TTC Proposes Massive Fleet Plan

At its meeting on October 22, the TTC Board will consider a report setting out plans to purchase new buses, streetcars, subway trains and Wheel-Trans vans in coming years.

TTC Fleet Procurement Strategy and Plan

In an important departure from typical practice, the City is setting out its position including what can be achieved with already-committed City funding without waiting for confirmation of contributions from other governments. Both the provincial and federal governments will face voters sometime in the next few years, and this, in effect says “come to the table”.

The plan has many strong points although some important details are missing. Key to this plan is that it is a system plan, not a scheme for one tiny chunk of the network nor a flavour-of-the-day announcement from one politician.

Overview

The TTC proposes acquisition of hundreds of new and replacement vehicles over the coming years:

  • From 13 to 60 new streetcars from Bombardier to be delivered between 2023 and 2025.
  • Approximately 300 hybrid-electric buses for one or both of the two qualified suppliers to be delivered between 2022 and 2023.
  • Pending outcome of technical evaluation and product comparison work now underway, approximately 300 all-electric long-range buses in 2023 to 2025.
  • 70 Wheel-Trans buses for delivery in 2022 and 2023.
  • 80 subway trains to replace the existing fleet now used on Line 2 and to provide for future service improvement with ATC (automatic train control).

That list is only part of a larger scheme shown in the table below.

The “ask” for funding on these projects is based on the full quantity of vehicles (column 2 above) as opposed to what the TTC can achieve with only the City’s contribution (column 3).

A political problem for the TTC is that they are seeking funding for the ten year plan within the next few years even though some of the spending is in the latter part of the decade.

For example, the buses are unlikely to be contracted on one big purchase that would lock in a single supplier, and a new contract would be tendered two or three times during the decade. Similarly, the quantity of Wheel-Trans buses represents far more than one fleet replacement (as of June 30 there were about 280 WT buses). Part of this funding would not be required until late in the decade when the next purchases would be at end-of-life.

Commitments that far off are unlikely to be made by either the provincial or federal governments both of which would face at least one if not more elections in the meantime.

A further issue is that there are many more projects in the TTC’s long-range capital plan than the ones listed here, and there is no sense of relative priority for things like ongoing infrastructure maintenance. If the vehicles program soaks up all available funding, other projects could find that the cupboard is bare.

Missing from this report is an overview of the cash flow requirements for each project and the point at which money for each component must be secured. Projects with long timelines such as ATC installation need early commitment even though they would not finish until late in this decade or possibly longer. The same does not apply to the cyclic renewal of the bus fleets and some of the associated infrastructure.

TTC footnote 1: Estimated vehicle procurement quantities are based on Class 4 cost estimates. Given the need exceeds the funding currently available, TTC will seek to maximize the final number of vehicles to be procured through negotiation of contract unit pricing.

To support the electric vehicle purchases, the TTC together with Toronto Hydro and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) are working on plans for the charging infrastructure that will be required to move to a zero emissions fleet by 2040 in regular buses, Wheel-Trans and non-revenue vehicles.

The subway train order will likely grow because Metrolinx would piggy-back the needs of the Yonge North extension to Richmond Hill and the Scarborough extension to Sheppard for economies of scale and consistency of fleets on the two major rapid transit lines. However, the cost will be on Metrolinx’ account because these are now provincial projects. There is a danger that if future provincial funding is constrained, the provincial projects could elbow aside requests for local projects.

The committed and required funding amounts are set out below.

TTC footnotes:
1: Number of Vehicles reflects the current fleet plan as described under the Comments section of the report.
2: Estimated Total Costs includes the following: (1) vendor contract payments for vehicle design, production, delivery and commissioning of vehicles; and (2) delivery costs including procurement, project management, engineering, quality assurance, and project contingency
3. Total Estimated Cost has been revised from $5.84 billion (Class 5) to $6.17 billion (Class 4).

The City’s share is provided by the City Building Fund, a supplementary property tax introduced in the 2020 budget, together with funding that had been allocated to a planned rejuvenation of the Line 2 subway fleet for an additional decade of service. Now that those trains will be replaced, the money set aside to refresh the old fleet is available for this project.

