An Alternative Ontario Line for Riverside?

This post is a departure from my usual reportage and takes us into the realm of “what would you do” advocacy.

The ongoing debate about Metrolinx’ proposed above ground route for the Ontario Line between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations turns on two issues:

  • The effect of a six-track wide shared GO+OL corridor on the neighbourhoods through which it will pass.
  • Whether the Ontario Line could be tunnelled.

The debate was recently clouded by a proposed shift in the OL’s alignment. Originally, the line would straddle the GO corridor in order to provide “across the platform” transfers with the outer two GO tracks at East Harbour. Metrolinx is now contemplating shifting both OL tracks to the north/west side of the corridor. This has several advantages as I discussed in a recent article, but it leaves the OL above ground.

The original configuration is shown below in a map from Metrolinx’ site. Note that North is at the right.

Putting the line underground on this alignment is very difficult because of constraints on the grade change between East Harbour and the (misnamed) Leslieville Station. Any descent is constrained by the cross-streets let alone the vertical difference between an East Harbour Station on the rail embankment and a Leslieville Station at Queen.

A neighbourhood group (The Lakeshore East Community Advisory Committee, aka LSE CAC) posed the question to me: is there a way to put the line underground? On the Metrolinx alignment, the simple answer is “no”, but that brings us to the question: why that alignment?

The original Relief Line would have crossed under the Don River on the line of Eastern Avenue with a station at Broadview as shown in the diagram below. The link with GO at East Harbour would not be as simple or direct as in the Metrolinx proposals where the OL and GO tracks and platforms are adjacent.

Metrolinx seeks to offload GO traffic from Union Station and sees transfers to the OL at East Harbour and Exhibition as a solution. However, changes to the planned layout at both stations have stripped the simple across-the-platform transfer for peak directions from their designs.

At Exhibition, only the westbound service would connect with the south side of the terminal station platform. Inbound (eastbound) GO riders would have to access the OL via an underpass. At East Harbour, if the alignment shifts to the north side of the station, the westbound GO track would be adjacent to the eastbound OL track, and there would be no direct link to the eastbound GO platform.

Metrolinx now describes the connections as more convenient rather than direct, but the attraction of a simple transfer to shift traffic has disappeared.

An alternative scheme, which I developed before Metrolinx plan to shift the OL to the west/north side of the rail corridor, uses the proposed eastbound tunnel under the rail corridor as its starting point. Instead of carrying just the eastbound track, it would house both directions, and they would cross the Don River on a dual track bridge south of GO’s trackage where a single eastbound bridge was proposed by Metrolinx.

A shared platform at East Harbour would be oriented to be as far west as possible and only one OL train length (not the full size of a GO platform). The east end of the platform (and hence the point where a descent underground could begin) is dictated by the proposed Broadview extension which would pass under East Harbour Station.

From that point, the line would turn east and descend through what is now largely vacant land and a laneway behind a heritage buildings on Eastern Avenue.

East of Booth Avenue, the line would swing north and join the original Relief Line alignment east of Logan.

The illustration below was prepared by the LSE CAC based on my proposal.

Courtesy of “Save Jimmy Simpson” / Paul Young

Here is the west end of this area. For reference, the Broadview Extension will cross just west (left) of the water tower (which is to be retained as a landmark in the new development here).

Source: Google Earth

Here is the east end of the area. Note that the vacant lot on the south-east corner at Booth and Eastern in this photo is now occupied by a self-storage building that would have to be removed.

Source: Google Earth

I have no illusions that this would be an easy alignment, but it has advantages over attempting to fit the Metrolinx route under ground:

  • The transition from above grade to underground would occur in largely vacant land and before the line must cross a major street (Eastern), preferably west of Booth so that this street would remain open.
  • The Leslieville Station is far enough from East Harbour that it does not constrain the vertical alignment in the same manner as the station would at Queen & Degrassi.

Potential issues include:

  • The City has plans for this land in the East Harbour development and they would have to be revised to accommodate the ramp and portal structure for the Ontario Line.
  • The OL structure would be close to the surface continuing its descent to Carlaw. This could affect utilities where the alignment crosses Booth, Eastern and Logan, as well as some properties along the curve between Eastern and Carlaw.

It is self-evident that an underground route from East Harbour to Gerrard will be more expensive than the Metrolinx proposal along the rail corridor.

Very bluntly, I could be more sympathetic to this issue if Metrolinx were not already pursuing underground options in Scarborough and on Eglinton West at great expense for blatantly political reasons.

This is a proposal for discussion.

