TTC Transit Expansion Update

At its February 10, 2021 meeting, the TTC Board receive a long report entitled Transit Network Expansion.

The raison-d’être for the report is to obtain the authorization to increase staffing by 34 positions that would be funded by Metrolinx, but would be part of the TTC’s stucture. Many aspects of projects underway by Metrolinx depend on TTC input and acceptance because they affect lines the TTC will operate and, at least partly, maintain. A new Transit Expansion Assurance Department within Engineering & Construction. The authorization include provision for temporary expansion beyond 34 should this be required.

This move is intriguing because it implies Metrolinx has accepted that it cannot build new lines completely on their own without TTC input, especially when they will operate as part of the TTC network.

The report also requests authorization for:

[…] the Chief Executive Officer, in consultation with the City Manager, City of Toronto where applicable, to negotiate a Master Agreement and/or other applicable Agreements with the Province and/or any other relevant provincial agency for the purposes of the planning, procurement, construction, operations, and maintenance of the Subway Program, in accordance with Board and City Council direction, and to report back to the Board on the results of such negotiations. [pp. 2-3]

There is a great deal more involved in building and operating transit projects than holding a press conference with little more than a nice map. Now comes the hard part of actually doing the work. Whether Metrolinx will negotiate in good faith remains to be seen, but the TTC and Toronto appear to be less willing to hide Metrolinx’ faults in light of the Presto screwups.

Another recommendation has a hint that all is not well with consultations, as that should be any surprise to those who deal regularly with Metrolinx.

Request Metrolinx to conduct meaningful engagement with the TTC’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) as part of the Project Specific Output Specification (PSOS) review and design review for all projects within the provincial programs. [p. 3]

The operative word here is “meaningful”. ACAT has already complained of difficulties with Metrolinx including such basics as poorly designed elevators on the Eglinton Crosstown line that cannot be “fixed” because they have already been ordered.

Right from the outset, the TTC claims to have a significant role, a very different situation from the days when Metrolinx claimed it would be easy for them to take over the subway system.

The TTC continues to play a key role in the planning, technical review, and implementation of all major transit expansion projects in Toronto and the region. These include the Toronto Light Rail Transit Program and the provincial priority subway projects, referred to collectively as the “Subways Program”: the Ontario Line; the Scarborough Subway Extension; the Yonge North Subway Extension; and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. [p. 1]

In support of the staffing request, the report goes into great detail on many projects:

Two projects are not listed among the group above, but there is a description buried in the section on Bloor-Yonge expansion.

  • Overall subway system capacity and service expansion
  • Any discussion of the Line 2 renewal project

There is no discussion at all about renewal and expansion of surface service. This is just as important as new lines, but it is not seen as “expansion” with the political interest and funding that brings. Yes, this is a “rapid transit” report, but the core network of subway lines dies without the surface feeder routes, and many trips do not lie conveniently along rapid transit corridors.

The map below shows the location of most of the projects, but there are some odd inclusions and omissions.

  • The RapidTO bus corridors are not included.
  • City-funded GO stations at St. Clair/Old Weston, Lansdowne, King/Liberty, East Harbour and Finch/Kennedy are shown.
  • GO funded stations at Woodbine Racetrack, Mount Dennis, Caledonia and Park Lawn are shown.
  • The planned improvement at between TTC’s Dundas West and GO’s Bloor station is not shown, nor is any potential link between Main and Danforth stations.
  • SmartTrack stations are shown, but there is no discussion of how GO or ST service would fit into the overall network.

The following two maps have attracted a lot of attention, although they do not tell the full story. Much as I am a streetcar/LRT advocate, the presence of the entire streetcar network here is misleading, especially in the absence of the RapidTO proposals. Some of the streetcar lines run in reserved lanes, although thanks to overly generous scheduling some of them are no faster than the mixed-traffic operations they replaced (notably St. Clair). However, most of these routes rank equivalently to the bus network in terms of transit priority. If we are going to show the streetcar lines, why not the 10-minute network of key bus route?

The map is also distorted by having different and uneven scales in both directions. The size of downtown is exaggerated while other areas are compressed.

For example, the distance from Queen to Bloor is, in reality, half that of Bloor to Eglinton and one quarter of Eglinton to Finch. It is also one quarter of the distance from Yonge west to Jane or east to Victoria Park. For comparison, the TTC System Map is to scale, and it shows the city in its actual rectangular form.

This map gives an impression of coverage, but masks the size of the gaps between routes as one moves away from the core. Bus riders know all about those gaps.

By 2031, the network is hoped to look something like this. No BRT proposals are shown, but we do see the waterfront extensions west to Dufferin, and east to Broadview (East Harbour). Also missing are the GO corridors which, by 2031, should have frequent service and (maybe) attractive fares. They are (or should be) as much a part of “Future Rapid Transit” as the TTC routes.

This map is trying to do too much and too little at the same time. It also reveals a quite selective view of “regional” transit.

I am not trying to argue for a map that shows every detail, but it should exist (a) in scale and (b) in formats with overlays showing major parts of the network and how they relate to the overall plan. When people concentrate on the pretty coloured lines, they tend to forget the other equally important parts of the network.

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Waterfront East LRT Virtual Public Meeting

Updated February 16, 2021 at 10:00 pm: The discussion of the new design for Union Station has been updated with additional info from the Waterfront Transit Team describing the smoke control design of the station as well as a clarifying of the change in elevation of the tracks. Thanks to them for these details.

Updated February 18, 2021 at 6:00 pm: Additional and revised drawings from the public presentation on February 17 have been added to this article.

Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto and the TTC will hold an online public meeting on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm with updates on design work for the eastern leg of the Waterfront LRT to Cherry Street and associated changes to Queens Quay East.

The presentation deck for this meeting is online, and there are introductory videos by Nigel Tahair, the program manager in City Planning, available from the project’s website. All drawings in this article are taken from that presentation, or from the condensed version used at the public meeting.

[Full disclosure: I have participated in Advisory Committee meetings for this project, but have not published info from these discussions as they were works in progress.]

This project has been in the works for a very long time. When the Cherry Street service began in June 2016 (itself the subject of a long design process for the West Don Lands), the intent was always to continue south and link up with a line on Queens Quay East. Design work for that branch of the LRT is finally underway. Along the way it has been diverted by issues such as appropriate method of linking Union Station to the waterfront, development options in the Cherry/Queens Quay neighbourhood and the role of the proposed Ontario Line.

The current work arises from a motion at Executive Committee on December 10, 2020:

City Council direct the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to report back on the recommended schedule and funding requirements for the Union Station to Queens Quay Link and the East Bayfront Light Rail Transit section of the Waterfront Transit Network, including phasing options and an updated business case, as part of an update on Waterfront Transit Network priorities prior to the 2022 Budget process.”

Project Scope

The study covers three segments of the line:

  • Area 1: The existing Bay Street tunnel and the future junction at Bay & Queens Quay.
  • Area 2A: The original scope of the surface section extending to just east of Parliament Street.
  • Area 2B: The extended surface section from east of Parliament and north to Distillery Loop on Cherry Street.

Note that in the map below, the alignment of Cherry Street is the “new” street that will be built as part of new Port Lands across what will become Villiers Island. The new street jogs west south of the Gardiner Expressway rather than east.

Because expertise in underground construction lies with the TTC, they are designing Area 1. Waterfront Toronto is responsible for Area 2.

The study is also looking at staging options that could extend the scope south and east into the Port Lands.

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TTC Board Meeting: February 10, 2021

The TTC Board met on February 10 with a thicker-than-usual agenda including:

  • A review of the Five Year Corporate Plan Status & CEO’s Report
  • A report on liquidated damage provisions within the contract for additional streetcars
  • Proposed asbestos removal projects at St. Patrick and Queen’s Park Stations
  • An update on the Presto contract with Metrolinx, and on the TTC’s pursuit of information on a possible replacement system from other vendors
  • An update on the Fair Pass program

The Board spent considerable time on the proposed shutdown of the SRT. Please see my original article Bye, Bye Scarborough RT on this issue which has been updated to reflect their debate and decision.

The Transit Network Expansion report also deserves its own article and will be reviewed separately.

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Will the TTC See Any Federal Transit Subsidies?

On February 10, 2021, the federal government announced a $14.9 billion plan for transit infrastructure over the period 2021-2028. Spending would start at a relatively low level with $5.9 billion spread over the first five years, but would then ramp up to $3 billion annually in what is supposed to be a permanent program.

The ink was hardly dry on the announcement when there were great huzzahs! from various circles that finally these was going to be federal money in transit. Suspicious soul that I am, I went looking to the backgrounder with more details, but came up dry.

For as long as anyone can remember, there has been a huge problem with the difference between announcements, “commitments” and actual spending. Following the money can be like a game of Three-card Monte where you’re never sure if there was a Queen on the table to begin with. The gullible marks believe that they can follow the Queen and are astounded when she is not there.

Before Toronto starts to spend billions, it is important to understand two things:

  • This is a national program. Assuming that the pot is divided based on population, Ontario will get about 40% of this or $6.36 billion over eight years. Toronto proper (as opposed to the GTA or the Census Metropolitan Area) is about 20% of Ontario. This leaves the City with about $1.27 billion. This would build a few subway stations at current prices.
  • The feds usually defer to the provinces in allocating funding, and so Ontario would control which projects were favoured. Queen’s Park could choose to spend all of Toronto’s share on “Ontario” projects built within the City, notably the Ontario Line and the Scarborough Subway Extension.

Rummaging around in Infrastructure Canada’s website, I came upon an interesting pie chart for an earlier program, the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, or ICIP for short. Although about $6.8 billion is earmarked for Ontario, $6.12 billion is unallocated. The basic problem is that the feds cannot approve spending if the province does not make an application.

A not-uncommon problem with funds like this is that they don’t really exist until something is approved, and if they are not spoken for by a drop-dead date (usually the end of a fiscal year), the funding evaporates. Note that according to this chart the cutoff date for intake of projects was in October 2019, and only 16 applications with a value of $651 million are awaiting review.

This led me to download the project list to see where the approved money went. Here is a subset of all projects with an approved value of $1 million or more in descending order. The list includes all projects under the five headings above although the lion’s share of the funding is in the transit group. It also includes two projects funded through the Infrastructure Bank (which is a separate source) for completeness.

The largest allocation is to the GO Transit ON-Corr (formerly RER) program, followed by the Ottawa LRT Stage 2. These are the only two items above $1 billion.

Toronto rapid transit projects are not well represented on this list. The only substantial amount ($333 million) is allocated to the Finch West LRT. Smaller amounts for design work are allocated to the Relief Line, SmartTrack, Eglinton West and Eglinton East. There is a lot of money for GO expansion.

I wrote to Infrastructure Canada asking for clarification of the relationship between various programs and to determine whether any of them overlapped such as funding this week’s announcement with unspent money from an earlier program.

