Metrolinx Board Meeting and Town Hall: December 2017

Metrolinx held a Board meeting on December 7, followed on December 12 by a Town Hall.

Public questions to the Town Hall were submitted in advance and in real time during the Town Hall online, and in person by attendees. Metrolinx plans to put answers to all questions, including those that could not be handled during the Town Hall itself online in coming weeks. That record is now available at MetrolinxEngage.

My interest in both events was as much to see how the new CEO Phil Verster would handle himself especially during an open Q&A session which has not, to be kind, been part of the corporate culture at Metrolinx.

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Kitchener Trolleybus Gallery

Many readers of this site have been posting photos of the ION LRT construction in Kitchener-Waterloo over the past years. Normally, I stick to Toronto news, but as a gift back to readers in K-W, here is a set of photos of the Kitchener trolleybus system just before it was converted to lovely, clean (ho ho ho) diesel buses.

Much of the city, at least along King Street,  is unrecognizable today from the early 1970s.

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TTC Will Take Legal Action Against Bombardier, Demands Explanation

At its meeting of October 28, 2015, the TTC Board unanimously passed the following motion regarding the order for Flexity streetcars from Bombardier:

  1. Authorize the TTC General Counsel to immediately commence a claim or legal action against Bombardier for all damages sustained by the TTC relating to or arising from the schedule delays in the delivery of the streetcars and any other non-performance related issues.
  2. Direct the Chair to write to the CEO Bombardier requesting he appear before the Board at its November Commission meeting to explain Bombardier’s failure to meet past deadlines and its delivery commitments for streetcars going forward.
  3. Request TTC management to consult with alternative suppliers for delivery of the remaining TTC streetcars, should Bombardier be unable for whatever reason to fulfill this order within contractual timelines.
  4. Request TTC staff to report back on the financial and operational impacts on the TTC should Bombardier not be able to fulfill their contractual obligations to deliver streetcars.
  5. Request TTC staff to seek the advice of an outside business analyst to present to the Board on their assessment of Bombardier’s corporate outlook.
  6. Request TTC staff, in any negotiations on damages, liquidated or otherwise, to consider as a priority additional LRV’s as compensation.
  7. Direct the Chair to write to the Premier of Ontario requesting the Province’s support in facilitating the completion of the City of Toronto’s order for streetcars from Bombardier.

This motion came out of a confidential session of the Board which led to the text approved here. Point 1 was the staff recommendation in the report on the agenda, and the remaining points were added.

The story of constantly shifting delivery timelines and excuses from Bombardier has gone on for a very long time, and they have exhausted the TTC’s patience. Several comments in public session suggested that if Bombardier expects ever to be awarded work by the TTC in the future, they will have to try very, very hard to win their trust.

This is something of an empty threat, at least in the short term, because the TTC will not be ordering more subway cars until the early 2020s. Moreover, Bombardier has long been Queen’s Park’s vendor of choice for rail car orders that receive provincial funding, and it would take a major upheaval to dislodge them from this position.

Whether the Bombardier CEO actually shows up at the November 23, 2015, meeting remains to be seen. Indeed, it would be an odd situation should the TTC action have already been commenced to make such a presentation, let alone subject himself to questions he could not reasonably answer without compromising his own company’s position.

Chair Josh Colle noted that clause 7 recognizes the fact that he has already been contacted by the head of Bombardier Transportation in Germany, three Cabinet Ministers, the Mayor of Thunder Bay, and others, and that this is a politically high profile file. It will be interesting to see whether the union representing Thunder Bay workers shows up with tales of incompetence at their plant, or at least first hand descriptions of the quality problems with material received from Bombardier’s plant in Mexico. Such a move would be to establish their own credibility and fight for their jobs, a situation akin to what happened during the Canadian content debates when the contract was awarded.

Queen’s Park also has an interest through Metrolinx where concern about on time delivery of cars for the Kitchener-Waterloo ION line (whose cars will come from the Metrolinx share of teh Toronto order), and there are effects further down the line for other LRT projects if the contract completely collapses.