Ontario Line Design Changes Again

Updated March 27, 2021: The reference to third rail power pickup for the Ontario Line was incorrect and has been changed. According to the December 2020 Preliminary Design Business Case the line will use 1500V DC overhead power supply.

As originally announced, the Ontario Line was intended to run along the GO Lake Shore East corridor between the Don River and Gerrard Street with the new rapid transit tracks straddling the GO transit line as shown in the map below.

Discussions with the Riverside and Leslieville neighbourhood have been fraught with concerns about the combined effect of the two new Ontario Line tracks, the stations, the expanded four-track GO corridor and the infrastructure needed for electrification. This has been the subject of previous articles and I will not rehash the issues here.

At a community meeting on March 25, 2021, an unexpected piece of news was revealed not by Metrolinx staff, but by City Councillor Paula Fletcher: Metrolinx has changed the design so that the Ontario Line tracks will run on the west side of the GO corridor.

I asked Metrolinx for their comment, and here is their reply:

As part of our planning, we have been exploring alternatives that will allow us to incorporate some of the feedback from the community. The updated plans are not yet final so it is too early to provide details or images.

One thing we are looking at is shifting both Ontario Line tracks to the west side in the corridor, rather than on either side of the GO tracks.

Once finalized, we will be sharing the updated plans related to the configuration with the community in the coming weeks at a public consultation.

We are still conducting environmental assessments for the area, which include a Joint Corridor Early Works Report and an Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the whole line.

Email from Metrolinx Media Relations, March 26, 2021

This has many implications including the total space needed for the six-track corridor, the placement of electrification infrastructure, the effect of stations on their neighbourhoods, and transfer provisions at the key East Harbour Station.

From a construction point of view there are benefits to keeping the OL tracks together:

  • There is no longer any need to tunnel under the rail corridor so that the eastbound track can reach its position south-east of East Harbour Station, nor to tunnel again for the tracks to rejoin at Gerrard before heading up Pape.
  • Only a single shared bridge over the Don River will be needed.
  • The two directions of the OL can share a centre platform rather than requiring dedicated platforms, including access elements like escalators and elevators.
  • Structures for GO can be better separated from those for the OL which will now lie beside the GO tracks, not astride them.
  • Construction of the OL should have less effect on the adjacent GO operations.

The possible downsides or side-effects include:

  • The consolidated eastbound and westbound platforms and station structures are now all on one side of the GO corridor possibly affecting areas and buildings that were previously outside of the construction area.
  • The minimum clearances for GO electrification will have a greater effect on the east side of the corridor because the eastbound OL track will no longer provide some of the separation needed from nearby buildings and vegetation.
  • The claimed benefit of across-the-platform transfer between GO and OL services at East Harbour is now reduced. All transfers will have to go down to a concourse level to switch between trains.

At the March 25 Metrolinx Board meeting, management presented an overview of the Ontario Line and the benefits of above ground construction. This alignment change was not mentioned at all. Notable by its absence was any reference to the convenience of across-the-platform transfers, a major selling point for the OL as a potential way to offload demand from Union Station.

When originally announced, the Ontario Line would provide across-the-platform transfers with GO at both East Harbour and Exhibition Stations to redirect some GO traffic to the OL and offload Union Station. At Exhibition, this design has already proved to be impractical and the OL station will be entirely north of the rail corridor. We appear to be on the verge of seeing a comparable change at East Harbour. This was a major selling point for the OL design.

As I discussed in a previous article, aspects of that presentation put a better spin on Metrolinx plans than might actually be deserved. With the change in the track layout, a further issue pops up: the proximity of buildings or vegetation to the electrified GO trackage.

Here is a diagram showing the minimum clearances from adjacent vegetation (mainly trees) on an electrified GO corridor:

In a context where buildings are nearby, the diagram changes a bit, but the basics are similar.

These drawings show a two-track GO corridor, but Lake Shore East will have four tracks, plus the Ontario line tracks. If this view looked northeast, the OL tracks would be on the left side, probably to the left of the pole holding the overhead system.

In that configuration, the “no vegetation” zone to the left (west/north) would be occupied by the OL itself which should have much less restrictive requirements for nearby growth because it uses overhead power at a much lower voltage than GO trains. However, on the right (east/south), the outermost GO track is now at the edge of the corridor and clearance requirements for electrification apply. [Corrected March 28/21 to reflect overhead rather than third rail power supply.]

An illustration of a park on the line must be seen in this light. This shows a mature tree immediately beside the sound wall and the overhead support poles. As shown, it is within the clear zone required for electrification.

In the management presentation, Metrolinx claimed that the Ontario Line will actually make the neighbourhood quieter, although they did not explicitly say “quieter than today”. This is something of a stretch because there will still be more GO trains, and many of them (thanks to the Bowmanville extension of GO service) may well be diesel.