City Building Fund Project$ millions
Bloor-Yonge Station Expansion$500
Line 1 Capacity Enhancement$1,490
Line 2 Capacity Enhancement$817
Line 2 Automatic Train Control $623
Other Critical Subway State of Good Repair (Note 1)$160
New Vehicles and eBus Charging Systems$1,140
Total City Building Fund$4,730
Note 1: These values do not exactly match numbers cited in the TTC report due to rounding.

The vehicle procurements are funded on the City side by a combination of CBF monies (see above) and the previous allocation for renovation of the Line 2 fleet of T1 trains.

Project$ millions
80 New Subway Trains$ 623
T1 Overhaul and Maintenance to 2030$ 74
Procurement of Buses$ 686
eBus Charging Infrastructure$ 64
Wheel-Trans Buses$ 22
New Streetcars$ 140
Total$1,609
Existing Approved Funding (T1 Life Extension)$ 474
City Building Fund$1,140
Total$1,614

Combining the $1.61 billion above with the Line 2 ATC funding brings the City’s total to about $2.2 billion. The TTC and City invite their partners at the provincial and federal levels to make up the difference of just under $4 billion between City allocations and the total required for this portion of the overall capital plan.

The City’s strategy is to start spending its $2.2 billion and hope that the other governments will come in for their share. There are elections at both levels that could provide some leverage, but there are also problems with Toronto’s appetite for capital compared to other parts of Ontario and Canada.

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Toronto Council Pursues Details of Metrolinx Projects

An ongoing problem for anyone attempting to work with Metrolinx on their projects is the lack of transparency, the fog through which details emerge, if at all, on what they actually propose to do.

Distrust of Metrolinx to deal fairly and honestly with communities and their political representatives led to widely-supported motions when Council considered two reports regarding Metrolinx projects on October 1, 2020:

Included here are Council motions regarding:

Also included are recent replies to queries from me about the Ontario Line.

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Drifting Timelines on Metrolinx Projects (Fall 2020 Update) (Revised)

Back in June 2020, I wrote about the gradual drift in the planned dates for various Metrolinx projects as reported by Infrastructure Ontario [IO for short].

See: Drifting Timelines on Metrolinx Projects

The September 2020 Market Update has been issued by IO and it shows changes in some projects from the June update.

Sept 26, 2020: Revised to include the change in financing method for the OnCorr GO Corridor project.

Is The P3 Model Falling Apart?

Two revisions in the large GO project procurement model involve a change from private sector financing to traditional government borrowing.

This suggests that the market willingness to finance projects on behalf of the government, or at least to do so at rates competitive with direct government borrowing, may be on the wane. That implies that the “P3” model may be coming unglued.

At its heart, this was always seen as an accounting mechanism to shift debt off of the government’s books, and without this shell game, a major argument for P3s could vanish.

The Future of Electrification

The change in financing model could shift any decision on propulsion technology back to the government.

Metrolinx had pushed this off its plate by saying that the bidders who were going to design and operate a future GO network would make that choice. This punted the knotty political problem of hydrogen trains touted former Premier McGuinty out of Metrolinx itself.

Will Ontario be willing to finance the large up-front capital costs of electrification itself with so many other pressures on financial resources, or is electrification about to fall out of consideration while spending focuses on service expansion?

Ontario Line

The project is in three sections of which the last will be the “Northern Civil, Stations and Tunnel” which includes the portion of the line east of the Don River and north to Eglinton, but not the Maintenance Facility which is included with the “South Civil” portion as it is needed relatively early in the project.

Some of the work on the North section between the Don River and Gerrard Station might be undertaken as part of the GO Corridor improvements, but exactly what this might entail has not been made public.

Since the last update, there are three changes for the North section:

  • The date for RFQ (Request for Qualifications) issue has been changed from Winter to Spring 2022.
  • The RFP (Request for Proposals) issue has been changed from Spring 2022 to Fall 2022.
  • The Financial Close (in effect, the contract signing) has been changed from Fall 2023 to Spring 2024.

The remaining portions of the line are on the same timeline as before.

The timelines for this project, with financial close for the first two portions in fall 2022 and for the third in spring 2024 puts this beyond the next provincial election expected in mid 2022, the four-year anniversary of the Ford government’s election. Who will be in place to make final decisions, and what the government’s financial position will be by then, remain to be seen.

