TTC Plans Flatlined Service and Fares for 2018 (Updated November 17)

Updated November 17, 2017 at 6:30 pm

The TTC Budget Committee met today and considered the draft 2018 Operating Budget. Between the original release (described later in this article) and today’s meeting, Mayor Tory and two members of the TTC Board endorsed the concept of a two-hour fare to replace the complex transfer rules now in place.

Although this was listed as the second item on the revised meeting agenda, Commissioner Mary Fragedakis moved that it be considered first. This re-ordering was a procedural move to forestall a standard tactic used at City Council where a motion setting the next year’s tax increase is introduced and passed before the budget which it will fund. The result is that any proposed budget changes must fit within the already-approved tax level rather than having taxes set after the budget is finalized. In this case, the motion regarding a two-hour fare was only a report request, and the order was less critical. That request passed by a vote of 3-1 with Budget Chair John Campbell in the negative as he opposes the two-hour fare scheme.

The meeting then turned to a series of deputations which, as these things tend to do, fell on largely hostile ears. A favourite tactic is to challenge members of the public to explain “how would you do  it”, despite the fact that the issues are complex and do not fit within an answer of a few sentences. The Budget Committee itself cancels more of its meetings than it holds, and opportunities for an open debate about transit policy options and the budget rarely occur.

Beyond information already in the budget report, there were a few additional items of note in the staff presentation.

The Cost of the Vaughan Extension

This comes up from time to time, and it is clear that the Committee did not fully understand the costs and revenues associated with the extension.

For some time, a cost increase of $30 million annually has been cited for the TYSSE. However, the 2018 Budget only includes a $25 million bump because $5 million had already been included for start-up costs and operation in the 2017 Budget.

The $25 million comes from a combination of new costs, and revised revenues. The TTC now receives $8 million for bus services operated on contract for York Region, but those services will be assumed by the Region when the subway extension opens. The TTC will continue to operate the vehicles, but now at their own cost and so this is a net increase in costs because of the lost revenue. That amount is partly offset by a combination of $3 million in new fare revenue and $1 million in parking revenue.

Ridership

The projected ridership for 2018 is 539 million, a growth of 3 million over the probable results for 2017, but below the originally budgeted target of 543.8 million. The change from 2017 to 2018 arises from several factors:

Increases:

  • 4.8 million rides due to economic growth
  • 2.1 million rides due to service improvements and the GO Transit co-fare
  • 1.5 million more rides by children (who travel free of charge)
  • 1.2 million new rides from the TYSSE
  • 0.5 million additional rides counted due to improved reliability of Presto readers
  • Total: 10.1 million

Note that most of the expected ridership on the TYSSE will be by existing riders changing travel patterns, not by net new riders. This is further constrained because York Region Transit will continue to serve York University directly thanks to a lack of agreement on a co-fare between YRT and TTC. Riders who were anticipated to show up as YRT-TYSSE-YorkU trips will not be using the subway. It is ironic that there will be more new rides by children on the system as a whole than by riders on the subway extension.

Half a million rides were estimated to have not been counted in 2017 because failing Presto readers were unable to charge these fares. The TTC’s Brad Ross advises that these are

“rides not counted, assuming they still rode but couldn’t pay. The TTC is in the process of accounting for all lost revenue due to out-of-service Presto readers.”

Reductions:

  • 0.5 million rides due to increased subway closures
  • 0.7 million rides due to the elimination of the Public Transit Tax Credit
  • 2.8 million rides due to decreasing sales of Metropasses and Day Passes
  • 3.1 million rides due to a reduction in the average number of trips taken on each Metropass
  • Total: 7.1 million

This provides the net increase of 3 million over 2017 probable results.

Expense Risks

The budget has been drawn up on a conservative basis and leaves several areas where the outcomes in 2018 could be different than projected. The $14 million now sitting in the Transit Stabilization Reserve could be used to offset some of this risk, provided that Council does not scoop the reserve simply to hold down the subsidy increase.

Some of the items below refer to savings that allowed 2017 to show a “surplus” (actually a reduced requirement for subsidy), and these might not all continue into 2018.

The budget contains a provision for $4.1 million in extra costs through the provincially mandated payment for two emergency leave days per year. This has been estimated conservatively, and TTC staff advised the Committee that the worst case cost could be $18 million.

The History of TTC Budget Variances and Subsidies

For many years, the TTC has consistently come in under budget for the annual subsidy requirement. In the table below, the amounts are for the subsidies, not for the overall operating costs. This always leaves the TTC in a position for its next year estimates that a budget-to-budget subsidy flat-line actually represents an increase over actual requirements in the current year.

The subsidy per rider will go up in 2018 because of the fare freeze. Although this takes Toronto back to the level of 2010, that does not allow for cost inflation over that period which has been well above the CPI.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting Followup: October 26, 2017

Updated Nov. 2, 2017 at 2:50 pm: Typos corrected, notably “DBFOM”.

The Metrolinx Board met on October 26 with an agenda that was largely discussed in private. This article is a follow-up to the preview published before the meeting.

A major item on the confidential agenda concerned “Benefits Management and Realization”. Why this was handled at such great length in private is a mystery, and I attempted without success to clarify the topic of discussion with Metrolinx.

I asked:

Is this the issue of identifying, encouraging and capturing some of the benefits of transit expansion?