This is an example of a fundamental problem with Metrolinx planning for this corridor: they conduct separate studies and community sessions for the Ontario Line and for the GO Expansion and Electrification program rather than producing a consolidated plan showing the effect of all three changes planned over the coming decade.

A further exaggeration, intended to show how all of this work has a beneficial end even though it might affect the community, lies in claims of environmental and congestion benefits of the project (regardless of its alignment).

All of the new transit riders on the Ontario Line are assumed to represent avoided auto trips complete with their congestion and pollution. There is no guarantee that fewer auto trips will be taken in the future due to a backlog of demand for road space, and due to population growth.

A common remark Metrolinx has made about The Big Move regional plan is that it will at best keep things from getting worse. In areas where there is already heavy traffic and congestion, it is not realistic to assume that the day the OL opens, roads will suddenly empty of cars. This is a bogus position, and Metrolinx should know better.

The original Ontario Line scheme was sold on its benefits for GO interchange and because it was claimed to fit within existing Metrolinx lands, more or less. Gradually these claims are coming unglued, although many of the underlying issues were clear the day the line was announced.

Postscript: An Alternate Alignment from the Don River to Carlaw

In my previous article, I alluded to a possible alignment that would splice the Ontario Line into the Relief Line’s alignment running up Carlaw from Eastern. From East Harbour, the OL would have travelled east parallel to Eastern Avenue and descended below grade, then veer north to hook into the Relief Line route at about Logan Avenue.

This scheme depended on the Ontario Line being entirely on the south/east side of the rail corridor at East Harbour rather than astride it (as in the original OL plan) or on the north/west side as in the revised plan.

With the proposed shift of the Ontario Line to be entirely on the north/west side of the rail corridor, this scheme is no longer feasible.

Over or Under? Can Metrolinx Make Up Their Mind?

The Metrolinx Board meeting on March 25, 2021, brought two contrasting views of “good” rapid transit projects to the fore exposing inconsistencies in the “official story” about building above or below ground.

On the Capital Projects front, many works ranging from LRT lines to GO upgrades are on the surface although, of course, the central portion of the Eglinton line is underground. Progress on the surface LRT lines is swift thanks to the avoidance of underground work and complex tunnel structures.

But at the end of the presentation, the “big news” is that prime bidders for both the Scarborough Subway and Eglinton West LRT tunnels have been selected and negotiations are underway on contract details. Some early works such as construction of the tunnel boring launch site at Sheppard/McCowan Station will begin in April.

The long history of debates about Scarborough’s transit network do not bear repeating. Suffice it to say that the underground option is oft touted as the only way to provide good transit, albeit at substantial cost.

According to a Metrolinx Blog article, the line will be tunneled in one bore from Sheppard south and west to Kennedy Station rather than in two separate bores meeting at Lawrence East. This simplifies some of the construction staging and eliminates the potential for major upheaval for Scarborough General Hospital at Lawrence & McCowan. The line will be a single bore 10.7m diameter tunnel according to the Board presentation by Matt Clark.

On Eglinton West, despite the availability of land for a surface LRT right-of-way and demand projections well within the capacity of surface operations, the line will be buried from the Humber River westward as dictated by Premier Doug Ford in his transit plan.

In both cases there will be fewer stations that would have existed with surface LRT options, and on Eglinton ridership projections are lower as a result. (Scarborough is a more complex case because one subway has been substituted for two, if not three LRT lines in a network.) Access time between surface and subway routes – a key item Metrolinx always mentions about its surface alignments – is not mentioned when they enthuse about coming tunnel construction.

So let’s hear it for tunnels!

Ah … but not so fast …

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Metrolinx Trims Yonge North Subway (Updated)

Updated March 24, 2021 at 10:00 am: In response to feedback about my remarks regarding the area around the “Bridge” station on the new Metrolinx alignment, I have added a section at the and reviewing the Langstaff Gateway Plan.

On March 18, 2021, Metrolinx released their Initial Business Case for the Yonge North Subway Extension (YNSE) to Richmond Hill together with a refinement, a Supplementary Analysis of their preferred option. There is also a short presentation deck on this subject on the agenda for the Metrolinx Board Meeting of March 25, 2021.

The IBC was originally completed in mid-2020 but it has not been public until now. Some aspects of it were reported at the time in the Toronto Star. (The report appears in the meeting agenda for September 10, 2020 in the private session.)

Updated March 21, 2021 at 9:20 am: A reference page linking to YNSE reports has been added for those interested in the proposal’s history.