No doubt there will be updates on this story in the regular media in coming days.

A Father of LRT Speaks in Waterloo

On June 11, Dr. Vukan Vuchic spoke in the Council Chamber of the Waterloo Region Council on the subject of medium capacity transit modes. Dr. Vuchic has been around transportation issues for decades. He organized the first Transportation Research Board Light Rail Conference in 1975 in Philadelphia, an event that became a series of 12 such meetings, the last in 2012.

Dr. Vuckic’s presentation (just over an hour long) covers a lot of historical ground going back to the early days when “LRT” as a mode distinct from “streetcars” – the missing link between bus systems and full-scale subways or rapid transit – started to gain popularity. Vuchic’s speaking style isn’t breezy. He could cover his material faster (and probably with less text on the Powerpoints running behind him), but he gives us the history of transit evolution over four decades.

This is not an all LRT, all the time, presentation, and it gives fair credit to the importance of buses at the core of transit systems. The point, as always, is to use the right mode for each implementation.

Plans by Murray and Tory: Steve Visits Goldhawk

On June 2, 2014, I appeared on Dale Goldhawk’s radio show talking about both the Murray High Speed Rail plan and the Tory “SmartTrack” scheme. A podcast of the show is available on Goldhawk’s site (running time about 34 minutes).

Even with half an hour, we couldn’t talk about everything including those pesky details that make superficially attractive projects run aground.


[Photo by Zoomer Radio]

The Minister Muses on High Speed Rail

Suddenly London Ontario is the place to be if you’re looking for a high speed rail line. Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation & Infrastructure, has announced plans to have a high speed connection between Toronto downtown, Pearson airport, Kitchener-Waterloo and London up and running in 10 years.

Not just that, but the trains will run half-hourly with 28 trips each way daily on the line carrying, eventually, 20,000 riders per day.

I am not making this up. You can read more details on the CBC’s Kitchener-Waterloo site.

An extremely superficial document titled “Moving Ontario Forward” came my way recently, and I could not help thinking back to the early days of “GO Urban”, the technology that eventually became ICTS and Skytrain, with similarly vacuous presentations for public consumption.

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Neptis Reviews Metrolinx: A Critique (II)

This article is the second section of my critique of the December 2013 review of the Metrolinx Big Move Plan written by Michael Schabas for the Neptis Foundation. It should be read in conjunction with Part I and following sections.

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Liberals Plan Transit One Tweet At A Time

Premier Kathleen Wynne recently unveiled the Moving Ontario Forward plan which, at this point, consists of a website and a  general idea of what level of spending we could see. The details won’t be released until the budget is tabled in early May.

Some ideas come out in comments by Transportation & Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray who is as active on Twitter at times as he is in press scrums. How much these comments are realistic, how much they reflect government policy or detailed study, is quite another matter.

From a funding point of view, there will be two pots of money – one for the GTHA and one for the Rest Of Ontario.  When the Transit Panel released its Making The Move revenue tool proposal, misinformed media stoked the idea that rural gas taxes would go to pay for subways in Toronto even though this was explicitly rejected by the panel.

The solution is to fund the non-GTHA projects with non-GTHA money, in effect building a wall around whatever the “GTHA” means for planning purposes from day to day. This may quiet those who feel “Toronto” gets everything, but with the scale of transit operations in southern Ontario, “Toronto” grows every time the government announces a new GO service.

The political rhetoric takes the Scarborough-vs-Downtown battle over rapid transit spending to a province-wide scale. Perish the thought that Thunder Bay should pay one penny toward a rapid transit line in Toronto even though they will reap the benefit from cars manufactured to operate it. The Liberals bought into this divisive talk to win a by-election in Scarborough, ironically in a riding that won’t even see a subway line. The danger is that even within the GTHA, voters may well ask “why should I pay for a service I won’t use”.