In a thoroughly opaque reply, Metrolinx stated:

Benefits management is a process to help us maximize project value as Metrolinx plans, builds, operates and connects transit projects in order to provide benefits to the region. [Email of Oct. 23 from Scott Money in Metrolinx Communications]

A major problem for Metrolinx and for the Regional Plan in general is the propensity to build stations surrounded by parking lots and structures (GO) or free-standing architectural sculptures that make integration with future development quite difficult. On a smaller scale, Metrolinx will have to get used to thinking smaller, in the sense that stops on BRT and LRT lines should not be planned around massive growth but depend on medium density locally plus intersecting feeder routes.

Metrolinx has committed to publishing information about its private sessions in the future, and it will be interesting to see how much we actually learn about evolving thoughts on this issue. After all, this meeting was billed as a “strategy session”.

The New CEO Introduces Himself

Metrolinx’ new CEO, Phil Verster, made a few remarks most of which were predictable as so much at Metrolinx meetings can be.

His focus since joining the agency has been on talking to customers and front line staff, especially those who do the invisible tasks that keep the system running. He has also been consulting with Metrolinx staff and management about the importance of positioning the agency to get the most out of the investment in the RER (Regional Express Rail) program over the coming years.

Among many projects, Verster spoke of the Kipling mobility hub (recently announced with a media event by sundry politicians), a project that has been brewing for over a decade.

Fare integration was another topic Verster focused on with the recently announced GO-TTC co-fare arrangement being the first step to region-wide integration. This will affect business case analyses, travel behaviours and patterns. New travel, of course, will depend not only on fares, but also on service, a topic on which Verster was silent.

In a telling comment, Verster observed that while Metrolinx has a lot of capital improvements underway, it is important to remember “the soft stuff” of organizational improvement, transparency to the community, and becoming an organization that represents transit in an objective and positive manner.

Being “objective” is a topic that returned in other discussions as the meeting went on.

Regional Transportation Plan Update

Antoine Belaieff presented an overview of the RTP consultations to date. He reported that reception to the draft plan as been generally positive, but that there is continued impatience for system improvements. Riders want seamless fares and service, have diverse opinions on parking and station access, and are interested in seeing how the plan will be staged and implemented. At the municipal level there were few surprises because local planners have been involved in developing the draft, although there is some interest in adding projects to the plan. Stakeholders want clarity about the first/last mile problem and how the growth in travel with RER will affect station access. There is continued interest in long and short haul goods movement by truck and rail.

There have been “fairly technical” discussions about roles and responsibilities for Metrolinx vs the provincial government, especially with respect to the provincial Growth Plan, and a desire for “crisp and concrete” language.

Phil Verster observed that the plan should not be “final” but should be open to changes. It should not be an “event” but an ongoing process.

Board member Upkar Arora asked whether people have been flagging omissions in the plan, have concerns about the environment and sustainability, or are split between an urban/suburban view of the plan.

Belaieff replied that, if anything, people are having to digest a “rich” plan that has a great deal to absorb. Feedback on environment issues has been supportive because of the plan’s “call to action”. Suburban areas tend to focus on how the plan will support growth both through new stations and with expansion that is timely relative to development.

Board member Rahul Bhardwaj asked whether “we hearing from the right people” or just those who are usually engaged, and using an unfortunate phrase, referred to the “silent majority”. Belaieff replied that he was pleased to see audiences not just of his planning friends, but that there was genuine input from “everyday” people. Getting attendees to meetings is hard, and Metrolinx is counting on local networks to help with this, but both “planning intellectuals” and “real people” were present. Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer, noted the need to reach marginalized communities.

Woo advised that there will be a report in December on the feedback Metrolinx has received and how it will affect the next version of the document. In parallel staff are working on economic information and will propose “a way forward” with the plan and its implementation. She proposed that the plan not be considered as finite, but as a generator of more specific studies.

One statement caught my ear, namely that this is a plan for ten years, after which there will be a new plan. That is technically correct, in that there is a legal mandate to review the plan every decade (the current review is triggered by that), but the RTP is intended to look forward a quarter century and given the lead time for the most complex projects, a ten year outlook simply won’t do.

As for the comments about “real people” at meetings, this cuts two ways. On one hand, it is vital that the plan be shaped by genuine public opinion as opposed to the “usual suspects” be they those of us who always comment on anything, or politicians who warp transit plans to suit their electoral goals. On the other hand, public opinion can be skewed by biased presentations, and some of the activism so familiar in transit circles arises directly from the need to provide contrary views to the official versions. Being “engaged” should not disqualify one from providing input to a vital plan, and engagement does not necessarily translate to agreement.

The finality of a plan, or its openness to change, is always a tug of war at the planning and political levels. Plans that are open to constant change can leave us with a situation where changing priorities and limited funding guarantee that nothing actually happens. On the other hand, the lack of published details behind many parts of the plan, specifically ridership projections, land use assumptions, project costs and priorities leave us with a full network for 2041 but no sense of how we will get there, or how subsets of the plan would perform.

Hydrogen Trains

Phil Verster introduced this report as an examination of an alternative “green” way to implement non-diesel propulsion for GO saying that there will be a very important feasibility study of the technology this fall. Mark Ciavarro, VP of RER Implementation, took the Board through the presentation (linked above) together with Peter Zuk, Chief Capital Officer.