The project chronology shows how long this extension has been in various planning stages. The Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis was published over a decade ago in 2009, and it was updated in 2013. Options studied at the time had more to do with staging than with alignment choices:

  • Option 1: A six stop extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre with intermediate stations at Cummer, Steeles, Clark, Royal Orchard and Langstaff.
  • Option 2: A phased extension first to Steeles including Cummer Station, with the segment north to Richmond Hill to follow.
  • Option 2A: In addition to the shorter subway extension, service on the GO Richmond Hill line would be improved to every 20 minutes in the peak period.

Regional growth plans tilted the preference to Option 1 as a way to support a node in Richmond Hill.

The fundamental problem which the IBC and its supplement seek to address is that the cost of the extension had grown to $9 billion in 2019 from an original estimate in the 2007 approved plan of less than $3 billion. The project was taken over by the province as part of its rapid transit upload after preliminary design and engineering by TTC and YRRTC (York Region’s rapid transit agency) showed a substantial increase in the cost.

Part, but certainly not all, of that change is explained by inflation, and one must wonder whether the original estimate was low-balled to gain approval for a project with political appeal in York Region. Another problem is that “cost” is reported in different ways by municipal and provincial planners, and it is not clear that all of the increase is on an apples-to-apples comparative basis.

In the June 2020 IBC, Metrolinx evaluated three options as shown on the map below.

  • Option 1 (turquoise) is the original alignment that follows Yonge Street to a station at Langstaff, and then swings east to a terminal at Richmond Hill Centre.
  • Option 2 (blue) includes a new stop “Bridge-West” at Highway 407 and a station at High Tech Road.
  • Option 3 (pink) turns off of Yonge at Kirk Drive, cuts under the Holy Cross Cemetery and follows the CN Bala Subdivision with stations at “Bridge-Centre” and an High Tech Road. This was the preferred alignment in the IBC.

Here is a closer view of the north end of the line showing all three options.

Option 3 shown in pink above is the preferred one for reasons I will describe below, but there were concerns that it cut under the corner of Holy Cross Cemetery. This led to the alignment proposed in the Supplementary Analysis.

At the Don River crossing, the revised alignment swings west and then turns east following a route to the CN Bala Subdivision (GO’s Richmond Hill corridor) further south than in the original Option 3 shown above. The subway runs under the CN corridor where it passes under the cemetery, and then surfaces to run alongside the railway tracks.

Another major change in the design is that some stations have vanished, although depending on how the budget works out, they could gain a reprieve. The affected stops are Cummer/Drewry, Clark and Royal Orchard.

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King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles March 2021 Update

Major construction at Toronto’s most complex streetcar junction will get underway on March 31, 2021. The City of Toronto issued a construction update notice on March 12 including the map below showing the configuration of traffic from March 31 to July 21.

During this phase of construction, there will be no through traffic on Queen Street west of Triller Avenue nor on Roncesvalles at Queen. The north gate of the carhouse will remain as a service access for streetcars and for a revised 504 King shuttle bus.

The King Shuttle will be broken into two segments:

  • 504G Dundas West Station to Roncesvalles Carhouse
  • 504Q Triller Avenue to Strachan Avenue

For service designs, please see my article on pending schedule changes effective March 28, 2021.

A single lane will be maintained in each direction for traffic between King Street and The Queensway. 501 Queen buses will divert via Dufferin and King Streets to use this link. Traffic on The Queensway will use the central lanes while construction in the curb lanes is underway

Westbound service on Queen from Dufferin to Triller will be provided by the 504Q shuttle looping via Dufferin, Queen, Triller and King. There will not be any eastbound service, and riders will have to go around the loop to travel eastward.

Pedestrian crossings will be shifted away from the intersection outside of the work zone, and there will be no crossing on the west side.

In the second phase of this project between July 22 and November 23, the connection to King Street will be closed off for construction and Queen/Queensway will reopen for through traffic. Details will follow in a later update.

The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair (Part III) (Updated)

This article is rather technical and is intended as an exploration of an alternate way of presenting dwell time statistics for routes to quickly identify where vehicles spend a lot of time, and in particular where there are extra stops near and farside of intersections.

Anyone who is interested in this discussion, please leave comments. The data presented here appeared in Part II of this series, but in a different format. This is an attempt to improve on the presentation.

Updated March 15, 2021 at 9:25 am: Charts have been added for 505 Dundas for weekdays and Saturdays in February 2021 as an illustration of the very different stopping behaviour on a mixed traffic route where all stops are nearside.

Updated March 14, 2021 at 9:00 pm: A sample chart has been added at the end of the article including a few changes in format.

