The Next Big Move: (I) Overview

The Metrolinx Board considered its Draft Regional Transportation Plan for the GTHA on September 14, 2017 and approved its release for comment, subject to some last-minute editorial changes. This is an update of the original “Big Move” plan, and it takes the view of transportation needs and networks out to 2041.

The context for this is summarized in a covering report from Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer for Metrolinx:

By 2041, over 10 million people will live in the region. We need to plan for a future characterized not only by continued population and employment growth, but also by changing demographics (including an aging population), the changing nature of work, new transportation technologies and services, and the impacts of climate change. In short, we cannot stop. Our plan for moving forward – the Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan – calls for governments to move beyond The Big Move to put people’s needs at the core of planning and operations. This means:

  • Completing delivery of current regional transit projects;
  • Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit;
  • Optimizing the transportation system to make the best possible use of existing and future transit and transportation assets;
  • Integrating land use and transportation, and
  • Preparing for an uncertain future.

As the transportation network in the GTHA becomes more extensive and complex, travellers’ expectations will rise and transit infrastructure alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of a growing region. Transit providers need to broaden the focus to address not just the quantity, but the quality of transit service for travellers. That means making transit more accessible, frequent, reliable, comfortable and convenient. [p 3]

This is a fine, rousing opening statement, but I must say at the outset that for all its many components, the plan falls short in a key element: shifting more travel to public transit. That is not to say that over $40 billion worth of planned investment is without value, but at the end of the next quarter century, transit’s share of the travel market will not have budged much from current levels. Autos with their associated planning focus will remain the dominant mode, especially as one moves further out from major centres such as downtown Toronto.

Just as with the original Big Move, we are running very hard just to stay in the same place. This is a dangerous situation on two counts. First, the political constituency for transit depends on its being valued by a wide cross-section of GTHA citizens. People who don’t use transit regard spending on new construction or operations as something for “them”. They wonder when there will be more roads for “us”. Second, if much of the travel is still not on the transit network, this means that transit has failed to attract its audience. This could be either because one can’t get from “here” to “there”, or because doing so by transit is simply not an acceptable way to make the journey.

There is also a fundamental political and economic problem. Getting agreement that we need better transit, and just what that entails, is hard enough, but governments change, the economy waxes and wanes, and all it takes is one bozo politician with enough clout to bring the whole process to a stop.

This is not simply a case of a streetcar hating mayor, but could be the effect of a “tax fighting” premier who sees his role as making things better for motorists and to hell with transit. Not to mention politicians at all levels playing the electorate for votes by cherry picking transit plans, not by building a network and embracing the need for frequent service beyond their ward or riding. Seeing a proposed new 25-year plan in today’s climate is a real stretch. Should we laugh or cry?

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Metrolinx Previews The Next Big Move

Updated August 23, 2017 at 11:15 am: The full deck for the Metrolinx AMO presentation is now online.

On August 14, 2017, Metrolinx attended the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa with a presentation “Connecting the Region”. Although this was not a formal unveiling of the next iteration of the GTHA’s “Big Move” regional transportation plan, it gives a sense of Metrolinx thinking and what might be in the pipeline.

Compared with the original plan in 2008, this iteration is much more about building what is already in the pipeline as opposed to a grand vision with more lines than anyone could ever hope to see. This is an important evolution for Metrolinx from a purely planning agency to construction and, eventually, to operation of a large transit network.

During the past decade since the 2008 plan was developed, the GTHA has evolved in both its population and in the type of development that “growth” implies. Although the original plan foresaw a great deal of new transit, even that ambitious scheme would only barely keep up with growth in travel demand. Even this would be uneven with better transit in some of the “easy” corridors such as the rail lines, but much less to serve region-to-region travel.

That was always an issue with The Big Move – at best it would cap the growth in auto travel provided there was a massive, sustained investment in infrastructure and service, but a real decline in “congestion” and all that entails would be much more challenging. The pols put a brave face on the plan talking of reduced commute times, lower pollution, more time for families, but the benefits are not spread equally through the region, and much work remains to be done. Some of that is comparatively “simple” in the sense of one-shot, big-ticket construction projects like The Crosstown and the GO Transit upgrades for RER. But the more complex issue remains the need for local service to feed the new corridors, and for service in the large areas where there is no new infrastructure.

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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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Inching Ahead on Subway Plans

Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a report from the City Manager at its meeting of May 15, 2017 regarding the preferred alignment for the southern end of the “Relief Line” subway, as well as the current status of the Yonge Subway Extension to Richmond Hill.

This report has taken on a more political context with Mayor Tory’s recent statements that unless Queen’s Park coughs up financial support for the RL, he will block any further work on the YSE. Needless to say, this stance did not play well in York Region or at Queen’s Park.