I asked:

  1. Is any of the $14.9 billion already earmarked for previously announced projects such as the Scarborough Subway?
  2. What is the status of the unallocated $6.12 b in the ICIP? Is it still available, over and above the $14.9 b, to fund projects?
  3. Does this announcement have any effect on the federal gas tax which flows to provinces now in support of transit projects?

In reply to the first question, Infrastructure Canada replied (in an email of February 12, 2021) that the $15.9 billion is all new money.

1. The announcement for a permanent public transit funding made on February 10, 2021 provides $14.9 billion for public transit projects over eight years, which includes permanent funding of $3 billion per year for Canadian communities beginning in 2026-27. This funding is separate from funding currently available under integrated bilateral agreements in place with provinces and territories, and will complement the efforts of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.  

In the first five years, $5.9 billion will be made available starting in 2021 to support the near-term recovery of Canadian communities by:

Building major public transit projects and provides dedicated planning funding to accelerate future major projects.

Supporting the deployment of zero-emission vehicles and related infrastructure, complementing the work of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

Meeting the growing demand for active transportation projects, including by building walkways and paths for cycling, walking, scooters, e-bikes, and wheelchairs.

Helping Canadians living in rural and remote areas travel to and from work more easily and access essential services, by working with rural, remote, and Indigenous communities to identify and create transit solutions that meet their needs.

This is new funding for public transit. Further details on the near-term funding announced on February 10, will be shared in the coming months.

The funding announced also delivers on the government’s commitment to provide $3 billion annually in permanent support for public transit. This funding will become available in 2026.

Over the coming months, the government will seek to facilitate partnerships between all orders of government, Indigenous communities, transit agencies, and other stakeholders to develop an approach to permanent public transit funding that offers the greatest benefits to Canadians.

With respect to the unallocated ICIP funds:

2. Under the existing Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, which is delivered through bilateral agreements, provinces and territories are responsible for submitting their infrastructure funding priorities to the federal government for funding consideration and approvals.

The unallocated funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program continues to remain available to Ontario communities for their funding priorities.

Infrastructure Canada continues to work with the Government of Ontario on their priority transit projects.

As for the gas tax allocated to provinces:

3. The recent announcement for permanent public transit funding has no bearing on the federal Gas Tax Fund or communities’ allocations under the Fund.

As part of COVID-19 response efforts, the Government of Canada delivered its full annual federal Gas Tax Fund allocation early this year to provide $2.2 billion quickly to local communities so they have the resources available to start projects now that will create jobs and help revive local economies.

It is good to know that funding from other sources is not affected, but equally important to note that Ontario is still sitting on (in the sense that the money is not yet applied for) $6.12 billion in ICIP, an amount close to all they will received under this week’s announcement over the next eight years.

Infrastructure Canada concluded by saying:

Infrastructure plays a vital role in promoting economic growth, creating jobs and improving our quality of life. This is why we continue to work closely with the Province and ask that Ontario prioritize its projects and submit complete funding applications in a timely manner, so that we can get investment funds moving and get Ontarians working this construction season.

Hint. Hint. Ontario. Apply for this money so that we can actually get people to work.

There is a basic problem with stimulus programs because the desire is to spend as soon as possible to get the effect of new money flowing to jobs. The big projects like new subway lines are still in the design stage, and much construction will not begin for several years. Indeed, Toronto once faced a problem where it could not spend all of its allocated stimulus funding, and the TTC soaked up this money by making a huge purchase of buses. This sort of ad hoc spending does not establish priorities based on need, but simply on the speed at which cash can be shovelled out the door.

There may be $6.12 billion looking for a home, but spending it soon will be a challenge.

The bottom line in all of this is that the federal announcement’s heart is in the right place, but the money that will come to Toronto and the GTHA is small compared to our needs. Every bit helps, but the danger now is that with an announced program, the federal taps will be turned off.

Recycling the SRT

The ink was barely dry on the TTC’s recent proposal that service on the SRT end in mid-2023 when the inevitable question was posed: what should be done with the infrastructure and right-of-way afterwards?

A scheme floated several years ago would have converted the elevated structure between McCowan and Midland Stations to something like the High Line park in New York City. That is certainly an option once the line is no longer needed to carry transit vehicles.

At the City Council meeting of February 3-5, 2021, Councillors Josh Matlow and Paul Ainslie, never fans of the Scarborough Subway, proposed the following motion. Council ran out of time and debate was deferred to a future meeting. However, the issues here deserve attention now, specifically at the TTC Board meeting planned for February 10, 2021.

Councillor Josh Matlow, seconded by Councillor Paul Ainslie, recommends that:

1. City Council request the City Manager to report to the June 1, 2021 meeting of Executive Committee on options for Scarborough transit that includes a:

a. technical assessment of moving forward with the Scarborough Light Rail Transit, including length of construction time and new platform location at Kennedy Station;

b. feasibility study and cost estimate of converting the elevated Scarborough Rapid Transit structure to an above-grade Bus Rapid Transit; and

c. feasibility study and cost estimate of removing the elevated Scarborough Rapid Transit structure and operating a Bus Rapid Transit at-grade.

2. City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission Board to release the “Integrity Assessment for Life Extension/Continued Operation” report by Bombardier, in partnership with WSP Canada Inc. and CH2MH, referenced in the Fleet Life Extension – Line 3 Scarborough report to the Toronto Transit Commission Board on May 8, 2018 to City of Toronto residents as a public attachment to the aforementioned item on the Toronto Transit Commission’s website.

The likelihood that Council would approve another study of the LRT option for this corridor is dim, at best. This is an extremely contentious issue debated many times under clouds of conflicting information about various technologies. While I have always supported the LRT option going right back to its origin fifty years ago, I have no illusions that we are about to see it emerge soon, if ever as a contender.