According to the Premier’s announcement, “nearly $29 billion” will be split between the GTHA and non-GTHA funding pools over the coming decade with four sources of funding:

  • “Repurposing” the sales tax (HST) now charged on gasoline and diesel fuel for on-road use;
  • “Redirecting” 7.5 cents of the existing fuel tax;
  • Sales of government assets, and
  • Proceeds of a “Green Bonds” program.

Among the tactics proposed by the Transit Panel was the leveraging of any revenue stream through borrowing. A government that once was terrified of more public debt may now embrace it with the proviso that it can be retired with earmarked revenue.

The problem here is that new spending requires either new revenues, or cuts in expenses elsewhere. Shifting existing tax streams into a transit fund will leave a hole in general revenues that could be made up by other taxes on classic targets such as the well-to-do and the corporate sector. We must await for the budget for any details.

A backgrounder from the Ministry of Finance hints at some of the projects that might be funded:

Proceeds from the dedicated fund for the GTHA would help build the next set of priority projects included in Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan, The Big Move. Projects identified in The Big Move include: GO Rail Service Expansion (more two-way, all day and rush hour service) on key corridors, Brampton Queen Street Rapid Transit, Dundas Street Bus Rapid Transit, Durham-Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit, Hamilton Rapid Transit, Hurontario-Main LRT linking Mississauga and Brampton, a Relief Line, and Yonge North Subway Expansion to York Region. The fund could also support other transit infrastructure projects that stimulate economic development and improve mobility, such as the East Bayfront Light Rail Transit project.

This list sticks mainly to the established Metrolinx plans and implies that they still have some relevance in this very political setting. However, a backgrounder on GO Regional Express Rail ups the ante:

The new Moving Ontario Forward plan would work toward phasing in electric train service every 15 minutes on all GO lines.

This is a rather careful statement, and the words “work toward phasing in” have been the death knell of more than one project, most recently the Transit City LRT plan. The backgrounder talks of the benefits, oddly, of relieving subway congestion rather than of the much larger regional role GO could have.

It would also give commuters within Toronto another way to get downtown by increasing service between GO stations and Union Station. A commuter could get to Union Station from Danforth GO Station in just 9 minutes, or from Bloor GO Station in just 15 minutes.

This ignores the problem of transferring between routes and the substantial barrier now posed by GO’s separate and punitive fares for travel over short distances within the city. It also presumes there would be capacity available for such short-hop trips. Near-downtown trips were an odd choice to feature in such an important announcement.

Although the “Downtown Relief Line” is still mentioned as an important part of overall plans, work now underway by Metrolinx and comments by some politicians imply that they would love to put this project on a slow track with GO improvements taking up the role. If nothing else, this would free up money in the short-to-medium term for large pet projects elsewhere. Both GO and an expanded subway system have a role to play, but too much rhetoric has focused on single-line “solutions” rather than a network view.

All this begs the question of just how much of The Big Move will actually survive the Minister’s interventions.

In qualifying the electrification plans, both the Premier and the Minister talk of “lines that we own”, although the Minister is on record about acquiring more track for GO:

“We’re looking at higher speed connectivity, buying up rail lines more aggressively, improving service outcomes and more regular two-way GO service,” Murray said of the priorities that will be laid out in the budget.

… he said the province is actively buying up rail capacity so that GO Trains are no longer seen as “tenants” on other railroad’s lines.

“We now own 80 per cent of the track that we need to own, we will be buying up the remaining 20 per cent and a lot of that is on the lines that come to Kitchener,” Murray said.

[Kitchener-Waterloo Record March 31, 2014]

That will be a challenge considering that portions GO does not yet own are the main lines of CNR and CPR, not lightly used or abandoned branches.