The two lines, as they currently are proposed, look like this:

One might cast a though back only a few years to Tory’s election campaign in which he claimed that SmartTrack would eliminate the need for a Relief Line, that it would have frequent service with many new stops, that it would operate with TTC fares, and that it would be self-financing. Most of these claims were demonstrably false or impossible at the time, and the project scope has changed dramatically. Even the question of a “TTC fare” is tangled up in the Metrolinx Fare Integration study which could well bring higher rapid transit fares to the TTC as a way of “integrating” them with regional systems.

Tory’s convoluted evolution into a Relief Line supporter undermines his credibility on many issues not the least of which is an understanding of when money he demands might actually be spent. There is no point in getting a “commitment” from Queen’s Park when the government will be unrecognizable by the time the bills come due. Toronto has far more pressing demands in the short and medium term, and meanwhile there is $150 million of provincial money going into design work for the RL.

As for the YSE, it has been on York Region’s wish list for years, and is more advanced than the Scarborough Subway which is mired in debates about the alignment and number of stations. The problem for Toronto is that there is no capacity for additional riders from an extension on the Yonge line, and indeed it is already over capacity according to a CBC interview with TTC Deputy CEO Chris Upfold on May 10.

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The Dwindling Capacity of the Yonge Subway

Yesterday’s launch by York Region of their Yonge Subway Now website brought to the fore the question of just how much room remains on the Yonge Subway for additional riders. Over many years, claims about capabilities of new subway technologies together with changing projections for future demand have left Toronto in a position where its subway is badly overloaded with little relief in sight.

This article traces the evolution of those claims and the reality of what can actually be provided to show that building a Relief Line is not a project for a future decade but one that must begin now.

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York Region Wants a Subway, Overstates Available Capacity (Updated)

Updated July 6, 2016 at 5:10 pm: “Yonge Subway Now” has updated their website to remove the double counting of capacity improvements, and to clarify that their claims about subway capacity apply to the peak point south of Bloor Station. The revised text is included in the main article.

Although in theory there will remain 4% of free capacity on Yonge south of Bloor in 2031, this is hardly the sort of margin we should be planning for. The Relief Line’s demand projections show that it has a major effect if it runs north to Sheppard, and it will have to be in place sooner rather than later to avoid deadlock on the Yonge line.

A related problem is the question of station capacity to handle passengers with trains arriving about 30% more frequently than they do today.

York Region has wanted a subway to Richmond Hill for years, and there is even a completed Environmental Assessment and its Addendum for this project.

Today, July 5, 2016, a new website extolling the virtues of this project went live. It contains the usual things one would expect about the growing need for transportation and how a subway will improve the region’s future. Unfortunately, it also contains a misrepresentation of available and future subway capacity.

But what about overcrowding you say?

  • Metrolinx’s Yonge Relief Network Study analyzed options for crowding relief to the existing Yonge Subway line by examining new local and regional travel opportunities and improving mobility across the GTHA. Key findings include:
    • Significant relief to the Yonge Subway line will be achieved through already committed transit improvements, including:
      • TTC’s automatic train controls [adds 29% capacity];
      • New subway signals [adds 10% capacity];
      • New six-car subway trains [adds 10% capacity];
      • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [adds 5% capacity]; and
      • Regional Express Rail/SmartTrack/DRL will add even more capacity.
    • With the above capacity improvements in place the Yonge Subway line will be running under capacity when it opens and beyond 2031.
    • The Yonge North Subway Extension only adds 9% demand at peak period.

Updated July 7: The text above was the original version. The page now reads:

But what about overcrowding you say?

  • Metrolinx’s Yonge Relief Network Study analyzed options for crowding relief to the existing Yonge Subway line by examining new local and regional travel opportunities and improving mobility across the GTHA. Key findings include:
    • Significant relief to the Yonge Subway line will be achieved through already committed transit improvements, including:
      • TTC’s automatic train controls [adds 29% capacity];
      • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [diverts 1,300 riders to free up 5% capacity]; and
      • Regional Express Rail diverts 4,200 riders to free up 15% capacity.
    • With the above transit improvements in place the Yonge Subway line will be running under capacity when the extension opens in 2031.
    • The Yonge North Subway Extension has a projected ridership of 14,000 to 22,000, but is only expected to add 2,400 demand during the AM peak hour, at the peak point south of Bloor.

Let’s start off with the increased capacity for the Yonge Subway. The Metrolinx report cited here says (p 15) that the existing capacity is 28,000 passengers per hour per direction, and that by 2021 this will rise to 36,000.  That’s roughly a 29% increase, and is possible because of the new signal system which includes automatic train control. This will allow trains to run closer together, roughly every 110 seconds in place of the current 140 seconds.