Doug Ford’s government took control of the Scarborough Subway Extension project and will bull through with it no matter what. According to the most recent Infrastructure Ontario update, the contract for tunneling will be awarded in spring 2021, and it is hard to think of anything that will derail this. Cost overruns and delays may be in the future, but far too much political ego is on the line to change course today barring a financial catastrophe that prevents the SSE (and many other projects) from going ahead.

At this point, a review of the work involved to reactivate the LRT proposal would be a diversion. That ship has sailed. Also, to be quite blunt, in the current political climate it is likely than any LRT study would be tweaked to present a worst case scenario.

However, the BRT proposal is worth study, and this should begin immediately to inform the plans for a bus replacement service. Conditions on segments of the line differ, and this should not be seen as an “all or nothing” situation.

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A Review of Fare Structures

This article has four parts:

  • An introduction and overview of the history of fares in Toronto, particularly on the TTC.
  • A short discussion of technology especially as it relates to Presto.
  • A review of various schemes for building a tariff and charging fares.
  • An overview of the fare systems in several major cities.

The TTC’s fare structure review is now underway. See: 5-Year Fare Policy and 10-Year Fare Collection Outlook. Recently, I wrote about their rider survey: A Curious Study of Fare Options. Other proposals float to the surface from time to time including those from the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Metrolinx. Both of these would shift Toronto to some form of zones or fare-by-distance in a bid to “integrate” the city transit system tariff with those of surrounding regions.

Lurking in the background is Metrolinx, an organization not exactly noted for sensitivity to local concerns. After beginning some years ago with work on a “transformational” change that would have robbed riders within Toronto to fund lower 905/416 cross-border fares, Metrolinx backed off. However, they are now back at “transformational” planning which could impose a fare-by-distance scheme on the entire GTA.

In particular, we do not know whether this will be a truly collaborative design and reflect the input of local transit agencies, or will be imposed by fiat from Queen’s Park making any work the TTC and others do now irrelevant.

This article will not propose a new scheme. That would imply I somehow have access to stone tablets with the One True Word on the subject, and that I am already wedded to one scheme in spite of the plethora of ways one might calculate and charge fares. There are many variables and issues such as the level of subsidy available, the scope of a unified system, and the goals transit is supposed to achieve.

We cannot simply propose a new scheme without debating these underlying issues, and anyone who avoids the policy debate is leaving out the most important, foundational part of a study.

This article is intended to tell some of Toronto’s history, and to look at the many options for constructing a new tariff.

Fares are a sensitive topic, and the details bring out more of the “dark side” about how each type of riders would be affected, and what the implementation and operating costs and procedures would entail. A common problem is that proponents of new schemes inevitably present their “solution” in sunnier terms than detailed review might justify.

The fundamental question of any fare system must answer is this: what are we trying to achieve? Transit has many goals, but actually paying for itself is not the only one. There are economic issues (social equity, mobility), development issues (transit enabling and/or requiring density of jobs and housing), and environmental issues (trip diversion from autos, reduction of road-building). Some of these have a quantifiable value, others have soft benefits and costs such as avoided personal expenditures and the value of commuting time.

There is no one “right” way to charge fares without also being very clear about which of these goals are important, and how the tariff will address them. Benefits and penalties are inherent in any fare scheme, and these should be recognized, not papered over to “sell” any model.

Some goals will produce conflicting results. For example, if we wanted to shift people out of cars, there would be good, inexpensive transit reaching into the commuter shed well beyond downtown. This could involve free parking, reduced fares on (or subsidies to) local transit for “last mile” links, and a lower fare-per-km than a strict fare-by-distance model might otherwise bring. All of this would confer benefits on (usually) affluent commuters in the name of an environmental good, while placing a relatively higher cost on transit for shorter trips. Such conflicts are inevitable and they require openly and honestly balancing the goals of the fare system.

A vital question separate from how one builds the tariff is what proportion of system revenue should come from fares, and what from the public purse? This is directly related to service quality because the amount of revenue, wherever it might come from, affects the level of service that can be provided. If transit agencies are fighting for every dollar, then any move that might affect their revenue stream will be resisted. Conversely, riders will not take kindly to fare increases if they do not also see better service.

The complexity of the tariff in any city has a lot to do with the maturity of the technology used and the political decisions about how much riders will pay. Every city’s fare structure has a long history affected by geography, political organization, technology and business climate. “Our way” of doing things makes sense, or at least is an accepted practice, in each location, the result of decades of evolving trade-offs.

The Evolution of Toronto’s Fare Structure

In Toronto the two primary fare structures are flat fares and zones as a rough version of fare-by-distance.

Flat fares are charged for local travel in the City itself (aka the “416”), and in the regions around Toronto (primarily the “905”). There are free transfer arrangements within each region, but not across the 416/905 boundary. That is the motivation for a lot of talk about “unfair” transit fares. (There are no remaining zone fares in the 905’s transit network.)

Local fares include various schemes to make transit more attractive:

  • cheaper fares for riders who make many journeys (e.g. passes or their equivalent),
  • cheaper fares for specific classes of rider (seniors, students, children, low-income),
  • simplification of transfer rules to eliminate penalties associated with trip chaining (multiple short journeys).