GO has long had an aversion to electrification both because of objections from the railways whose lines would be affected, and from a chronic lack of strong, dedicated funding that could expand service and operations to a range where electrification made sense. Changing that outlook would be quite a coup, but this depends on continuity in the government and long-term commitment to transformation of the GO network. GO must have a publicly announced plan for expansion and improvement beyond whatever is needed to win the election of the day.

On the municipal front, things are not quite as clear. Although the Metrolinx Investment Strategy included 25% of new revenues for municipal projects (with 15% going to transit), municipal funding was completely absent in this announcement. Indeed, Murray has rather testily noted that Toronto, especially, already gets money from the gas tax and has revenue tools such as Vehicle Registration Tax that it chose not to use.

The gas tax revenue, of course, has been established for many years and is worked into the budgets of all local transit systems. It is not “new money”, and can hardly be cited in response to questions about the hoped-for Investment Strategy dollars. [Toronto splits its provincial gas tax between the operating and capital budgets. See 2012 financial statements at page 26 (operating, $91.6m) and page 28 (capital, $75.0m).]

Murray also spoke of “High Speed Rail” in the Toronto KW London corridor, an idea that has been floated before. Although this was unclear in the press statements, Murray’s Twitter exchanges claim that the corridor would see 320 km/h operation (see below). The problem with the Toronto-Kitchener-London corridor, however, is not simply getting from one and to the other, but to the many stations in between.

The line once had reasonably frequent VIA trains on rider-friendly schedules, but this service withered through years of cutbacks and, more recently, competition from GO expansion. The infrastructure needed for operation at this speed is substantial, and one must ask whether the corridor’s demand could be better served simply by more frequent service at typical (Canadian) rail passenger speeds up to 150 km/h. Better service for southwestern Ontario risks being highjacked as an HSR technology project rather than a service improvement that could be delivered faster at much less cost.

The operative phrase throughout the announcement was “wait for the budget”.  A Liberal party website promotes the Moving Ontario Forward plan, but is short on details pending the budget announcements.

Meanwhile, Minister Murray, a prolific tweeter, adds his own spin to the debate.  [The tweets have been edited to remove extraneous user ids and hastags. All of this can be retrieved by browsing Murray’s Twitter account @Glen4ONT.]

On April 17, an exchange about GO and Downtown Relief, Murray shows support for both regional and local relief.

Glen Murray: #RER15Min will build transit ridership on local transit routes. Need 2 plan GO-local transit connections together. Greater demand w/RER

Robert Zaichkowski: I wonder if #RER15Min will lead to GO stations being placed closer together? Could be a good #ReliefLine solution.

Glen Murray:  Robert you are absolutely right. Downtown relief needs system wide relief & increased capacity downtown.

Also on April 17, an exchange about the Scarborough Subway.

Rob Salerno: So if Scarb has access to improved GO service, is there still ridership/need for a subway there?

Glen Murray: MLX will make that decision. We will meet our commitments.

Rob Salerno: erg, so now the Scarb subway may be cancelled if @Metrolinx says it’s not necessary?

Glen Murray: No. Let MLX do their job.

Rob Salerno: Huh? Those two sentences are contradictory.

Glen Murray: No. MLX has made a decision. I don’t imagine that will change, but it is their decision.

Oh come off it, Glen. The idea that Metrolinx makes any decision independently of the government is riotously laughable. The Liberals ran on a Scarborough Subway platform to win the Scarborough-Guildwood by-election, and Murray himself is pushing a subway from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre via the existing SRT alignment.

It’s amusing that in one line, Murray says that Metrolinx “will make” the decision, and later that they “have made” it. One of these statements cannot be true.

Is there now a recognition that the rationale for the subway may have been cooked to placate Scarborough voters (not to mention the Scarborough Liberal Caucus)? Might a proper analysis show that another option including GO improvements might be preferable? If Metrolinx made a decision, where was this analysis? Nobody has ever published a review including GO services, the subway option and the Scarborough LRT network proposals.

Even better, what would happen if an independent Metrolinx actually concluded that the Scarborough Subway was a waste of money? Would such a report ever see the light of day?