Updated March 14, 2021 at 1:00 pm: The westbound charts originally published here were the wrong set and covered the period January 12-23 which includes two Sundays and excludes Fridays. The eastbound charts are for January 20-31 which includes only weekdays. All westbound charts and downloadable files have been replaced with new versions. The primary change is that replacing Sundays with Fridays increases the number of observations and strengthens the effects seen in peak periods.

I have received a request for raw data files so that people can play with their own versions. WordPress does not allow uploads of files that potentially could include executable code, macros, etc. If you want the data, please leave a comment and include a real email address.

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The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair (Part II)

This article is a follow-up to my review of travel times and speeds on the 512 St. Clair route starting with the completion of the reserved lanes in 2010 and tracking forward to January 2020 just before the onset of the pandemic.

See: The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair

The charts in this article are based on the same six two-week periods used for the travel time analysis.

One issue on not just St. Clair, but on all of the TTC streetcar routes with reserved lanes, farside stops and supposed transit priority signalling is that riders and operators find that “double stopping” is a common event at traffic signals: once on the nearside to await a green, and again on the farside to service the stop. This is something of a mockery of the word “priority” suggesting either that it is not working very well, or that it is not working at all.

This is an important consideration in light of pending TSP proposals in Toronto:

  • Both the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West LRT lines will have “priority”, but it will work similarly to TSP installed on other routes. This does not bode well for speedy travel.
  • There is a proposal to change the TSP algorithm (to the extent that it is active at all) so that only streetcars that are “late” to their scheduled times would get any priority treatment. This is counterproductive in a city where schedules are padded, and falling “late” is difficult to achieve. It is a recipe for no priority at all. (Moreover streetcars on diversion and extra service do not have a reference schedule at all, and it is unclear how they would be treated.)

The charts in this article illustrate where along the St. Clair route streetcars actually spend their time.

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Are eBuses The Answer To Everything?

Over on spacing’s website, my friend John Lorinc has written The case for way more electric buses in which he wonders whether Toronto should just give up on building rail lines and focus on buying a large fleet of electric buses.

What New Money? And a Bit of History

The impetus for this is that the Federal government is handing out a potload of money for electrification according to a recent press release. Before I get into the details of Lorinc’s article, there is a vital statement in the press release:

This funding is part of an eight year, $14.9 billion public transit investment recently outlined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and will also support municipalities, transit authorities and school boards with transition planning, increase ambition on the electrification of transit systems, and deliver on the government’s commitment to help purchase 5,000 zero-emission buses over the next five years.

Yes, that’s right, this is not “new money” but a carve-out from a previous announcement that, when stretched over coming years, is a lot smaller than it sounds. Now we learn that of the $5.9 billion planned for 2021-2025, $2.7 billion or 46 per cent, is earmarked for electric vehicles. Transit systems that might have had their eye on other projects will have to think again.

Updated at 9:05 pm March 5: I have received a reply from Infrastructure Canada confirming my interpretation of the press release:

Hi Steve,

That’s correct.

The Prime Minister’s announcement on February 10, 2021 provided $14.9 billion for public transit projects over eight years, which included permanent funding of $3 billion per year for Canadian communities beginning in 2026-27. 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 several means, including supporting the deployment of zero-emission vehicles and related infrastructure.  

The announcement made on March 4th to invest in electrifying transit systems across the country funding is a part of this initiative. The funding is separate from funding currently available under integrated bilateral agreements in place with provinces and territories.

Source: Email from Infrastructure Canada Media Relations

The problem here is that by dedicating the funding to a specific type of project, the type of spending cities will make will skew to where the money is available. Indeed, they will rush to buy new buses with federal funding even though their existing fleet might not actually be due for replacement.

A further problem arises if the feds expect that this will be a cost-shared program. Will Toronto and Ontario pony up their share of a bus purchase plan, especially if it is accelerated beyond normal vehicle retirement cycles when they might have eyed the federal dollars for projects like the Waterfront LRT and the Ontario Line that are in various stages of engineering and procurement?

This continues the distortion of spending priorities we saw when Paul Martin’s government threw its support into hybrid buses. There was lots of money for hybrids, even though they had a 50 per cent cost premium over diesels, but if a transit agency simply wanted to buy more buses to run better service, and get the best bang for their buck with diesels, no federal money was available.

The cost premium for battery buses currently sits at about 50 per cent above hybrids, although this is likely to fall as the technology becomes more common.