Line 2 East Extension (Scarborough Subway)

This project is now shown with two portions: one for the tunnel, and the other for the stations, railway and systems.

There is no change in the tunnel portion of the project, but the remaining portion has reverted to the dates shown for the overall project in the Winter 2020 update.

GO Expansion Lakeshore West Corridor

The financial close for this project has been changed from Winter 2021 to Spring 2021.

GO Expansion Lakeshore East-West Corridor

This was originally to have been a “Build-Finance” project, but it is now “Design-Bid-Build”, a change that was made in August 2020 according to the IO report.

GO OnCorr Projects

[Added to this article on September 26, 2020]

This is a very large project including future operation of GO Transit and possible changes in the propulsion technology.

The procurement model has been changed from “DBOFM” (Design-Build-Operate-Finance-Maintain) to “DBOM”. The proponent will no longer finance the project which has a projected value of over $10 billion.

All other projects are unchanged. A summary of the Metrolinx projects tracking their changing status is available in this spreadsheet (revised version).

Ontario Line Draft Environmental Conditions Report Released

October 6, 2020: This article has been updated with information on the north section of the Ontario Line between Danforth and Eglinton (Pape to Science Centre).

September 29, 2020: This article has been updated with information on the east section of the Ontario Line between the Don River and Danforth.

September 23, 2020: This article has been updated with information on the central section of the Ontario Line between Osgoode Station and the west side of the Don River.

I asked Metrolinx a series of questions about information released in the two “neighbourhood updates”:

1. The station boxes that are shown are barely 100m long. What provision will the stations include for ventilation shafts? Will they be within the platform area or will they be beyond the end of the platforms as on, for example, the Crosstown line?

2. There is only minimal discussion of entrance locations. Will the stations include two separate paths from platform to surface as per fire code?

3. Will there be emergency service buildings between the more widely spaced stations to provide egress in case of a tunnel fire?

4. There is reference to using the space for lower Queen station as part of the design, but this area is (a) fairly small and (b) already used for a variety of purposes. Is the intent to have the OL go beneath all of the existing structure with the actual track and platform below lower Queen and with the “ghost” station space (which is already used in part as a pedestrian underpass between northbound and southbound platforms) only used for circulation space between the two lines? That would make a lot more sense than actually trying to take OL trains through the existing lower Queen Station.

5. The diagram of the Don Yard shows a direct conflict between the structure for the westbound OL portal and the Richmond Hill GO corridor. What is happening here?

In response, Metrolinx issued the following rather opaque reply:

Metrolinx will factor in all necessary safety and accessibility requirements into the Ontario Line designs. The most recent update is a more detailed vision of the project, but more details are still to come.

Metrolinx will be closely coordinating any Ontario Line work alongside our existing rail operations to minimize or avoid service impacts, while also respecting concurrent GO Expansion work.

Email from Scott Money, Metrolinx Media Relations

The original article begins here:

On September 17, 2020, Metrolinx released the Draft Environmental Conditions Report [Draft ECR] for the Ontario Line.

A huge volume of material is included, thousands of pages, but the vast majority of this only documents existing conditions and gives little indication of the actual “environmental impact” that building and operating the Ontario Line will have.

For convenience, here are links to source materials. The Draft ECR link leads to a page with many documents, some of which are very large PDFs.

Jump to section-specific discussions:

It is self-evident that the actual impact of any project cannot be known without the details of what will be built. This information is not yet public and only sample area maps which are drafts “for illustrative purposes only” have been released for a portion of the route. More will follow in coming weeks, but one must ask why they are not all available now if Metrolinx expects informed comment on their proposal.

Even on the supplied maps, many key features are missing including:

  • Vertical and horizontal alignment including property requirements for construction
  • Station sites, access and circulation plans including redundant paths between platforms and the surface for fire safety
  • Emergency service buildings and access structures to tunnels
  • Utility buildings such as substations

During the public consultation process and as recently as the April 2020 report summarizing this work, the project timeline was illustrated as below. This clearly shows that only one set of “Environmental Reports” were to be published and this was expected in Fall 2020, that is to say, now.

Source: Engagement Summary Report, April 2020, p. 43

Ontario changed the legislation relating to Environmental Assessments with the effect that the item of most interest — the actual design and effect of the project — will not be known until later in the process than the public originally expected.