Toronto’s fare structure evolved together with its history. The original single fare within what was then Toronto was a condition of the franchise granted to the Toronto Railway Company in 1891. As the city expanded and with the creation of the Toronto Transportation Commission in 1921, the single fare zone covered what we now think of as the “old City”. Service beyond was operated on a few radial lines with their own fares (such as the line to Lake Simcoe, later cut back to Richmond Hill), and by some suburban bus companies. Remember that most of what we now think of as the “inner suburbs” was then farmland and a collection of small towns.

With the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954 (itself still a cluster of former towns and cities), the renamed Toronto Transit Commission’s service territory expanded to roughly its present boundary. Zone fares applied outside of the old City and fragments of the inner suburbs that were blended into the “Central Zone” to simplify the layout. Suburban zones 1-5 covered the territory beyond the old City, although there was not much of a network there in 1954.

Map courtesy of Transit Toronto

By the early 1970s, the suburban zones had been collapsed so that Zone 1 was the old City (formerly the Central Zone) and Zone 2 was everything else within Metropolitan Toronto. Zones 3 and beyond were for a few outside-Metro services such as buses to Richmond Hill, Woodbridge and Port Credit, remnants of the former radial railways. Special tickets provided a cheaper cross-boundary fare than two individual adult tickets (33 cents vs 40 cents in the example below), but there was still a premium for that crossing.

With the TTC needing greater subsidies to operate into a much-expanded suburban area, politicians and riders were annoyed that they contributed to the TTC through their taxes, but paid a higher fare when crossing the boundary with the old City. The situation was further complicated by the subway’s growth beyond Zone 1 with its 1968 extensions pushing that zone further out, provided one did not transfer to a bus route. The physical layout of several stations once in Zone 2 reflects provision for fare lines that no longer exist.

Zone 2 vanished on January 1, 1973 and ever since, travel across the entire City of Toronto has been based on a single, flat fare with free transfers. Monthly passes were introduced in 1980. The two-hour transfer, in effect a limited-time pass, replaced the complex rules for transfer validity in 2018. This brought Toronto into line with transfer rules in many 905-region agencies.

The intent was to encourage multi-hop trip chaining, but an unlooked-for side effect was a fare increase on those riders whose trips actually take more than two hours. I will return to this later in the article.

For more details, please see Transit Toronto’s A History of Fares on the TTC.

Map courtesy of Transit Toronto

GO Transit, operated since 1967 by the province of Ontario, always used a zone-based fare structure that is nominally distance based, but which has many idiosyncrasies that built up over years as their network evolved. Co-fares are provided between GO and local systems in the 905, but their purpose is to lure riders onto transit rather than driving to GO’s extremely large inventory of parking. There is a point where building more parking simply is not a viable way to build demand. Moreover, parking addresses only one type of rider – the classic suburb-to-downtown commuter with their own vehicle.

Over the years, GO’s fare structure, although nominally distance-based, has been gerrymandered for various, changing goals including:

  • cheaper trips for long-haul riders,
  • cheaper trips for short-haul riders,
  • cheaper trips for “frequent flyers”,
  • free parking,
  • reduction of the cost to riders of transfers between GO and local transit, and
  • reduction of the cost to the public purse of supporting co-fares for transfers.

It is self-evident that these changes cannot address the same goals.

There are built-in assumptions to any fare structure, and similar issues, albeit with different solutions, can be found in many cities:

  • Is the transit system and any zones or distance-based fare organized around trips to and from a core area?
  • What is the granularity of zones or of distance increments, and are they a holdover from the complexity of fare calculations in the era before GPS and smart cards?
  • How long is one “trip” in time or space? When should a new fare be charged?
  • Are transfers free, or provided as a surcharge, or simply not available between some or all routes and modes in a network?
  • What is the relative cost of single fares and various discount levels?
  • Who is entitled to how great a discount?
  • Is the regional (usually rail) network truly integrated in the local fare structure, or is it separate?
  • Do fare calculations require some form of “tap off” to establish trip length?
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Bye, Bye Scarborough RT

Updated February 15, 2021 at 1:00 pm: A section has been added at the end of this article including the decisions taken at the February 10 TTC Board meeting as well as a few additional diagrams from the staff presentation.

In a report to the TTC Board for its meeting of February 10, 2021, management recommend that the Scarborough RT line, long beset by problems through its initial design and advancing age, be closed in 2023. Buses would replace the RT until the subway extension to Sheppard & McCowan opens in 2030.

Staff would consult with the community and Council about plans for replacement services, but the fundamental decision to close the SRT would not be on the table.

The next report with a final recommendation would come to the Board in fall 2021.

This article does not contain any commentary on the political fallout from this recommendation. I will leave that for another time.

Early days of the SRT with a 2-car train north of Kennedy Station

Although the TTC planned to keep the SRT alive until 2026 when the Scarborough Subway was originally slated to open, this is not practical given the ongoing deterioration of the vehicles. Indeed, I suspect that 2023 is a “saw off” target that gives enough time to organize replacement service and infrastructure, but that “as soon as possible” would be the unvarnished shutdown date if management had their way.

To keep the SRT running would require a large amount of maintenance and retrofit work during which part of the fleet would not be available and a parallel bus service would be required. One of the key problems is the obsolescence of the signaling and on-board control systems which would have to be replaced at substantial cost for a limited lifespan. This would also incur the problems of signal systems co-existence with all of the testing and validation needed during the transition.

Several options were considered for operating the SRT over the coming decade:

  1. Hybrid SRT and bus service. This would include major reconstruction and ongoing maintenance including the installation of a new signaling and on-board control system. Buses would supplement SRT service because part of the fleet would be unavailable during the transitional period.
  2. SRT operation to 2023 with new buses procured for the replacement service from 2023 to 2030.
  3. SRT operation to 2023 with spare buses in the current fleet to 2026 and new buses thereafter.
  4. SRT life extension to 2026.
  5. Purchasing used vehicles from the Vancouver SkyTrain system.
  6. Replacing the SRT fleet with new Mark III ICTS vehicles.