Update March 6 at 8:00 am: With the cost of an eBus sitting at $1.0-1.2 million, generously assuming prices will fall as the industry ramps up, 5000 buses represent a capital cost of over $5 billion. It is quite clear that the federal program will not cover 100 per cent of the new vehicle costs. In the TTC’s capital plans, future buses remain largely in the “unfunded” category, and new City and provincial dollars will be needed. The federal funding reduces the cost of eBuses and infrastructure but does not represent a sudden supply of “free” vehicles.

At the TTC, there is a love for big bus replacement orders because it shifts costs from the operating budget (with small subsidies) to the capital budget (with very large subsidies) both by avoidance of vehicle rebuild costs and by shifting a large chunk of the fleet into a warranty period. (Warranty repairs effectively come out of the purchase price of the bus on the capital side of the ledger.)

This approach works well enough if the new technology pans out, but the TTC had a lot of problems with its first batch of hybrids. Generally speaking, the technology has not achieved quite the benefits originally hoped.

That issue of “benefits” bears examination too. Some cities expected to see big drops in diesel fuel costs, but this depended on buses running in a very urban stop-and-start environment where a lot of energy could be recouped from braking. The situation is very different on suburban routes. If one were looking to save big on fuel costs, hybrids might not quite achieve what one hoped.

Conversely, if the aim is to eliminate tailpipe emissions and the transit carbon footprint, that is quite another matter. However, it comes at a cost, and that at a time when transit systems are just trying to keep the lights on. There are hopes that going electric will save money, but this depends on the interaction of many factors:

  • How efficiently will a battery bus use power, allowing for conversion losses, and can a bus run a full day’s service without needing to recharge?
  • When will recharging power be consumed? Overnight when, presumably, there is surplus power for the taking, or during the day when power is less available and more expensive?
  • Will buses be built to last longer than 12 years on the assumption that without the vibration of a diesel engine they will last longer? What would be the implications for subsystems such as batteries and electronics? In effect, can the higher capital cost of the vehicle be amortized over a longer period?
  • What scale of charging infrastructure will be required, and how much does this effectively add to the per vehicle cost?

This is not to disparage electric buses. After all, I was part of a group that fought to save Toronto’s trolleybus system, an idea that reached the stage of a preliminary plan for network expansion by the TTC. However, there were forces working against trolley bus retention including:

  • TTC management who preferred to have an all-diesel fleet (this was 30 years ago, and hybrid technology was unheard of).
  • A “new technology” group in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation who had little to show for their existence.
  • A bus builder who wanted an easy contract to build vehicles for the TTC.
  • The natural gas industry which had, at the time, a surplus of product looking for a market.
  • A manufacturer of pressure tanks looking to market his wares. (I am not making this up. “Industrial development” gets into odd corners of the economy at times.)

The result was a move to buses fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) that were pitched as “green” and therefore an alternative to electric buses tethered to overhead wires. This scheme did not work out as well as hoped, and CNG had a short life as a transit technology in Toronto. But management was rid of the trolleybuses, and their real goal was achieved.

The TTC regularly claims that it has the largest fleet of electric buses in North America, although if you press them on the issue, they must admit that this only applies to battery buses. There are fleets of trolleybuses in other cities, some larger than Toronto’s ever was:

  • Vancouver has about 260 of which 74 are 18m articulated buses.
  • San Francisco has about 275 of which 93 are articulated.
  • Seattle has 174 of which 64 are articulated.
  • Boston has 50 of which 32 are articulated.
  • Dayton has 45 standard sized buses.
  • Philadelphia has 38 standard-sized buses.

All of these have off-wire capability to varying degrees allowing for short diversions when necessary. This was held as a shortcoming of trolleybuses by their critics even though off-wire was already a feature of new trolleybuses three decades ago.

The big change today is that the technology to carry on-board power has improved a lot, and cities can go electric without having to string a network of overhead wires.

This may seem like a lot of history to go through before I turn to the question of the future of electric buses in Toronto, but it is worth knowing of past technology issues and the unseen hand of government, through targeted subsidies, on the scales of transit planning judgements.

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The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair

When the St. Clair right-of-way went into operation after an extended construction period and a lot of political upheaval, streetcar operation was scheduled to be faster than the old mix-traffic model. The TTC even produced a before & after comparison that is still posted on their Planning page (scroll all the way down to “Miscellaneous Documents”).

Alas, the 512 St. Clair is now scheduled to operate more slowly than in pre-right-of-way times. This article reviews the evolution of the route since July 2010 when it fully opened from Keele to Yonge to early 2021.

Looking East at Spadina Road

This is a long article, and I will not be offended if some readers choose not to delve into the whole thing. My intent in part was to show the level of analysis that is possible with a large amount of data stretching over a decade, and also to examine the issue in some detail.

As a quick summary:

  • Scheduled travel speeds for the 512 St. Clair car have slowed since the right-of-way opened in July 2010, and they are now below the pre-right-of-way level in 2006.
  • There was an improvement in 2010, but this has been whittled away over the decade with progressively slower schedules.
  • Separately from travel times, scheduled terminal recovery times have increased from 2010 to 2020 especially during off peak periods. This does not affect speed as seen by riders, but it does show up in longer terminal layovers. This recovery time now accounts for a non-trivial portion of total time on the route.
  • Driving speeds are slower in 2020 (pre-pandemic) than in 2010. This is a characteristic across the route, not at a few problem locations, and is probably due to differences in how the new Flexity cars are operated compared to the predecessor CLRVs. A few location, notably the constricted underpass between Old Weston Road and Keele Street, have seen a marked decline in travel speeds over the decade.
  • Many locations have “double stop” effects where streetcars stop nearside for a traffic signal, and again farside to serve passengers. Transit signal “priority” clearly needs some work on this route.

It is important to stress that this gradual decline in speed does not invalidate the right-of-way itself. Routes without reserved lanes have fared worse over the past decade, and St. Clair would certainly be slower today without them. The big challenge, especially with pandemic-era ridership declines, is to maintain good service so that wait times do not undo the benefit of faster travel once a car shows up.

Scheduled Speed

The charts below show the scheduled speed over the line from 2010 to 2021 with 2005 (pre-construction) shown at the left side as a reference point. The information is broken into two charts to clarify situations where there are overlaps.

In 2005, the AM and PM peak values were the same, but from 2010 onward the PM peak had a slower scheduled speed. In the off-peak, the midday and early evening speeds are the same from 2010 until 2018 after which midday speeds drop considerably.

The big dips in the charts correspond to periods of construction when travel times were extended to compensate.

The transition from CLRV to Flexity service began in 2018, and by September it was officially recognized in the schedule.

Source: Scheduled Service Summaries
Source: Scheduled Service Summaries

Schedules are one thing, but what is the actual “on the ground” behaviour of the route. Here are two charts showing the evolution of travel times between the two terminals westbound in the 8-9 am and the 5-6 pm peak hours. Regular readers will recognize the style of the charts, but there are several points worth mentioning.

  • The data run from July 2010 when the right-of-way was completely open to February 2021, although there are gaps. I did not collect data in every month over the period. However, the overall pattern is fairly clear. Unfortunately, I did not collect any data between July 2010 and September 2014 and yet there is a clear jump between the two.
  • Travel times build up to late 2019 and remain high to January 2020. Then comes the pandemic and the times fall, but not by much (the change is much more noticeable on other routes that operate in mixed traffic).
  • There are upward spikes in values. A few of these are caused by delays that affect several cars so that even the median value (green) rises. However, if only one car pulls onto the spare track at St. Clair West and lays over, this pushes the maximum (red) way up while leaving the other values lower. (Layovers can also occur at Oakwood Loop, and at Earlscourt Loop eastbound.)
  • Occasional downward spikes of the minimum values (blue) do not represent supercharged streetcars, but rather bus extras that ran express for at least part of their trip.
  • When comparing these value to the scheduled speeds above, there are subtle differences:
    • The scheduled speed is based on end-to-end travel including arrival and a short layover, notably for passenger service at St. Clair Station. “Recovery time” (about which more later) is not included in the scheduled speed calculation.
    • The travel time is measured between two screenlines: one is in the middle of Yonge Street, and the other is just east of Gunn’s Road so that the entire loop is west of the line. This does not include any terminal time at either end, but does include layovers, if any, at St. Clair West Station Loop.

Here are the corresponding charts for eastbound travel.

Full chart sets including midday and evening travel times are in the pdfs linked below for those who are interested.

These charts show changes have occurred, but where and why?

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Sunday, March 28, 2021

March 28, 2021, will see revenue service begin from the TTC’s new McNicoll Garage. This will entail the reassignment of many routes between all garages as the TTC rebalances it fleet and service to relieve crowding and minimize dead-head times.

There are few service changes associated with this grand shuffle. The primary effect is that garage trips at the end of peak periods will change to reflect the shift of some routes to a new home in northern Scarborough.

For example, north-south routes that formerly had transitional peak-to-evening service southbound will go to evening service levels sooner because buses will dead head to McNicoll rather than making a southbound trip before running back to Eglinton or Birchmount Garage.

  • 17 Birchmount
  • 43 Kennedy
  • 57 Midland
  • 68 Warden
  • 129 McCowan North

The short-turn point for 39 Finch East and 53 Steeles East off-peak garage trips will change so that buses do not double back on themselves. These trips will be shortened to end at Kennedy rather than at Markham Road. Trips on 39C to Victoria Park will end at McNicoll & Victoria Park rather than at 480 Gordon Baker Road.