Ciavarro noted that interest in hydrogen as a fuel goes back to 2012 when it was still a relatively new technology and, at the time, not worth further pursuit. In September 2016, Alstom unveiled a pilot and the vehicle is now in testing, although in a different, much smaller form than trains GO would use. The test train reaches a maximum speed of 140 km/h, and 60 trains are on order. Chief Operating Officer Greg Percy noted that GO’s top speed now is 90m/h or 150km/h. Greg Verster stated that speeds of 180-200km/h and up lie in High Speed Rail territory.

Chair Rob Prichard noted that there is a terminology issue in that all locomotives are electric, but the question is where the energy comes from. [Diesel locos generate their power on board while “electric” locos obtain power from an overhead wire. In both cases the actual propulsion is provided by an electric motor. However, truly electric trains give the option of powering all cars, not just the locomotive, and this changes a train’s performance.]

Zuk stated that GO is electrifying its network and the question is how this would be done. They are doing a feasibility study of hydrogen and other potential technologies. In Germany, commercial uses of hydrogen goes back to 2002, but there is a question here of the scale and applicability to large commuter rail operations.

Verster observed that the application of hydrogen trains in Germany would be to rural lines where electrification infrastructure is not cost effective. The train is small, and the issue is whether the technology can be scaled up. There will be challenges and that is why Metrolinx is conducting the feasibility study. There are hydrogen fuel cell applications in LRT and buses, but this is the first train. Surplus electricity can be used to create hydrogen, and that first stage is always expensive. This is a key part of the study.

Board member Carl Zehr asked whether the study will look at the transition to and integration of hydrogen technology. Verster replied only the technical feasibility is  being studied in the immediate future. His main objective is to deliver RER at the best cost and time. With respect to using the technology on track that GO does not own [portions of some corridors are owned by CN and CP which operate freight traffic over them], hydrogen trains could avoid the need for overhead contact systems (OCS) on non-GO trackage but there is no regulatory framework for this yet in Canada.

Zuk noted that each component of hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around for years. What is new is their integration into a rail system. Metrolinx needs to determine if and how fuel delivery will work, and how the technology would fit into EMU (electric multiple unit) trains.

There will be a symposium to assess the state of the technology on November 16, 2017 (see p. 13 in the presentation deck) and this will be open to outside parties. Whether this means media and the general public is as yet uncertain.

Rob Prichard wondered whether GO Transit would be the last system to build an overhead based system. The obvious rejoinder is that the whole world is building these systems. Verster replied that Metrolinx should not engage in delivering a program that is dependent on research and development.

The study will likely be done by the end of 2017 with a report for the February 2018 Board meeting.

During the press scrum after the meeting, the Star’s Ben Spurr asked Chair Prichard and CEO Phil Verster what made them think hydrogen technology is even possible. Verster replied unambiguously that there are significant community ridership benefits in RER, and Metrolinx will not jeopardize this based on a technology that is not ready to market. He observed that the study will affect RER procurement – under a DBFOM scheme (where a bidder does everything from designing to operating and maintaining the system) there is a question of what technologies a provide might bid.

Spurr also asked about Metrolinx attempting to position Ontario as a global leader, and whether this is a transit agency’s role. Verster replied that Metrolinx should “scan the horizon” to know what is available.

The DBFOM reference raises the question of whether Metrolinx is planning to outsource its RER operations completely on a turnkey basis. I attempted to obtain clarification of this from Metrolinx later on (the scrum ran out of time), but replies yielded no information at all. As for hydrogen itself, it is clear that there is a tension between the basic action of getting an update on the technology, and a political stance that would provide Ontario (and its politicians) with yet another chance to show off advanced technology. Our experience in that regard is less than stellar.

GO/TTC Discounted Double Fare

This report is substantially the same as the one presented at the recent TTC Board meeting. It deals with the proposed agreement between Metrolinx and the City of Toronto/TTC to implement the first stage in a planned four-stage evolution of regional fares:

a) Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
b) Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
c) Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
d) Fare Policy Harmonization

Leslie Woo expects to report to the December Board meeting on all of these.

During the scrum, Rob Prichard observed that although the GO-TTC co-fare is a three year agreement, he feels that unwinding it is unlikely because it is so clearly the right policy direction. If anything, it will be rolled into a more extensive set of integrated fares.

We can only hope that Metrolinx has moved beyond regarding the matter of time-based fares (the two-hour transfer) as a matter of local policy rather than as a potential key part of regional integration for non-GO services. All systems outside of Toronto now use this scheme, and York Region recently eliminated its zone fares. Only the TTC remains as an exception, and there will be a proposal in the coming Ridership Growth Strategy that Toronto move to the two-hour transfer.

This could leave Metrolinx in the position of trying to foist fare by distance, their long-favoured scheme, on local systems that have already standardized on a flat, time-based fare.

Governance

The agenda included a private session item on governance which will be public at the December meeting. This may deal with the issue of which items and reports are dealt with in private session, and which are made public, especially before rather than after they are massaged to fit political reaction.

Rob Prichard, after much prodding in the media scrum, allowed that the controversy over Kirby and Lawrence East Stations was a “catalyst for discussion”. Phil Verster took a shot at the issue by saying that there are four phases to the benefits case process and the station review is at stage 1. There will be more information later in the cycle. Ben Spurr challenged him on the sequence of a Ministerial announcement that appears to seal the decision. Verster replied that communities should get a sense of direction, but that Metrolinx has a long way to go in the maturity of how they work with benefits cases. These are not an absolute science but have strategic overlays leading to a policy decision.