As required under O. Reg. 341/20, Metrolinx is preparing an environmental conditions report, which will be published for public review and input prior to finalization. The report will characterize the environmental setting in the vicinity of the Ontario Line, including existing noise and vibration levels, air quality, natural environment features, built heritage and archaeological resources, socio-economic and land use features, and traffic conditions.

Metrolinx is also planning to publish early works reports for components of the Ontario Line project that are planned to proceed to implementation ahead of completion of the Ontario Line assessment process.The early works reports will assess the environmental impacts of the early works and describe associated mitigation measures. The early works reports will be published for public review and input prior to finalization.

Following finalization of early works reports, Metrolinx will publish an environmental impact assessment report, which will assess the environmental impacts of the Ontario Line and describe associated mitigation measures. The environmental impact assessment report will be published for public review and input prior to finalization,as part of Metrolinx’s effort to meet the best practices and community consultation principles that are part of the Environmental Assessment Act with all projects. This will be followed by early works reports and the Environmental Impact Assessment Report environmental impact evaluation results, mitigation measures, monitoring activities, potentially required permits and approvals and other components.

Source: Metrolinx Update to City of Toronto, p. 13

There are now three streams of reports and consultation. First up is the ECR which has just been issued, but separately there are reports on “Early Works” (design and construction that can get underway to advance the project before the full design is locked down) and then the “Environmental Impact Assessment Report”. It is only in the last report that the details of design and effects on neighbourhoods will be revealed, and this is planned for winter-spring 2021.

Source: Ontario Line Environment Page

On a parallel track, the procurement process is already underway with teams short-listed to bid on two major contracts:

  • Rolling Stock, Systems, Operations and Maintenance (RSSOM)
  • Southern Civil, Stations and Tunnel (Exhibition to Don Yard Portal)

The Northern Civil, Stations and Tunnel package (Don Yard Portal to Eglinton) will be tendered separately in 2022.

The ECR contains material reviewing conditions in a wide study area shown in the map below.

The study area is relatively wide in some areas, but narrower in others implying that a range of options was reviewed for parts of the route. Notable by its absence is the original Eastern-Pape corridor for the Relief Line showing that there was never any intention of entertaining this as an option, if only for comparative purposes.

The study area in Thorncliffe/Flemingdon is fairly large in part because this includes the proposed maintenance yard, but also because alternative routes through this area were under consideration.

Source: Draft Environmental Conditions Report, page i

Alignment plans are shown only for the western segment between Exhibition and Queen/Spadina at this point. Metrolinx plans to unveil details of additional segments on a weekly basis for other parts of the line:

  • Osgoode Station to Don Yard
  • East Harbour to Pape South
  • Pape North to Science Centre (Eglinton)

They have published details for the first segment in a blog article as well as on the West Neighbourhood page (both linked above). I will update this article as information on these segments is revealed.

One burning issue in the third segment is the alignment through and effects on the South Riverdale and Leslieville area between East Harbour and Gerrard Stations. Although details on this have not been published, there is a note in a recent Metrolinx report to City Council (linked above) about the area just north of Queen Street where a recreation centre stood in the line’s path.

The Ontario Line team is working with City staff to ensure the project is delivered with minimal impacts to sensitive community areas and properties, such as parks and community centres. For example, following significant design and engineering effort, the station at Riverside/Leslieville has been positioned to avoid impacting Jimmie Simpson Community Centre. Efforts are underway to minimize impacts to other key community assets, including, Pape Avenue Middle School, Valley Park Middle School, Bruce Mackey Park, the future Ordnance Park, places of worship and other locations. Where an impact cannot be avoided the team will continue to work with City staff to address continuity of programming.

Source: Metrolinx Update to City of Toronto, p. 13
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Bus Lanes Are Only A First Step To Better Transit

Today, July 21, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a report from Barbara Gray, the City’s General Manager, Transportation Services recommending that:

City Council authorize the implementation of Reserved Bus Lanes on the Eglinton East corridor, in the following sections:

a. Eglinton Avenue East from Brimley Road to Cedar Drive;

b. Kingston Road from Eglinton Avenue East to Morningside Avenue; and

c. Morningside Avenue from Kingston Road to Ellesmere Road.

Reports on other proposed bus corridors will come to Council later this year with Jane Street being the first out aiming at implementation in April 2021.