In a discussion with the Globe’s Oliver Moore, we hear about the benefits of more frequent off-peak service.

Oliver Moore: Increased GO service will lead to higher ridership and lower subsidy required, @Glen4ONT says. Could lead to more competitive fares.

‏@GTAMOVEnetwork: The big problem is spending the money required to take GO transit from “commuter” to “rapid transit” and in ensuring that the investment in GO Transit will not be pulled back in the first 3 years when ROI is not great.

Glen Murray: Not an issue at all.

‏@GTAMOVEnetwork: I very much hope so. This is going to be a huge investment and ROI won’t be seen for a long time.

Glen Murray: ‏Not true. 1/2 hour Lakeshore service increased ridership & fare revenue by 30% in less than a yr.

This discussion dodges the basic point that capital costs have never been considered in evaluating GO’s business, only day-to-day operating costs. The situation is the same at the TTC. It is very unlikely that GO will make a profit from extra fares with expanded service. If anything, one could argue that service improvements should come as quickly as possible to maximize the ridership and convenience from the capital investment.

On service to Niagara Falls, London and “HSR”:

Glen Murray: Niagara will be getting 15min Regional Express Rail. See today’s announcement. Completed with in 10 yrs.

Tom W: Wynne said GO-owned tracks only – still valid? Or will GO be buying tracks from Burlington to Niagara Falls?

Glen Murray: No. All tracks we own or lease.

Tom W: Thanks! Also, does “high-speed rail” to London mean 200+km/hr?

Glen Murray: 320KM

Tom W: To be clear, you’re promising a train with a top speed of 320 kilometres per hour running from Toronto to London?

Murray really seems to be freelancing on both of these issues given the ownership and existing uses of the corridors in question, not to mention the challenge of truly high speed operation in the KW-London corridor.

On April 17, asked about travel across Toronto rather than to the core:

Glen Murray: #RER15Min is 15 minute service across the GTHA using Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) running on all GO lines. Huge reduction in congestion.

Saurabh: Someone going from York region to Peel can bypass Union?

Glen Murray: Yes. Once the Crosstown is complete. It is under construction now.

Someone should mention to the Minister that his own government chopped off the western end of the Crosstown, and unless the boundary of Peel Region is now at Weston Road, the Crosstown won’t get someone to Peel from Richmond Hill even presuming they wanted to take such a route.

And finally on April 19:

Glen Murray: Projects 4 Prov funding will b evaluated by MLX based on Big Move priority & net benefits.

This, of course, presumes that “net benefits” are fairly calculated and don’t include politically inflated assumptions.

When the budget comes out, we will see just how much of the “promises” made here have survived.

Metrolinx Board Meeting of June 27, 2013

The Metrolinx Board met on June 27 with a full agenda.

There is a great deal of duplication between various reports, and I have consolidated information to keep like items together.  Some reports are omitted entirely from this article either because the important info is included elsewhere, or because they simply rehash status updates with no real news.  Metrolinx has a love for “good news” to the point that each manager stuffs their presentations with information that is already well known, or which parallels other presentations.

Among the more important items in these reports are the following:

  • Metrolinx is now conducting various studies all of which bear on the problem of north-south capacity into downtown Toronto.  This involves the (Downtown) Relief Line, the north-south GO corridors and the Richmond Hill subway expansion.  A related study involves fare and service integration across the GTHA.  It is refreshing to see Metrolinx taking a network approach to planning, rather than looking at projects in isolation, and recognizing that some of their own, existing routes can be part of an overall approach to solving this capacity problem.
  • The Metrolinx Five-Year Strategy includes dates for the beginning of service on various projects including the LRT replacement for the Scarborough RT.  Previous versions of these dates cited “by 2020”, and Metrolinx has indicated a desire for as short a construction/shutdown period of under three years.  However, the new strategy paper talks of an “in service date” of 2020.  Metrolinx is aiming for a three year shutdown at most, but the SRT might continue operating beyond the originally planned September 2015 date, possibly for one additional year.  This could lead to an earlier reopening than 2020.  (Correspondence from Metrolinx on this issue is included later in the article.)

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Metrolinx Updates The Big Move, Announces Priorities for Phase 2 Projects (Updated)

Updated December 6, 2012 at 11:20 am:

A warmed over version of the Board of Trade presentation was given to the Metrolinx Board by President & CEO Bruce McCuaig at the Board meeting on December 5.  There were a few clarifications of note:

  • The list of “Next Wave” projects will not be nailed down until the February 2013 Board meeting following a round of public consultation.
  • That consultation will also include a review of the proposed amendments to The Big Move and yet another round of talks about potential revenue tools.  The meetings will probably take place in January at 12 public round tables, as well as a 36-member “Residents’ Reference Panel” doing “deep dives” into the issues at weekend sessions.  This process will report back to the Board in spring 2013.  (There is no info about how the 36 “residents” will be selected for the panel.)
  • It is likely that construction of the Downtown Relief and Yonge Extension subway projects would take place concurrently with Yonge to Steeles opening at roughly the same time as the DRL from Downtown to Danforth.  “Phase 2” of each project would follow.  At this time there is no commitment to going north of Danforth or to any specific route either through downtown or through the east end of Toronto.  This will be the subject of an Environmental Assessment for the project.
  • The goal of TBM was described by McCuaig as having 75% of GTAH residents within 2km of rapid transit at their origin or destination.  That “or” is an important distinction I don’t remember hearing before.  It’s child’s play to have lots of people close to rapid transit at one end of their trip — anyone who works in major centres within Toronto or lives along a subway, LRT, BRT or GO line will qualify.  The more difficult target is to have such access at both ends of the trip because “convenience” is meaningless if only one end is well-served.
  • In an apparent contradiction to the implied 1/3 local funding described in the Star’s article about Mississauga having second thoughts on the LRT project, McCuaig said that we cannot look at traditional federal/provincial/municipal financing models.  Presumably the Investment Strategy will address this problem.

The actual timing of the Next Wave projects varies depending on which document one reads or how one parses the announcements.

  • In the Next Wave handout (linked later in this article), this is described as a 15-year, $34-billion project.
  • The spend rate implied by another part of the same handout is only $1.2b/year, and this translates to a 28+ year timeframe.
  • Metrolinx, in an email responding to this article and my concerns about the status of projects such as the Eglinton LRT to the Airport, said that there would be a “Third Wave” in 2025.
  • At the press briefing following the Board meeting, McCuaig confirmed that for the “15 year plan”, year zero has been reset to 2012.  This implies that TBM’s original 15 year timeframe is now stretched to roughly 20.  Moreover, McCuaig hinted that projects started within the next 15 years may not finish by then.
  • Despite all of the delays, the year 2031 is still the target for completing all of The Big Move.

In previous discussions of the Investment Strategy, Metrolinx has included an allowance for operating the new facilities as they come into service.  This is missing from the $34b of the Next Wave, but will have to be incorporated into the IS discussions.  Moreover operating costs are ongoing while capital are one-time.

In all of this discussion it was amusing to listen to Metrolinx talk about revenue tools, code for the very things some politicians in Toronto find utterly unacceptable preferring to imagine that pools of private capital are available at little or no cost.

The presentation materials from the Board meeting are not yet online, but the hard copy version comes under the unhappy title of “The Big Move In Action”.  Deleting only one space would give a good description of the treatment of project schedules for Transit City by Queen’s Park.  The presentation ends with a page titled “Keep the wheels moving” and a picture of a stone wheel and hammer.  Ontario makes a lot of claims for its triumphs in transportation technology, and I can’t help wondering if this is an early product of the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation.

I mention this because Metrolinx appears to have embraced a new, quaint graphic style for their Big Move and Union Pearson Express websites.

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