The Globe’s Oliver Moore asked if the Ministerial intervention was appropriate. Verster replied that he cannot comment, but wants to look forward. Metrolinx will give informed advice and options, but it is up to the politicians to make decisions.

These statements dip and dive around the issue, and the comments about the uncertain nature of benefits cases beg the question of the value of the degree to which Metrolinx has relied on these in the past as definitive studies. Either they can hide behind studies as the work of “experts”, or they can recognize them as works in progress that might not be “mature”.

Metrolinx Mulls Strategy (Largely in Private)

Correction: The original version of this article claimed that the Board was meeting in private today to discuss matters that will be on the agenda tomorrow. The Tweet from Metrolinx about today’s is a Stakeholder meeting, not a Board meeting. Thanks to Ben Spurr at the Star for catching this.

The Metrolinx Board will gather on Thursday, October 26 for what is described in the media release as its “annual strategy meeting”. Much of the agenda will be discussed in camera, and if the agency has a strategy, we won’t learn much about how the board members feel on the subject.

The meeting announcement tells us that the Board will discuss “transit expansion progress”. Maybe, but that hardly sounds like “strategy” with the Draft Regional Transit Plan already out to the public for comment. The draft ignores many issues, and the plan does not improve the regional modal split for transit beyond current levels. Moreover, the transit growth is disproportionately focused on Toronto’s core, but transit loses ground (not that it has much to start with) the further from the centre one gets.

Hard discussions about how road space will be used – transit, multi-occupancy vehicles, freight, cycling, pedestrians – need to happen at the regional level, not just on a few “transit streets” downtown. This is a debate both for the 905 and for Toronto’s suburbs where the combination of built form and transit density work against a strong transit market share.

In any event, the public agenda item is a small update on consultation, not a review of any significant policy issues, and it is scheduled for only 15 minutes.

About a month ago, I published a review of the draft plan, and plan to return to the subject in another article soon. My intent had been to make a “deep dive” into the draft, beyond its introductory chapter, but I quickly found how little of substance is actually there.

Other items on the Metrolinx agenda include:

In Private

Benefits Management and Realization (90 minutes)

The title might suggest a discussion of the knotty problem of actually capturing some of the value created by transit investments. I asked Metrolinx to explain just what this was about, and they replied:

Benefits management is a process to help us maximize project value as Metrolinx plans, builds, operates and connects transit projects in order to provide benefits to the region. [Email from Scott Money at Metrolinx, Oct. 23, 2017]

Why, exactly, this should be a matter of confidential discussion is a mystery. This is quite clearly an important part of transit network building, but it has been sidelined when political considerations take precedence over planning issues and “mobility hubs” are little more than enormous parking lots.

Board Governance (15 minutes)

Given recent discussions about political interference in transit decision-making, I cannot help wondering if the Board is aware of its irrelevance, real or perceived. The rare public meetings, the superficial level of debate, and the blizzard of press releases and photo ops from the Minister of Transportation’s office don’t help the situation one bit.

Much of the real debate appears to take place in committee meetings which are so private they are not even advertised and there are is no public record of them.

Metrolinx’ new CEO, Phil Verster, has spoken of the need for “transparency” at Metrolinx, but the problem begins above his level at the Board itself.

Regional Express Rail (60 minutes)

This includes two items: the procurement of a new network operator, and an update on the capital program. Metrolinx has disqualified the current operator, Bombardier, from bidding, a strange move that might raise more eyebrows if Bombardier were not so late on its LRV deliveries. As for the capital programs generally, the only part of this that belongs in a private session would be information on contract issues.

A preliminary discussion of risk issues (30 minutes)

Risk management is an important topic for any Board, and some aspects rightly belong in a private session. That this is “preliminary” and is included in a “strategy” meeting begs the question of what new risks the organization faces, including political fallout from the coming election.

2018/19 Budget Submission (30 minutes)

Unlike budgets at the City of Toronto and TTC, provincial budgets are dark secrets until the moment they are unveiled in the legislature. This puts the public debate of “strategy” for Metrolinx in a difficult position because any spending proposals could embarrass the government by showing what could be if funding were available, or if projects face financial difficulties that could upset spending or delivery plans. The budget could also include new revenue generating strategies including mandated contributions from so-called “municipal partners” or changes to fare schemes.

These are important issues, but we will never hear about them from Metrolinx because of the way Provincial budgets work.

In Public

I will update these sections if there is anything substantive presented at the meeting.

Regional Transportation Plan Update (15 minutes)

This is superficial review of public engagement and has nothing to do with actual content.

Hydrogen Fuel Technology Analysis/Evaluation (30 minutes)

The Minister of Transportation is hot to trot on hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and so of course, Metrolinx must be as well. This report is a review of the current status of the Hydrail project in Germany and an overview of the study work needed to assess its implications for Ontario and GO/RER.

GO/TTC Fare Discount (15 minutes)

This is simply a repeat of the information in the report about the planned co-fare with TTC that has already been dealt with at that agency and is now working its way to City Council.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, December 17, 2017

The December schedules bring the opening of the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station and a major reorganization of bus routes along the subway corridor.

2017.12.17_Service_Changes

Bus routes will be reorganized to serve the subway stations, and in some cases services will be split at the subway corridor. The map below is taken from the TTC’s project page for the line.

Services north of Steeles Avenue that were formerly operated by the TTC on behalf of York Region under contract will now be run by their own transit agency. Fares on the subway have yet to be integrated with YRT, and so a TTC fare will apply to subway journeys while a local YRT fare will apply to the bus feeder network. This is the subject of ongoing discussion, and as usual the issue is who will pay to subsidize a lower co-fare between the two agencies.

The subway will continue the same hours of service it now provides, and the new first/last train times are shown in the table below.

The first train of the day inbound from Vaughan will be at about 5:50 am except on Sundays when service begins at 7:50.

The late night schedule is driven by the long-standing meet at Bloor-Yonge between outbound trains to Finch, Kennedy and Kipling stations at 1:54 am. The last inbound train from Vaughan will leave just after 1 am, and the last outbound train will arrive at about 2:30.

Service on the bus routes affected by the subway is generally at levels similar to what operates today with only a few exceptions.

York Region Transit will take over service north of Steeles Avenue now provided by the following routes:

  • 35 Jane
  • 105 Dufferin North
  • 107 Keele North
  • 165 Weston Road North

Route changes:

  • 35 Jane and 195 Jane Rocket: Extended to Pioneer Village Station (Steeles).
  • 36 Finch West: Route split at Finch West Station (Keele & Finch) during most operating periods. Peak service west of Keele Street improved. Service east of Keele will be reduced in many periods recognizing that many riders will not ride east of the station.
  • 41 Keele: Local service extended to Pioneer Village Station. Express service terminated at Finch West Station.
  • 60 Steeles West: Service reorganized to focus on Pioneer Village Station rather than York University.
  • 84 Sheppard West: Peak period Oakdale service extended to Pioneer Village Station. 84E express from Yonge to Sheppard West Station replaces 196B York University Rocket.
  • 106 Sentinel: Formerly named 106 York University. Extended to Pioneer Village Station.
  • 107 St. Regis: Formerly named 107 Keele North. York U service rerouted and extended to Pioneer Village Station.
  • 108 Driftwood: Formerly named 108 Downsview. Extended to Pioneer Village Station.
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood: Formerly named 117 Alness. Rerouted to better serve the area west of Dufferin Street.
  • 196 York U Rocket: Replaced by the subway extension.
  • 199 Finch Rocket: York U branch cut back to Finch West Station.

Night service will be provided to the York U ring road by 335 Jane, 341 Keele and 353 Steeles. The 336 Finch bus will not serve Finch West Station.

Holiday Period Service

The summary of the schedule changes linked at the top of this article includes a page outlining the service to be provided through the December-January holidays. The highlights are:

  • Service on many surface routes and on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth will operate with summer schedules from Monday, December 18 to Friday, January 5. Extra school trips will not operate.
  • Christmas and New Year’s Days will operate with Sunday service including the 8:00 am opening time for the subway.
  • New Year’s Eve service will be extended on many routes until roughly 4:00 am with extra service on the subway.
  • Regular service resume on Monday, January 8, 2018.

New Year’s Eve services include:

  • Service is expected to operate free after 7:00 pm as in past years, but the details have not yet been announced.
  • The last train meet at Bloor-Yonge for outbound service will occur at 3:37 am rather than the usual 1:54 am. The last trains on 4 Sheppard and 3 SRT will wait for the last trains on 1 Yonge and 2 Bloor-Danforth respectively.
  • 501 Queen will divert via Church, King and Spadina after 11:00 pm for festivities at City Hall.
  • 509 Harbourfront will have extra service every 9 minutes until 2:00 am and every 15 minutes thereafter.
  • 510/310 Spadina will have extra service every 6 minutes until 1:30 am, every 8 minutes until 3:00 and every 12 minutes thereafter.
  • Gap and standby buses will be provided downtown and at other locations to provide extra service as needed.
  • Contract service outside of Toronto on 52 Lawrence West, 129 McCowan North and 68 Warden will be extended to 4:00 am. Service on 160 Bathurst North, 17 Birchmount and 102 Markham Rd will end at the usual time.

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, November 26, 2017

The November 2017 schedules bring only minor changes, with one big exception: trains on Line 1 will begin operating to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station, albeit as “ghosts” for training and testing. Revenue service will begin, using the same schedules, on Sunday, December 17, 2017.

The revised subway schedule preserves existing headways, more or less, including the AM peak short turn at Glencairn which is not being extended further north. Service beyond Glencairn in the AM peak will operate every 4’42”. In the PM peak, it will operate every 2’36” with no short turn.

Queen streetcars return between Neville and Sunnyside with no diversions. A date for return of service at least to Humber has not yet been announced. Service beyond Humber to Long Branch is planned for mid 2018 due to ongoing road reconstruction on Lake Shore Boulevard. Please see my article on the Queen West projects for more details on the status of this work.

2017.11.26_Service_Changes

The December 17, 2017 schedules will appear in a separate article. They include all of the surface route changes associated with opening the Vaughan subway extension, as well as plans for special schedules over the holiday period.

TTC Board Meeting October 16, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on October 16. Among items of interest on the agenda are:

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SmartTrack Update: More Questions Than Answers (October 13 Update)

For the coming three evenings, October 10-12, the City of Toronto, Metrolinx and the TTC will host open houses to present and discuss plans for six new SmartTrack and two new GO Transit stations. Although material for all stations will be part of each event, stations “local” to each site will receive more emphasis than others.

Each meeting will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a presentation at 7 p.m.

  • Tuesday, October 10, Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Dr.
  • Wednesday, October 11, Riverdale Collegiate Institute, 1094 Gerrard St. E.
  • Thursday, October 12, New Horizons Tower, 1140 Bloor St. W. (new location)

Note: The location of the Oct. 12 meeting has been changed and it is now across the street from the originally announced site (which was Bloor Collegiate).

Updated October 11 at 10:30 pm: There continues to be confusion about just what “SmartTrack” service will look like, and this is not helped by the City’s presentation. Details can be found in the June 2016 Metrolinx report. For further info, see the update at the end of this article.

Updated October 13 at noon: Metrolinx has confirmed that the Barrie corridor trains will operate through to Union Station, not terminate at Spadina/Bathurst Station as I had originally thought. However, the operational details have not yet been worked out. For further discussion, scroll down to the section on the Spadina/Bathurst Station.

I attended a media briefing that covered the materials to be presented and the following article is based on that briefing which was conducted by City of Toronto staff. Illustrations here are taken from the deck for the media briefing which is available on the City of Toronto’s site. Resolution of some images is constrained by the quality of data in the deck.

[In the interest of full disclosure: A “Stakeholder Advisory Committee” (or SAC) has already been meeting on this, and I was invited to participate, but declined given my concern with a potential conflict between “advisory” and “journalist/commentator” roles. It is no secret that I believe SmartTrack is a deeply flawed concept. Its implementation is compromised by fitting a poorly-conceived election promise into a workable, operational scheme for the commuter rail network. Any “debate” is skewed by the need to pretend that this is anything beyond campaign literature.]

The intent of these three meetings is to conduct the first detailed conversation about these stations with the general public. Early designs appeared in the “Initial Business Case” for the stations, but these have been revised both for technical and for philosophical reasons. Specifically:

  • The City does not want to build traditional GO stations dominated by parking.
  • The interface between the new stations and the transit network (both rapid transit and surface routes) should be optimized.
  • Strong pedestrian and cycling connections are required.
  • Stations should be close to main streets.
  • Stations should support other City objectives such as the West Toronto Railpath and parallel projects such as the St. Clair/Weston study now in progress.
  • Transit-oriented development should be possible at stations.

This is a list that to a typical GO Transit proposal in the 905 would be unrecognizable. GO Transit’s plan ever since its creation has been to serve auto-based commuting first and foremost with ever larger parking structures that poison the land around stations. Local transit was something GO, and later Metrolinx, simply “didn’t do”, and the idea that Queen’s Park might fund strong local transit as a feeder to GO services has been limited to co-fare arrangements.

The situation within Toronto is very different, and there are connecting routes on the TTC that individually carry a substantial proportion of the daily ridership of the entire GO network. Moreover, if GO (or SmartTrack, whatever it is called) will be a real benefit to TTC riders, then the process of getting people to and from stations must not depend on parking lots that are full before the morning peak is even completed.

The new stations will go into existing built-up areas, not into fields with sites determined primarily by which well-connected developer owns nearby property. Residents will be consulted about how these stations will fit their neighbourhoods, how they will be accessed, and what might eventually become of the community and future development.

A big problem facing those who would present “SmartTrack” to the public beyond City Hall insiders and neighbourhood activists is that almost nobody knows what SmartTrack actually is. This is a direct result of Mayor Tory running on a design that could not be achieved, and which has evolved a great deal since he announced it in May 2014. In brief, it is three GO corridors (Stouffville, Lake Shore East and Kitchener) plus an Eglinton West LRT extension, but this differs greatly from what was promised in the election.

Service levels for SmartTrack are described as every 6-10 minutes peak, with off-peak trains every 15, but this does not necessarily match Metrolinx’ announced service plans for their GO RER network onto which SmartTrack is overlaid. The idea that there would be extra SmartTrack trains added to the GO service was killed off in 2016 in the evaluation of possible operating modes for the corridor.

Fares on “SmartTrack” are supposed to be “TTC fares”, but this is a moving target. Voters understood the term to mean free transfer onto and off of SmartTrack trains as part of their TTC fare, but with all the talk of regional fare integration, it is far from clear just what a “TTC fare” will be by the time SmartTrack is operating.

Even that date appears to be a moving target. City Staff referred to 2025 when GO RER would be fully up and running as the target date for “integration”, but Mayor Tory still speaks of being able to ride SmartTrack by 2021 while he is presumably still in office to cut the ribbon.

At the briefing, many questions arose from the media, and the answer to almost all of them was “we don’t know yet”. It is clear that the Mayor’s plan has not proceeded beyond the half-baked stage, and many important details remain to be sorted out.

  • What is the status of Lawrence East Station and how does it fit with the recently announced review of this (and Kirby) stations by the Auditor General?
  • How will an expanded GO/ST presence at Lawrence East co-exist with the SRT which will operate until at least 2025, if not beyond to whenever the Scarborough Subway opens?
  • What are the arrangements for City/Province cost sharing on the stations, especially since Lawrence East was originally to be a GO station, but its future as such is unknown?
  • What will be the cost of the new stations once design reaches a level where the numbers are credible? The range of $700 million to $1.1 billion has not been updated since the matter was before Council.
  • Will all stations on the SmartTrack corridor honour ST fare arrangements regardless of whether this is a city-built station under the ST banner?
  • Why should GO riders who are not on the SmartTrack corridor pay regular GO fares, while those using the ST route have a “TTC fare” for their journey? The most obvious contrast in this case is between the existing Exhibition Station on the Lake Shore corridor and the proposed Liberty Village Station on the ST/Kitchener corridor, but there are many others.
  • What service levels will be provided, and how will they affect projected demand at the stations? Were previously published estimates based on more ST service than Metrolinx actually plans to  operate? How will constraints at Union affect the ability to through-route service between the Stouffville to the Weston/Kitchener corridors?
  • If the City wants more service than Metrolinx plans (assuming it would even fit on the available trackage), how much would Toronto have to pay Metrolinx to operate it?
  • Where are the residents and jobs that are expected to generate ST demand, and how convenient will access to the service actually be considering walking time, station geometry (stairs, tunnels, bridges, etc) and service frequency?

The stations under consideration are shown on the map below. A common question for all of these locations will be that of available capacity on the GO trains that will originate further out in the corridor. Without knowing the planned service design for “GO” trains and “SmartTrack” trains, it is unclear how often, if at all, there will be short-haul ST trains originating within Toronto as opposed to longer-haul GO trains from the 905. The availability of space on trains could affect the perceived service frequency if people cannot board at stations near Union (just as long-suffering riders of the King car complain about full streetcars).

Updated October 10, 2017 at 10:30 pm

After I posted this article, I realized that there was an important part missing, a commentary on the “consultation” process  itself.

A big problem with many attempts to seek public input is that the wrong question is posed, and factors are taken as given when they should be challenged. In the case of SmartTrack, the basic question is “why do we have SmartTrack at all”.

The original scheme was essentially a real estate ploy to make property in Markham and south of the Airport more valuable by linking both areas with a frequent rail service to downtown. Reverse commuters were a big potential market for this service. In the course of becoming part of the Tory election campaign, the focus turned inward, and SmartTrack became the line that would solve every transit problem. The claims about service frequency, fares and integration with other local and regional service were complete fantasies, but they gave the impression that Tory “had a plan” as distinct from the bumbling proposals of his opponent, Doug Ford, and the lackluster efforts of Olivia Chow. Tory even got professionals to declare his scheme a great idea, one giving it an “A+” on CBC’s Metro Morning, but this was for a version of SmartTrack that was unbuildable.

Now, over three years later, we are still faced with the myth that SmartTrack is a real plan, that it is anything more than what GO Transit would have done in the fullness of time. We are, in effect, being asked about the colour of tiles in stations when we should be asking whether the stations should even be built at all. There is no guarantee that service can be overlaid on GO’s existing plans to provide anywhere near what was promised in the campaign – a “surface subway”. Metrolinx has been quite firm on the subject, and going to the frequencies assumed by ST advocates would be well beyond the infrastructure we are likely to see on GO corridors.

The City will conduct its consultations, but the hard question – Why SmartTrack? – will never be asked.

For the October 11 update, please scroll to the end of the article.

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GO/TTC Co-Fares: A Glass Half Full

Today, October 6, 2017, the Government of Ontario announced that there would be a $1.50 co-fare between GO Transit and the TTC. This long-overdue change begins, but does not fully address, problems faced by transit riders who cross the City’s border and faced a full extra fare to ride on two separate transit systems.

Ontario is lowering the cost of commuting for people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) by introducing a 50 per cent discount for PRESTO card users who transfer between GO Transit or the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), in both directions.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was at Union Station in Toronto today to announce that adult, senior and youth/student TTC riders will pay a TTC fare of just $1.50 when they use a PRESTO card to transfer to or from GO Transit or the UP Express. The discount will launch in January 2018, shortly after the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension will begin service to six new stations. For people whose regular commute includes GO/UP Express-TTC transfers, this step towards regional fare integration and more affordable transit options will save about $720 per year. [Ontario government press release]

For some types of trips, this is “good news”, but it is far from the panacea some, notably Mayor Tory, touts:

“Thanks to bold leadership at City Hall and Queen’s Park, we have found a way to give a discount to those who use a mix of our transit systems. Transit will now be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express and GO Transit to get around the city. This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC. We need to make sure that the transit we are building and maintaining remains affordable.” [From the press release]

The primary beneficiaries of this change will be GO Transit commuters who can now use the TTC to and from a Toronto GO station (most likely Union) for the “city” end of their journeys. That $720/year saving translates to 240 round trips at $3 each. That’s 48 weeks’ worth of travel taking into account at least two weeks of vacation plus an equal number of statutory holidays.

To put this into context, the annual cost of commuting by GO from Oakville to Union is about $3,400. Someone who now uses TTC for their city trip (say from Union to Queen’s Park) would pay $1,440 in TTC fares at $3 each making a total of $4,840 for both systems. The new discount will save about 15%. Conversely someone who now walks from Union has the TTC option at a lower marginal cost than before.

This is a good deal, as far as it goes, for GO Transit riders, but the story is much different for other travellers.

Cross-boundary Travel on Local Bus Systems

Riders from Mississauga, Brampton, York Region and Durham Region transit systems will still pay two fares to cross the boundary to or from Toronto.

This will apply to riders entering the new Spadina subway extension, even if they travel to stops north of Steeles Avenue or to York University, now served directly by YRT buses.

Metropass Users

The discount only applies to riders who pay the full TTC adult fare via Presto ($3.00). Passholders will not receive any discount. This is a benefit to those who use GO a lot, and the TTC less so.

  • Cost of a monthly pass (on discount program): $134
  • Cost of 40 co-fare trips at $1.50 each: $60
  • Cost of 20 full fare trips at $3.00 each: $60
  • Total cost: $120

If the number of TTC-only trips goes up, say to 25, the combined cost ($135) would exceed the value of a Metropass.

Students and Seniors

This group of riders already travels at a reduced fare of $2.05 if they are using Presto. The discount to a $1.50 co-fare does not represent as much of a saving to them as it does to “adult” riders. This will also be true for any new group to whom reduced fares are offered such as ODSP recipients.

TTC-GO Trips Within Toronto

For riders who now attempt to make trips using both services inside Toronto, the co-fare will represent a discount over their current pricing. However, the high cost of travelling by GO will remain a large barrier to people who might move from an all-TTC route to a TTC-GO route.

For example, the monthly cost of travel using Presto from Agincourt to Union Station is $223.25 (based on 40 trips/month). Assuming that a rider will save $60 per month on TTC fares, this would still be an increase of over $160/month to commute from Scarborough to downtown via TTC and GO. That is not exactly the “equal to TTC fare” goal of John Tory’s SmartTrack, and it is unclear just who will step up to pay the subsidy needed to make it so.

Moreover, someone who is already a frequent TTC rider is also likely a passholder, and it may not be worth their while to trade in the capped price of a Metropass to “enjoy” the co-fare available on GO.

Because of inconsistencies in GO fares, the situation at Mimico is different because the monthly GO cost is only $177.70. Even so, this remains a substantial premium over a pure TTC fare, and  puts this option well beyond the means of many TTC riders.

Finally, many GO stations in Toronto are difficult to reach by transit or have only limited service. This is another barrier to “integrated” travel on GO and the TTC.

This co-fare and its subsidy are a beginning, but only a small one, toward the dual goals of reducing cross-border fare premiums and making GO more affordable within Toronto. A small cake and a few balloons may be an appropriate celebration, but hold the champagne.

 

Waterfront Transit Reset Phase 2 Update

This article is based on the public presentation held on September 18, 2017 at Harbourfront Centre. A similar presentation will be held in southern Etobicoke on September 26.

The “Waterfront Transit Reset” project was launched by Council at the end of 2015 to review all of the outstanding plans for transit from the Mississauga border to Woodbine Avenue. The first phase of this review reported in July 2016, and that provided the springboard for Phase 2 which will report to Executive Committee on October 24, and thence to Council at its meeting beginning on November 7.

Given the geographic scope, the review has been broken down into segments (and a few sub-segments) to focus on problems particular to locations across the waterfront. The four main segments are:

  • Southern Etobicoke
  • Humber River to Strachan including Parkdale and Exhibition Place
  • Strachan to Parliament including the Central Waterfront and much of East Bayfront
  • Parliament to Woodbine including the Port Lands

The presentation was done west to east, and in a single go without questions. This was something of a marathon for the audience, and I am not sure this was the best approach given the complexity of issues in some areas. As someone who has followed the detail of this study since its inception and participated in consultation sessions, I am quite familiar with the issues and was just getting an update. Those who came to this fresh, as many did, had a lot to take in.

A further problem is that the presentation included no cost estimates, and limited information on issues such as construction effects and complexity that could inform a choice between alternatives. This is particularly true of the review of Union Station. There are no travel time estimates to show what time savings, if any, various options present. Such estimates must exist as they are a critical input to the demand modelling process.

For this article, I will take a different approach and deal with the simpler parts of the study first just to get them out of the way, leaving the knottiest problems to the end.

Updated September 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm:

The presentation file is now available as a PDF. The display boards can be viewed on the project website.

Projected Demand in the Waterfront

The heart of any transportation study is the demand projection for various components under review. The chart below shows the 2041 AM peak hour demands forecast by the City’s planning model.

There is a fundamental difference between the projected demands from the western part of the line and the eastern one. From the west, the demand has the conventional inbound-to-core pattern for the AM peak. At the core and to the east, the peak flow is outbound, south to Queens Quay and east to new office and school developments.

This chart is missing some vital data that would put other parts of the discussion in a better context:

  • It assumes the presence of the Bremner link although this is the least likely to be built beyond an upgraded bus service.
  • There is no screenline west of Bay Street to indicate the demand arriving and leaving to the west right at the portal. With 2,350 going east and 3,700 coming south, this implies a substantial outbound demand to the west. Without the 750 each way on Bremner, these numbers would be higher.
  • The comment about higher demand in the east without the Relief Line does not explain whether the modelled values shown here include that line or not.

It is impossible to evaluate the demand numbers when there is no sense of staging of projects or of networks with some pieces “in” or “out” of the mix.

There is also no sense of the time frame over which the various demands will evolve, only that this is the 2041 end state. Any decision of the order of projects (and indeed their worth relative to other parts of the transit network) must be in the context of changes that are anticipated in the short, medium and long terms. This also begs the question of whether there are changes in the pipeline that will require heroic efforts in building up transit service to avoid short changing growing parts of the city (much as we already see in Liberty Village).

Another factor in any plans for the Waterfront network is the degree to which it serves major entertainment and recreational destinations. This will bring substantially stronger off-peak and seasonal demands that would be found on the transit network as a whole.

Ridership growth on the TTC has been stronger during the off peak period, if only because there has been so little growth in peak service. Strong off-peak demand is good for transit economics because the fixed cost of infrastructure is spread over more hours and riders, but the flip side is that peak riders have more incentive to abandon the TTC.

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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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