the extended diversion to Parliament Street although how the transfer connection to the streetcars at Gerrard will work is not yet clear. The service announcement on the TTC’s website does not include a map showing the relationship between the shuttle bus and the diverted streetcar.

Update: A reader has advised that there are notices showing that the bus will divert via Sherbourne, Gerrard and Parliament to retain a connection with the streetcars at Parliament and Gerrard. The stop on Carlton at Ontario will be skipped.

Here is the state of the Church/Carlton intersection on September 3, 2022: