What Does Scarborough Transit Need?

At the risk of re-igniting the Scarborough subway debate, I am moving some comments that are becoming a thread in their own right out of the “Stop Spacing” article over here to keep the two conversations separated.

In response to the most recent entry in the thread, I wrote:

Steve: Probably the most annoying feature of “pro Scarborough subway” (as opposed to “pro Scarborough”) pitches is the disconnect with the travel demands within Scarborough. These are known from the every five year detailed survey of travel in the GTHA, and a point that sticks out is that many people, a sizeable minority if not a majority, of those who live in Scarborough are not commuting to downtown. Instead they are travelling within Scarborough, to York Region or to locations along the 401. Many of these trips, even internal to Scarborough, are badly served by transit. One might argue that the lower proportion of downtown trips is a chicken-and-egg situation — it is the absence of a fast route to downtown combined with the impracticality of driving that discourages travel there. That’s a fair point, but one I have often argued would be better served with the express services possible on the rail corridors were it not for the GO fare structure that penalizes inside-416 travel.

We now have three subways — one to Vaughan, one to Richmond Hill and one to Scarborough — in various stages of planning and construction in part because GO (and by extension Queen’s Park) did not recognize the benefit of providing much better service to the core from the outer 416 and near 905 at a fare that riders would consider “reasonable” relative to what they pay today. I would love to see service on the CPR line that runs diagonally through Scarborough, out through Malvern into North Pickering. This route has been fouled up in debates for years about restitution of service to Peterborough, a much grander, more expensive and less likely proposition with added layers of rivalry between federal Tory and provincial Liberal interests. Fitting something like that into the CPR is tricky enough without politicians scoring points off of each other.

The most common rejoinder I hear to proposals that GO could be a form of “subway relief” is that the service is too infrequent and too expensive. What is the capital cost of subway construction into the 905 plus the ongoing operating cost once lines open versus the cost of better service and lower fares on a much improved GO network? Nobody has ever worked this out because GO and subway advocates within the planning community work in silos, and the two options are never presented as one package.

With the RER studies, this may finally change, and thanks to the issues with the Yonge corridor, we may finally see numbers comparing the effects of improved service in all available corridors and modes serving traffic from York Region to the core. I would love to see a comparable study for Scarborough.

Meanwhile, we need to know more about “inside Scarborough” demand including to major centres such as academic sites that are not touched by the subway plan.

I will promote comments here that contribute to the conversation in a civil manner. As for the trolls (and you know who you are), don’t bother. Your “contributions” only make the Scarborough position much less palatable, and I won’t subject my readers to your drivel.

Another Look at A Grand Plan

Warning: This post will be offensive to those with sensitive egos.

In recent months, probably thanks to the election campaign, I have acquired a few “followers” who have enough working brain cells to put together rants on a daily basis. They decry my antipathy to anyone-but-Chow, subways, SmartTrack, and various other schemes claiming that I am eminently unqualified to run this blog. One regular writer even claims that I should “resign” so that some more enlightened soul can be “elected” by the readership to mind the store.

One wonders what part of a personal domain name this person (or persons) does not understand, or the idea that the marketplace will determine whether writings here have credibility and influence.

Those with nothing better to do but criticize almost certainly have not put in the decades of watching, commenting, advocating, consulting and even occasionally getting paid (!!!) for their thoughts on transit. Early in this blog’s history, back in March 2006, that little agency called “Metrolinx” did not yet exist, and in anticipation of its creation, I wrote an article about how the region’s transit should evolve.

I gave credit to other organizations, notably the Toronto Board of Trade, as well as the army of professionals and amateurs with whom I have discussed transit over the years.

The plan included:

  • Much more extensive use of the rail network for improved GO service.
  • Much improved service on the surface bus and streetcar network including an increased bus fleet and purchase of an accessible low-floor streetcar fleet.
  • An Eglinton LRT line including an underground section from Leaside to Keele including service to Pearson Airport.
  • A Don Mills / Waterfront east line [Since 2006, I have come to think that a full subway would be better south of Eglinton as the line would be entirely grade separated anyhow. As for the waterfront, the planned development between Yonge and the Port Lands is now much more extensive and requires far more than a DRL or SmartTrack station to serve the entire site.]
  • Various other LRT lines including one in the Weston corridor using the space that has now been consumed by the UPX trackage.
  • A Yonge subway extension north to Steeles.

… and much more.

The plan isn’t perfect. My opinion of some lines has changed over the years, but the basic premise has not. Toronto must think of transit as a network with many parts, not just a bauble here and there to get someone through an election, or a showpiece for one municipality or transit operator.

Yes, I’m an advocate for LRT, a mode that other cities were building while Toronto wasted four decades on the anything-but-LRT attitude that dates back to Bill Davis. I make no apology for that, and only wish we had built more over the years rather than pursuing pipe-dreams and fighting over the selection of new routes.

By now, we could have had a network of LRT lines plus frequent GO service in two or three corridors serving Scarborough. What we got was the Toonerville Trolley to STC.

Some folks see me as a critic, a nay-sayer who denigrates new plans and opposes “progress” (a word that usually means building what they want). I have seen plans come and go, a lot of false starts, and too many cases where small-scale, short-term thinking wasted opportunities for real progress on transit. Far too many hobby-horses, far too much vote-buying, and far too much fiscal fantasy about something-for-nothing transit systems.

So the next time you feel like leaving a really snotty comment here about how I don’t care about anyone outside of downtown, how I am single-handedly responsible for the decline of civilization as we know it, take a few moments to polish off your resumé. Tell us all what you were doing for the past 40 years, and how carefully you have thought about the transit system. Then start your own website.

John Tory’s “SmartTrack”: Will That Train Ever Leave The Station?

Late in May, John Tory launched his “SmartTrack” transit line, the centrepiece of his “One Toronto” plan. Media reps gathered for a preview at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and the launch was handled almost entirely by Tory’s staff. All of the background papers are on the One Toronto website, and little has been added since that event.

Even then, in the early days of the campaign, there was good reason to distrust Tory’s grasp of his own proposal, let alone a willingness to engage in debate, when he made the briefest of appearances for a canned statement to give the media clips for the news broadcasts, but answered few questions.

I was modestly impressed that at least a Mayoral candidate was not just thinking at the ward level for a transit proposal, but felt the plan was rather threadbare — a single line to solve almost all of Toronto’s problems.

Wearing two hats that day – as both reporter and activist – I was scrummed by the media for comments, and the Tory campaign chose to lift one phrase out of context as an “endorsement” for SmartTrack that remains online.

Steve Munro, Toronto Transit Blogger, said, “This is very much a refocusing of what transit in Toronto should be.”

What I was talking about was the need to look at the region and at trips to points other than the corner of Bay & Front and times other than the traditional commuter peaks. As to the specifics of SmartTrack, I was rather less complimentary.

In brief, SmartTrack would see electric multiple unit (EMU) trains operating primarily on GO Transit corridors between Unionville on the Stouffville line and Mount Dennis on the Weston corridor (the Kitchener-Waterloo line). At Eglinton and Weston, the line would veer west along the former Richview Expressway lands to the Airport Corporate Centre, but not to the airport itself.

The route would charge regular TTC fares with free transfers to the existing system, and with frequent all-day service at peak levels of every 15 minutes. Over its 53km it would have 22 stations, and might, according to the campaign, carry over 200,000 passengers per day.

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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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Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (4)

Public meetings regarding the Metrolinx Yonge Corridor Relief Study and the City of Toronto/TTC Relief Line Project Assessment have been announced:

  • Saturday April 5, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm at the Sheraton Centre Dominion Ballroom (Queen Street opposite City Hall)
  • Tuesday April 8, 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church (10066 Yonge Street, north of Major MacKenzie) (Metrolinx study only)
  • Thursday April 10, 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm at Riverdale Collegiate (1094 Gerrard Street East at Jones Avenue)
  • Saturday April 12, 9:00 am to 12:00 noon at Holy Name Parish (71 Gough Avenue, Danforth one block west of Pape) (City/TTC study only)

A new website has been created under the name regionalrelief.ca with links to various aspects of these studies.  There are three main branches only one of which contains new content.

  • The Metrolinx branch takes readers to the Metrolinx Regional Relief Strategy project page which reflects the status as of the February 2014 board meeting.
  • The City of Toronto branch goes to a subsite dedicated specifically to the Project Assessment for the Relief Line.  This includes a mechanism for public participation in formulation of the Terms of Reference for this study.
  • The York Region branch goes to the VivaNext page for the Yonge subway Richmond Hill extension.

I will update this article if new material appears before the public meetings.

Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (3) (Meetings Postponed)

The meetings originally announced for the week of March 1st in Toronto and Richmond Hill have been postponed by joint agreement of the parties involved.  New dates later in March will be announced.

Metrolinx will hold three public meetings to discuss the Regional Relief Strategy on March 1st and 3rd in Toronto, and on March 5th in Richmond Hill.

Metrolinx Contemplates Relief (2)

This article is a continuation of a previous commentary on the Metrolinx Yonge Network Relief Strategy.

On February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board considered the presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study, but little information was added in the debate.  One question, from Chair Robert Prichard, went roughly “shouldn’t this have been started two years ago”, but it was left hanging in the air without a response.  Two years, of course, has brought us a new Provincial Premier and a recognition that her predecessor’s timidity on the transit file wasted a great deal of time.

Moreover, there is a long overdue acknowledgement that Metrolinx cannot simply plan one line at a time without understanding network effects including those beyond its own services.

Originally, I planned to leave the next installment in this discussion until public consultation sessions began, but I have now decided to make some brief comments on the various options that will be on the table.  (See Yonge Network Relief Study, page 11.)

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Metrolinx Contemplates Relief

At its meeting on February 14, 2014, the Metrolinx Board will receive a presentation on the Yonge Network Relief Study. Despite the need for better regional transit links (and by that I mean links that do not take people to downtown Toronto), the elephant in the room has always been the unstoppable demand for more capacity into the core area. Planning for and debates about catching up with the backlog of transit infrastructure cannot avoid this issue, and it skews the entire discussion because the scale and cost of serving downtown is greater than any other single location in the GTHA.

Conflicting political and professional attitudes across the region colour the view of downtown.  Toronto suburbs, never mind the regions beyond the city boundary, are jealous of downtown’s growth, and for decades have wanted some of the shiny new buildings and jobs for themselves. But the development, such as it was, skipped over the “old” suburbs to new areas in the 905 that could offer lower taxes possible through booming development and the low short-term cost of “new” cities.

Strangling downtown is not a new idea, and politicians decades ago foretold of gleaming suburban centres to redirect growth together with its travel demand. The transit network would force-feed the new centres, and downtown would magically be constrained by not building any new transit capacity to the core.

Someone forgot to tell GO Transit where service and ridership grew over the decades. Downtown Toronto continued to build, and that is now compounded by the shift of residential construction into the older central city.

Thanks to the early 1990s recession, the subway capacity crisis that had built through the 1980s evaporated, and the TTC could talk as if more downtown capacity was unneeded. To the degree it might be required, the marvels of new technology would allow them to stuff more riders on existing lines. A less obvious motive was that this would avoid competition for funding and political support between new downtown capacity with a much-favoured suburban extension into York Region. Whenever they did talk about “downtown relief”, the TTC did so with disdain.

Times have changed. Long commutes are now a burden, not a fast escape to suburban paradise. Every debate starts with “congestion” and the vain hope that there is a simple, take-two-pills-and-call-me-in-the-morning solution. Top that off with an aversion for any taxes that might actually pay for improvements, or sacrifices in convenience until that blissful day when transit arrives at everyone’s doorstep.

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Future Demand on the Downtown Subway Network

Recent discussion about the Downtown Relief Line study and its Terms of Reference sent me back to the TTC’s Downtown Rapid Transit Expansion Study (DTRES) published last year for a look at the demand projections.

What I found there was rather troubling.

The TTC looked at three scenarios to model future shortfall in network capacity by 2031:

  • The existing TTC and GO networks
  • An enhanced “reference network” with improved subway and GO service
  • The reference network plus the Yonge extension north from Finch to Richmond Hill

The demand model outputs appear in three separate tables within that study, but it is not until we consolidate the information that some anomalies really jump out.


There are four sets of numbers in this table with columns corresponding to the three model networks.

  • Capacity:  This gives the capacity of each route based on service levels and train lengths.
  • Inbound demand:  This is the modeled demand on the network.
  • V/C:  This is the ratio of demand to capacity.  A value near to or greater than 1.0 indicates that the line will be over capacity during at least part of the peak period.
  • Inbound deficiency:  Where the capacity is lower than the demand, this is the magnitude of the shortfall.

The capacity of the reference network is about 50% greater than the existing one.  Note that for the northern GO services, ten-car trains are assumed although 20% could be added to the capacity with 12-car trains on the same presumed schedules.  (The model also considered the east-west GO services and their effect in draining trips off of the BD subway that would otherwise contribute to demand south of Bloor Station.)

The modeled demand is also about 50% greater than the demand that the model assigns to the “existing” network configuration.  This shows the modeled effect of increased transit service on network demand.  However, this also begs the question of where those trips would be if the TTC and GO improvements did not take place.  An obvious useful addition to the discussion would be the added road trips, or the trips simply not taken because there was no network capacity to handle them.

The big surprise is that there is almost no difference between the total demand with or without the Richmond Hill extension.  Indeed, most changes are re-assignments of trips from GO lines and the University subway in the “reference” network to the Yonge subway in the “reference + YSE” network.

Route                    Without YSE     With YSE
University Subway           25,100        23,500
Yonge S of Bloor            35,800        39,400
Barrie GO                    7,500         7,400
Richmond Hill GO             2,500         2,200
Stouffville GO               8,600         8,000
Total                       79,500        80,500

Why would we spend billions of dollars building a subway to Richmond Hill to carry no more total riders on the network than we do without it?

There are two obvious responses to this question:

  • Some of the new trips have destinations at or north of Bloor Street and therefore they do not contribute to the count of riders into the core area.
  • In the model’s world, the subway extension does not attract any net new trips beyond what would occur simply with better service on the subway to Finch and enhanced GO services (i.e. with the reference network).

This is a rather strange situation considering that the holdup on building the Richmond Hill extension arose from the claim that it would overload the Yonge line.  However, in the model, it does this primarily by attracting trips that would otherwise have been on GO or on the extended University subway.

(At this point, I have to wonder whether a similar methodology produced the inflated ridership projections for the Scarborough Subway, but that is another matter.)

The model shows very low ridership on the Richmond Hill line.  Indeed, the greatest number of riders (2,900) is obtained with the “existing” network and the value falls even though GO service is improved in the “reference” and “reference + YSE” networks.  This implies that the model prefers to assign trips to the “faster” Yonge subway especially when it goes all the way north to Richmond Hill.

On the BD line, although an increased capacity is included in the model (about 27%), ridership only goes up in the section east of Yonge.  This implies either that demand from the west is static (difficult to believe) or that it is going somewhere else in the model.  Where?  Is growth assigned mainly to GO because it competes well with the subway for traffic in Mississauga while to the east Scarborough is poorly served by GO?

There is no question that Toronto needs more capacity into the core area, but the modeled numbers in the DTRES are suspect.  If anything, they may understate the problem and the potential benefits of alternatives to stuffing more riders onto the Yonge subway.

The TTC has a long history of downplaying the need for anything beyond Yonge subway capacity expansion (more trains, new signals, bigger stations) to the detriment of long-term planning for better GO service and new TTC subway or LRT services.  For many years, all we heard about from TTC was the need for a Richmond Hill subway.  Any other project was cold-shouldered because it threatened that favoured scheme.  Only when capacity problems could not be ignored did the TTC turn to the “DRL” as a possible solution.

Toronto has been ill-served by this blinkered planning, and coming studies on the future of the transit network (without regard to the paint scheme on the vehicles) must be based on a fair and accurate assessment of how new and improved services will contribute to moving passengers and limiting the growth of congestion in Toronto.