Capacity of the new subway cars is already included in the 28k value as these trains have been exclusively providing service on the Yonge line for a few years. They no longer represent a marginal improvement that is still available. The design load for service planning (average loads over an hour, not peak loads on a train or car) for the new trains is 1,100 passengers. If trains run every 140 seconds, that is equivalent to 25.7 per hour or a capacity of about 28k/hour. Moving to a 110 second headway gives 32.7 trains/hour or a capacity of 36k/hour.

Traffic diverted to the TYSSE (Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension) at 5% of current capacity represents 1,400 per hour. This is in line with the value shown in the Metrolinx study (see chart below).

GO/RER has only a modest effect on the Yonge corridor because the Richmond Hill line is not part of the RER network, and other routes paralleling Yonge (the Barrie and Stouffville corridors) are too far away to have a meaningful impact. There is also the issue of the fare differential between GO/RER and the TTC which could discourage some riders from travelling on GO.

SmartTrack was originally claimed to be capable of subway-like service down to a 5 minute headway (12 trains/hour) that would serve Unionville and Milliken stations. However, we now know that “SmartTrack” will really be just a few more GO trains (part of the already planned RER improvement) stopping at a few more stations within Toronto, not the “subway like” operation some in York Region might have expected.

The Metrolinx study includes a chart showing the interaction of demand and capacity changes to 2031.

YongeNorthDemandProjection

The current 2015 demand is shown as higher than the actual capacity (31.2k vs 28.0k) based on the level of overcrowding now experienced on the line. The light blue dotted line shows the capacity before the new signal system is activated, and the solid blue line shows the added capacity. Even this will not be sufficient to handle the projected growth to 2031 absent other changes.

The TYSSE and other changes  are expected to shift 1,300 per hour from the Yonge line, and a further 4,200 would be attracted by GO/RER. This mostly, but not completely, offsets the anticipated growth so that by 2031 the “base case” demand is 32.3k, slightly higher than the demand today, but in less crowded conditions thanks to more trains/hour.

The Yonge North extension adds only 2,400 peak hour passengers and brings the line up to 96% capacity. Note that this is the peak hour average, and there will be some overcrowding due to variations over the hour.

This leaves no room for growth, but it also shows the paltry additional demand expected on a very expensive subway extension. Indeed, this makes the Scarborough extension to STC positively shine by comparison with 7,300 peak hour riders. The projected demand on the Richmond Hill line appears to be lower than the existing ridership of the SRT!

But things are really not that bad.

Those 2,400 are net new riders attracted by the subway in place of existing bus service. Total ridership will be a combination of then-current bus passengers feeding into Finch Station plus the 2,400 new riders.

Metrolinx shows that the “long” version of the Relief Line to Sheppard produces a sizeable reduction in projected demand on both the Yonge line and for the Bloor-Yonge transfer movements.

YongeReliefDemandEffects

If Metrolinx, Toronto and York Region are really serious about providing capacity for future extension and ridership growth on the Yonge Subway, then construction of a Relief Line is absolutely essential despite its cost.

Meanwhile, York Region should update its website to provide accurate claims about future changes to subway capacity. Blatant inaccuracy such as we see here are the marks of hucksterism designed to sell a project, not a professional representation of what is actually needed.

Update: The new version of the website addresses these issues, but I must wonder why the incorrect information appeared there in the first place.

Toronto’s Network Plan 2031: Part III, Fare Integration

This article is the third installment of my examination of reports going to Toronto Executive Committee and to the Metrolinx Board on June 28, 2016. For a complete list, see Part I of this series.

This article deals with two separate reports from the City of Toronto and from Metrolinx about Fare Integration. These two reports have quite different outlooks. For Metrolinx, there is an acknowledgement that any new fare policy will be difficult, but a determination to stay the course with their work plan and fare models. For Toronto, the focus is on the inequity of short versus medium and long-distance GO fares (a problem not just for Toronto as a node), and on the changes needed for GO to become more than a 905-to-Union Station commuter railway.

Additional material comes from the Metrolinx Fare Integration Advocacy Groups & Academics’ Workshop held on June 24, 2016. Presentations from this workshop are not yet online.

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A Cat’s Cradle of Transit Plans (Updated)

Updated June 6, 2016 at 11:30 pm: The chart of the demand profile for the Eglinton East LRT has been updated by City Planning to correct an error in labelling where inbound and outblound values were reversed. The new chart has been placed into this post, and the link to the source pdf has been updated below.

Public consultation sessions are coming to an end on the “motherlode” of transit projects (as they were described earlier this year by Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat). This process will soon bring a consolidated set of reports and recommendations for Council. So far, the presentations have been subdivided between various projects.