Options 4-6 were dropped from consideration for various reasons discussed later in this article. Option 1 is not recommended because of its cost and complexity. This leaves options 2 and 3 for more detailed study.

Common to both surviving options is a 2023 shutdown of the SRT. Judging by the budget projections, this would occur mid-year, but no specific date has been recommended.

Beyond that date, the options depend a lot on fleet plans and capital spending. With constrained budgets in coming years, option 2 suffers from the need to advance capital spending into the near term (buses for 2023 would have to be ordered soon) compared to option 3 which has more elbow room. To put this in context, the TTC has fleet renewal requirements in all modes that are not fully funded for the coming decade.

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TTC Service Changes Sunday, February 14, 2021

There will be few service changes in February 2021 in anticipation of the reassignment of bus services with the opening of McNicoll Garage at the end of March.

Weekday service will be trimmed in response to passenger demand on the following routes:

  • 2 Bloor-Danforth
  • 509 Harbourfront
  • 510 Spadina
  • 512 St. Clair

The 9 Bellamy and 913 Progress Express routes will be changed to operate via Progress Avenue. Bellamy buses will no longer serve stops on McCowan Road, Corporate Drive and Consilium Place (these are served by other routes).

The service changes are summarized in the table linked below.

2021.02.14 Service Changes (ver 3)

The project list has been updated to reflect construction on various parts of the streetcar system as announced by the TTC. This includes:

  • Overhead and station construction work on the east end of 506 Carlton.
  • Overhead reconstruction on various parts of 501 Queen.
  • The King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles project.
  • Reconstruction of Dundas West Station Loop including expansion of streetcar platforms.

Between the construction projects and the reduced streetcar service, the peak scheduled streetcars now number only 126 (AM) and 127 (PM). Out of a fleet of 204 cars, this leaves a lot of room for “maintenance spares”. We must hope that when the TTC puts the entire network back together again late in 2021 that they will have enough working cars to operate it.

In spite of the considerable surplus of streetcars, there are still bus trippers scheduled on 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton.

The bus fleet will operate at less than capacity with a scheduled peak service of 1,520 vehicles compared to the garage capacity of 1,675 and a fleet size of over 2,000. Run-as-directed (RAD) buses are not included in this total, although there are fewer of them now that “regular” service levels have been restored on many routes.

The project list also includes some items for 2022 from the City of Toronto’s map of planned construction work, TOInview. This includes:

  • Completion of the KQQR project from Queen to Dundas (stop modifications).
  • Reconstruction of Broadview Station Loop. The status of a proposed expansion of streetcar platforms is not yet known.
  • Track construction on College from Yonge to Bathurst, and at the intersection of Church & Carlton. Whether the TTC will add curves in the southeast quadrant here to simplify diversions is not yet known. In a previous project at Broadview & Gerrard, the “institutional memory” forgot that there were plans to add a north-to-west curve, and a once in 25 year opportunity was missed.
  • Replacement of the intersection of King & Shaw.
  • Reconstruction of Adelaide Street from Charlotte to Yonge. It is not yet clear whether this will only involve the removal of long-inactive track or the restoration of Adelaide as an eastbound bypass for King and Queen service between Spadina and Church.

Fifteen

Here we are at the end of January 2021. The days are getting longer. There is a vague sense of hope in the air for the spring to come not just with flowers and warmer weather, but a more civilized political climate and the beginning of the end of the Covid pandemic. That, at least, is an optimistic view.

January 30th is this blog’s birthday. A year ago none of us had any idea of the year to come and how much the landscape would change.

Each of us has been affected in different ways. The social and economic effects will be with us for many years, not just from the disease, but from the acceleration of changes that were already well underway. The context for many debates has shifted, become more urgent, and the future of our city does not lie in “business as usual” approaches.

In Toronto, transit continues to operate at a reasonable capacity level, although not without problems, because various governments regard this as a critical service. Riders in many cities are not so lucky. Less certain is the future when special subsidies evaporate and Toronto must make hard choices about what transit we need and how much we can afford.

The shift in travel patterns puts this question in a very different context than in years past. The TTC contemplated a multi-year service plan with quite modest demand growth coupled with the opening of a few new rapid transit lines. The plan was not “aspirational”. It did not ask “how much better could transit be and how can we achieve this”.

Such an outlook is rare in Toronto’s transit planning because the starting point is always “we can’t afford it”. This in a city and province happy to commit billions to road and subway construction of dubious merit. Better bus service? Not so much.

“Better” has a new meaning in 2021, and this includes:

  • The ability to board buses without fear of overcrowding.
  • Reliability of service to ensure travel is not delayed.
  • Coverage of service to areas beyond the classic core-area office towers.
  • Provision of service for work hours beyond the classic 9-to-5 pattern.

These have always been present, but they take on extra meaning for public health. Ridership beyond the core has always existed, but transit’s big job was that peak commuting demand. With that stripped away, the shortcomings in what remains are more evident.

Demand on the TTC’s bus network fell back from about 50 per cent of “normal” to just under 40 in the last quarter of 2020, with comparable drops on other modes. Compared to pre-covid times, streetcars and subways have consistently run below the bus network because work-from-home shifts affect their service areas much more. GO Transit, whose market is almost exclusively the core area commuter, sits at 5 per cent.

In this context, the plans for massive network expansion have a surreal quality, and yet they are still discussed as if the economic crisis we now face does not exist.

From one point of view, forging ahead with plans for growth is essential if only to make up for lost time and to provide badly-needed headroom when riding returns to “normal” levels. Whether it will, and how quickly this will occur in various markets, remains to be seen.

For many years, “normal” on the TTC meant overcrowded service where cost containment took precedence over real provision for growth. That is not a condition to which we should aspire. We should aim higher.

GO Transit’s challenge is more difficult because of its narrower market. The very people that have kept the TTC busy – workers in industry and essential services – are not GO Transit’s base. Even if commuter demand returns, growth on that network is hamstrung by the entrenched park-and-ride model used as the primary “last mile” access for GO customers. Local transit might assist, but this will be compromised by auto dominance and spending priorities in regions outside of Toronto, coupled with a Provincial attitude that local transit service is not their problem.

Last year, I wrote:

There is finally a recognition at Toronto Council that transit simply cannot get by on the crumbs that so-called inflationary spending increases produce. There is a huge backlog of spending required that, for many years, the City and TTC kept hidden from view lest the borrowing it would trigger frightened passing financial analysts.

But that is only half of the problem. Surface routes both inside Toronto itself and in the GTHA beyond have long been neglected as a vital part of the transit network. We cannot move everyone everywhere on a handful of commuter rail and subway lines.

[…]

[A] bigger challenge than getting a new rapid transit line, regardless of the technology, is to get money for better service everywhere, not just on whatever new bauble we manage to open once a decade.

From: Fourteen, January 30, 2020

Every government is entering a period where there will be calls to spend for recovery, but there will be limits, some political, some financial, to how much money is really available. Toronto is lucky to have a “City Building Fund” already baked into its taxation plans for the next five years, but that would be a harder sell today now than when Council approved the scheme to fund some of the transit and housing capital shortfalls.

There is no plan for new revenue to support day-to-day operation and service. For now, the City and TTC are propped up by very large provincial and federal subsidies. These will not last forever, and they might not last through 2021. Toronto has a “plan B” to get through the year, if need be, with reserve draws and trimmed capital spending, but that is no permanent solution.

I will not attempt to foresee what awaits us later in 2021 and beyond. However, without a substantial return to transit riding as we once knew it, the momentum for continued improvement will be hard to sustain. This has a compounding effect. If people stop believing in transit as a viable way, indeed the only reasonable way we can handle travel demands on a metropolitan scale, political support for better transit could evaporate.


Changing hats from transit, and looking at my own life, 2020 was a difficult year, but not critical for me as a retiree. Many have lost incomes, or must continue to work in dangerous circumstances, while managing family needs and an uncertain future.

The Internet, for all its wealth of resources, is not the same as being at real events be they a night at the movies, a play in a theatre, or a concert in a large hall surrounded by a living, breathing audience and artists. I long to be there again when it is safe, and fervently hope that as many organizations and venues survive as possible.

The performing arts community is in a deep recession. For all the joy that they bring, they are not “essential” in most political calculus. This is only one example of how the economic landscape had changed, and is unlikely to return to “business as usual” soon. There are many more, and they are all part of the city’s economic activity and drivers of transit demand.


Where do we go from here?

Much depends on the speed with which we collectively wrestle the pandemic to a manageable level if not to extinction. Only with a renewed economy and lifting the burden of extra health and social service costs can a city like Toronto start to think beyond just getting by.

Absent a major shift in government policy, I do not expect to see much change in spending plans. Big construction projects are bound up with a lot of political ego, and are hard to alter in the best of times. Today, they are sold as essential for economic recovery. Whether they build what is the most needed is quite another matter. Digging the hole takes precedence over where and why.

For 2021, I plan to continue my dogged pursuit of service quality. The TTC has a lot to answer for in the mismanagement of service reliability and in the under-utilization of its fleet. The gap between ongoing rider complaints and sunny management tales is too persistent and too wide to be ignored.

I also do not expect much change in support for the boring-but-necessary day-to-day transit service. We will get by somehow, but any capacity increase will be consumed by latent demand.

Few will run on the slogan: “Toronto deserves better bus service”.

Toronto deserves better politicians.


With luck, we will all be back here a year from now still recovering from a wild New Year’s Bacchanal. There will be real optimism, the sense of a better future after a dark past.

We will get there through the efforts of many people in the front lines who keep the wheels turning in so many aspects of our city, people we often take for granted. We will get there thanks to a combination of technological near-miracles, belief in facts and science, and the dedication of thousands whose lives we depend on.

A Curious Study of Fare Options

Updated January 29, 2021: The reference to Metrolinx fare integration studies has been updated to include a link to their late 2017 Draft Business Case and to my commentary on it.

The TTC has a study underway to look at future fare options that will lead, in about a year’s time, to a Five Year Fare Policy and Ten Year Outlook.

The study includes a questionnaire seeking feedback about what people would like to see in a new fare system. Curious fellow that I am, I took the study to see what questions might be posed, and whether there was any inherent bias in the options offered.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the list of things I might prioritize as a new way to spend fare revenue.

What is mind-boggling is the presence of four topics that are clearly part of the capital, not the operating budget, and which are never funded from the farebox:

  • Accessibility: New elevators, etc.
  • New vehicles
  • Critical repairs: All items shown in the list above are capital repairs.
  • Extending routes or building new ones: With the exception of bus routes where there is little infrastructure, these are substantial, multi-year commitments of capital often with subsidies from other governments.