The 45 Kipling and 945 Kipling Express move from Queensway to Arrow. Trips to the garage after the AM and PM peak will no longer make southbound trips. Trips at the beginning of the PM peak will no longer travel north from Queensway.

The old and new garage assignments are at the end of this article for those who are interested.

Fleet utilization continues to be well below system capacity. In January 2020, the total AM peak buses in service was 1,625. In March 2021, it will be 1,527. This does not include buses used in Run As Directed (RAD) service. Although the TTC now has an additional bus garage, its capacity is not included in the table below.

For comparison, here is the January 2020 (pre-pandemic) table.

The number of buses used on streetcar routes continues to be high. These vehicles are included in the counts above, and represent additional capacity available for bus routes when the construction projects now underway finish. 506 Carlton will return to all-streetcar operation in May, but other routes will be affected by construction for much of 2021 notably at KQQR and on Broadview north of Gerrard (starting in May).

Here is the streetcar peak service table. Note that there is an error in the afternoon peak “base going into Mar 2021” column where the streetcar total should read 127, not 142.

Construction Projects

During the construction of McNicoll Garage, all trips on 42 Cummer were operated as 42A to Middlefield. This will continue, and the 42B and 42C services will remain suspended. An eight month long water main project on Cummer will require that westbound service divert via Leslie, Finch and Bayview. New farside stops will be added southbound on Leslie at Cummer, and westbound on Cummer at Bayview to serve the diversion.

At the King, Queen, Queensway, Roncesvalles intersection (KQQR) construction work will block transit service beginning on March 31. This will affect all services that pass through this busy location.

  • 501 Queen buses (501L Long Branch and 501P Park Lawn) will operate via King and Dufferin Streets to route. The official east end of the route will remain at Jarvis Street. In current operations, many runs have been extended as far east as River because the schedule is very generous in anticipation of construction traffic delays that have not yet materialized. Buses are also taking extended layovers at Long Branch Loop because they arrive early.
  • The 504 King west end shuttle will be broken into two parts.
    • A 504G King shuttle will operate between Dundas West Station and Roncesvalles Carhouse (entering and leaving via the North Gate).
    • A 504Q King shuttle will operate between Triller and Strachan. The west end loop will be via Dufferin, Queen and Triller. The east end loop will be via Duoro and Strachan. This is a change from the current shuttle terminus at Shaw.

Operation of the 506 Carlton bus shuttle will be officially changed to use the loop that was informally implemented almost immediately after this service began in January. All buses will loop via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Parliament. Full streetcar service will resume on 506 Carlton with the May 9, 2021 schedules.

Miscellaneous Route Changes

Weekday scheduled round-trip travel time on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be shortened from 161 to 154 minutes in recognition of time savings with Automatic Train Control. This will address some of the train queuing problems at terminals. Headways will also be widened slightly to reflect lower demand.

43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will be modified so that all trips begin and end there. Half hourly service will be provided northbound from Kennedy Station from 6:30 to 8:30 am, and from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Southbound service will leave Village Green from 5:58 to 8:28 am, and from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.

The Amazon Fulfillment Centre at Morningside & Steeles will be served by two routes:

  • 53B Steeles service to Markham Road will be extended via Passmore to the cul-de-sac at the site. This operation is already in place.
  • 102 Markham Road service will be routed north on Markham Road, east on Select Avenue, south on Tapscott Road, east on Passmore Avenue to cul-de-sac, west on Passmore Avenue, north on Tapscott Road, west on Steeles Avenue, to south on Markham Road. This route will be changed when the the intersection of Steeles & Morningside fully opens later in 2021.

Trip times on 167 Pharmacy North will be standardized so that the weekday and Saturday schedules are the same. The first trips will run northbound from Don Mills Station and southbound from Pharmacy Loop at 5:30 am. Service at all times will be on the half-hour (:00 and :30).

Articulated and regular buses will shuffle between routes:

  • Three artics now used on 60 Steeles West will be changed to standard buses. The artics will return in late May.
  • Most runs on 89 Weston will switch from artics to standard buses. In late May, all 89 Weston local buses will be standard-sized, but the 989 Weston Express service will resume.
  • Six standard buses now used on 929 Dufferin Express will be changed to artics.

310 Spadina night service will be cut to half hourly. This route was missed in January when other night services reverted to a 30 minute service (previously every 15 or 20 minutes).

Details of the changes and service plan comparisons are in this spreadsheet.

Revised Garage Assignments