A major challenge for politicians, the media and the general public is to sort out all of these schemes and to understand how they all fit together. This is not just a question of how we will finance all of the projects, but of how each project and the choices made for it will affect everything else. Where typical studies in Toronto might have wrestled with whether a new line should go under street “A” or “B”, and where the stations might be located, today’s work requires understanding of how the network will evolve over time and how it will work as a whole in a few decades.

The process is complicated further by having municipal (City Planning & TTC) and provincial (Metrolinx) components, and the secretive nature of Metrolinx studies means that some vital information about its projects is not yet public. The Metrolinx reports are expected to appear on their Board’s agenda for June 28, and this implies public availability sometime in the preceding week.

The consolidated City reports should be available on June 21 when a briefing session is to occur at City Hall a week before the June 28 Executive Committee meeting.

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Ministerial Hot Air On Fare Integration

Today saw an exchange in the Ontario Legislature showing the true colours of the provincial government when it comes to an informed, intelligent discussion of fare integration in the GTHA. The full exchange is below lest anyone accuse me of quoting them out of context.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Acting Premier.

Throughout its history, TTC fares in Toronto have been based on the simple principle that every Torontonian deserves equal access to their transit system regardless of their income and regardless of where they live.

But now Metrolinx is quietly working on a fare integration plan that could force people living in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York to pay a higher fare for a subway ride than people living downtown. Will the Liberal government guarantee that Metrolinx will not force people living in Scarborough to pay more to ride the subway?

Hon. Charles Sousa: Minister of Transportation.

Hon. Steven Del Duca: I want to thank the leader of the NDP for the question. Of course, as everyone should know by now, the folks at Metrolinx, who are doing an exceptional job, are working hard to liaise with all of our municipal transit systems around the greater Toronto and Hamilton area to make sure that, collectively, we can deliver on fare integration for this region.

I think anyone who moves around the greater Toronto and Hamilton area would recognize—and certainly I hear it loud and clear from my own constituents in York region—that we need to make sure, in order to support the unprecedented transit investments that this government is making, that we need a fare integration system across this entire region that works seamlessly, that makes transit more accessible, more affordable, more reliable and more dependable for the people of the entire region. That’s the work that Metrolinx is embarking upon in conjunction with all of our municipal transit systems. They will keep working hard, Speaker, to make sure that we can get it right.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, in fact, what Metrolinx has been quietly doing is designing a fare integration plan that could force the TTC to become a zone-based system that divides Torontonians based on where they live. So years from now, people in Scarborough might get a new subway but then find out that they can only afford to ride the bus.

Will the Liberal government guarantee that there will be no fare zones within Toronto, and that Metrolinx will not force the TTC to charge higher fares for subway riders?

Hon. Steven Del Duca: I guess only the leader of Ontario’s NDP would think somehow that after months of open conversations, after months in which every single board meeting has a public portion, only the leader of Ontario’s NDP would think that this is somehow hidden. It’s a conversation that’s been ongoing.

It’s part of my mandate letter which, of course, she should know. For the first time in Ontario’s history our mandate letters were posted publicly at the time that we received them, Speaker.

I think what’s also, perhaps, the reason that the leader of the NDP is mistaken about how supposedly hidden this effort is, Speaker, is that because while we are investing in transit through budget after budget after budget, that leader and the NDP caucus continue to vote against them. They are obviously more focused on petty partisan politics in Scarborough instead of being focused on making sure that they support the transit investments needed to deliver the seamless integrated transit network the people of this region and the people of Scarborough deserve.

Let’s get the historical inaccuracy in Horwath’s question out of the way first. The pre-Metro Toronto Transportation Commission used a single fare within the old City of Toronto, and supplementary fares beyond in what were then separate municipalities where the TTC provided some services. Some suburban bus routes were operated by private companies which charged their own fares. After the creation of Metro in 1954, the Toronto Transit Commission had fare zones roughly based on the old city and everything else, but these were abandoned in 1973 as part of the political deal for suburban municipalities helping to finance transit expansion through their Metro taxes.

I am no fan of Andrea Horwath, but she asks a legitimate question.

The Minister’s response is pure political hot air talking about the wonderful work at Metrolinx, and the wonderful spending on transit construction now underway, but utterly avoiding the issue of separate fares either for zones or classes of service within Toronto. Instead, he turns the question into one of “petty partisan politics” and fails to address the matter of whether Scarborough riders will pay more to ride their new subway whenever it opens.

One might ask the same question about the Minister’s constituents in York Region who will be heavily subsidized by Toronto Taxpayers to ride the Spadina extension to Vaughan.