Of particular note here is that the dollar value of each type of work is not shown, and so a respondent has no way to know what the effect on fares would be if these items were charged to fare revenue.

For example, in the 2020 Budget year, before the pandemic slashed ridership and revenues, the anticipated farebox take was $1.25 billion. This is less than the total capital spending, some of which is not yet funded, in each year for the coming decade. A big rise in fares would be required to make a substantial contribution to capital.

To put this in context, a five per cent fare increase (taking the adult Presto fare from $3.20 to $3.36 with proportionate increases in other fares) would generate about $62.5 million per year (with no allowance for lost ridership due to the higher cost).

The City’s property tax bill for 2021 includes a 1.5 per cent increase for John Tory’s City Building Fund, and this tax will increase at an additional 1.5 per cent each year to 2025. The new revenue it will generate in 2021 is estimated at about $50 million. This fund is intended to underwrite over $7 billion worth of the City’s share of various transit and housing projects. Most if not all of the projected funding is already allocated.

Is the TTC considering fare increases that would help fund the Capital Budget, and if so, how much do they hope to raise? What type of projects might be funded out of this new revenue stream?

Even more critically, what operational improvements such as better service would not be funded because fare revenue was paying for things like new signal systems and vehicles?

Two other topics also beg the question of just what riders are expected to pay for out of the farebox:

  • Fare Equity
  • Fare and Service Integration (Regional)

These are noble goals, but they should be funded from general revenues as City and Provincial priorities, not by taxing riders with a fare increase.

Many riders complain today that service in parts of the network is crowded and unreliable, but the TTC claims to be operating service at close to historic levels. Moreover, the classic TTC claim is that service levels are bounded by the size of the fleet. Both of these are not entirely true.

  • Because the traditional peak periods have yet to return on most routes, service operates at lower than historic levels.
  • The total scheduled peak vehicles (see table below) is well below the size of the fleet.
    • In the case of the streetcars, this is partly due to construction projects and to major vehicle overhauls that take advantage of reduced vehicle needs during 2021.
    • In the case of the buses, the requirements include the replacement of streetcars on some routes, but these vehicles will become available as construction projects wind down later in 2021. Even allowing for this, the fleet is substantially bigger than would be needed for industry-standard maintenance allowances.
Source: TTC Scheduled Service Summary, January 3, 2021

The bus fleet now numbers over 2,000 vehicles, and there are 204 streetcars. Buses required to substitute for streetcars are:

  • 501 Queen: 46
  • 504 King: 19
  • 505 Dundas: 8 (*)
  • 506 Carlton: 22 (*)
  • Total: 95

(*) Of the 30 buses on Dundas and Carlton, 12 of them also serve as trippers on bus routes.

The primary constraint on running more service is the provision of staff and the associated budget (or subsidy) to run more of the buses more of the time. There is some headroom for more “peak” period service, and outside of those few hours a day, there is much capacity for better service if only Toronto had the will to fund it. If new money is found anywhere for transit, that is where it should go. “Service” is what riders pay for.

Notable by its absence from the survey is any mention of a new fare system based on the distance travelled. Various proposals have floated from quarters such as Metrolinx and the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Although Metrolinx has not shown its hand publicly, they are still set on imposing a distance-based model on the GTHA to entrench their view of how fares should be calculated. This fits nicely with the prevailing political wisdom of “user pay”, but it utterly ignores other policy goals for transit and the long-standing fare structures in local transit systems.

In the Metrolinx view, rapid transit lines are considered as “premium” services and should attract a higher fare just as GO trains do today. Short trips would pay a flat rate, but at roughly 10km, fares would increase proportionate to distance travelled. The two-hour transfer would almost certainly disappear. Such a scheme would make long trips within Toronto more expensive, and reinstate the penalty on a series of short-hop trips or “trip chaining”. The goal? Subsidize cross-border trips to and from the 905 regions.

Metrolinx presented three schemes back in early 2016, and prepared to launch public consultation, but that was short-lived. I wrote about this situation at the time:

A big problem in Metrolinx fare proposals was their hope for a “zero sum” solution where new revenues (from riders lured to transit by cheaper fares, and higher fares charged to some existing riders) would offset losses (from cheaper rides for some existing riders, and lost ridership from fare increases on some trips).

[Added January 29, 2021] By late 2017, Metrolinx published a Draft Business Case for fare integration exploring various alternative fare structures, and I reviewed this in The Bogus Case for Fare Integration. In this report, Metrolinx at least acknowledges that there are two options: one is the zero sum arrangement of 2016, and the other requires “investment” (read “subsidy”) to offset new, lower fares for those who are penalized by the existing arrangement.

In due course, work on this appeared to stop, but it has not been forgotten.

The Board of Trade’s scheme uses a zonal system that is designed to allow trips inside Toronto, as well as short trips across the 416/905 boundary, to be taken for one fare, while longer trips (e.g. inner 905 to central Toronto) would pay more, although less than today’s completely separate fare on each side of the boundary. In this scheme too the two-hour transfer would probably disappear.

The fundamental problem here is that none of this is discussed in the TTC’s fare study. One of the most important questions riders might be asked is not even in the survey, nor is there any discussion of what various potential new fare schemes would do to riders’ day-to-day costs.

The TTC risks conducting a grand study without discussing a critical effect of “regional integration”. The problem is compounded by muddying the question of fares with potential support for capital projects and policy options that should not be funded from day-to-day operating revenue.

Does the TTC Board, and behind them the City of Toronto, have a hidden agenda to stiff riders for the cost of system and fare policy improvements? Or is this simply a case where nobody is paying attention?