Advocates for better transit and for improved services to neighbourhoods dependent on bus service champion these proposals including an opinion piece in yesterday’s Star by Stephen Farber and Matthew Palm.

These moves are long overdue. For decades the transit debates swirled around who would get the next subway line and which technology was most appropriate. The many riders whose trips will not be served by the future subway network were lost in the shuffle.

The political temptation will be to approve today’s report, smile for the cameras and pat our collective selves on the back for a great transit victory. If only it were that easy.

Toronto needs a much more aggressive plan to improve bus service, and the City must recognize that there are several aspects to doing this, far more than throwing some red paint down on a few roads. For its part, the TTC must lose its timidity and advocate for much improved transit even in the face of calls to contain costs and limit budget growth.

Experience going back to the 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy shows that when a “shopping list” of potential improvements is available, there is better understanding of what might be done. Improvements might be fought for one-by-one, but as part of a sustained strategy. The simplistic “we can’t afford it” arguments fail when confronted with specific proposals, clear benefits and costs that might well be within the City’s capability.

What should a program for the City, the TTC and the many advocates for better transit look like?

  1. Treat reserved lanes primarily to improve service reliability with travel time savings as an add-on benefit.
  2. Exploit reduced travel times as a way to improve service capacity, not as a way to save money on transit budgets.
  3. Recognize that much of the benefit has already been achieved, post-covid, through temporarily lower overall traffic volumes, and that bus lanes can prevent a return of the worst of the traffic that ensnares transit riders.
  4. Accept that transit priority will mean a reduction in road capacity for other users, notably motorists, and be prepared to enforce priority schemes through a combination of policing and physical barriers.
  5. Integrate bus lanes plans with overall Vision Zero street redesign so that transit riders, who are also pedestrians, can safely and easily access transit service.
  6. Manage transit service to provide reliable vehicle spacing so that a “five minute service” really is a bus every five minutes, not two buses every ten, or three buses every fifteen.
  7. Set standards for crowding and service quality and report regularly, in public and in detail including cases where budgetary or other constraints prevent achieving these goals.
  8. Design a fleet plan that aims for service growth, including not just vehicles, but also maintenance facilities, and integrate this with Council’s desire to move to a “green” transit fleet.
  9. Treat the surface transit network with the same respect and attention lavished on rapid transit plans.

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Drifting Timelines on Metrolinx Projects (Updated)

Updated June 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm: The table of projects has been updated to include anticipated events, notably “financial close” dates, that were included in various project announcements by Infrastructure Ontario. Also Union Station Platform Expansion was described in the original version of this article as closing sooner than originally projected. This has been corrected to show a delay of roughly nine months.

Infrastructure Ontario recently released its Spring 2020 Update for P3 projects under its control including several Metrolinx projects. To date there have been three of these updates:

These updates include information on the project status, the type of procurement model, and the expected progress of each project through the procurement process. This provides “one stop shopping” compared to Metrolinx’ own site. As a convenience to readers, I have consolidated the three updates as they relate to transit projects to allow easy comparison between versions.

Some projects have evolved since the first version, and in particular the delivery dates for a few projects have moved further into the future. The “financial close” dates for some projects, in effect the point at which a contract is signed and real work can begin, has moved beyond the date of the next Provincial election. Whatever government is in power after summer 2022 will have a final say on whether these projects go ahead.

Subway Projects

Ontario Line

The Ontario Line was previously reported as a single project with a price tag of over $10 billion. In the Fall 2019 update, the intent was to have the financial close in Winter/Spring 2022 ahead of the election. In the Winter 2020 update, this changed to Spring 2022.

In the Spring 2020 update, the project has been split into separate parts to reflect industry feedback about the original scope.

  1. GO Corridor from Don River to Gerrard
  2. South Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations CNE to Don River
  3. Rolling Stock, System Operations & Maintenance
  4. North Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations

The GO corridor work will be done as a conventional procurement by Metrolinx and will be bundled with upgrades to GO Transit trackage.

The financial close for items 2 and 3 above is now Fall 2022, and for item 4 it is Fall 2023.

This means that an actual sign-on-the-dotted-line commitment to the project will not be within the current government’s mandate. Even the so-called “early works” comprising the southern portion of the route from Exhibition to the Don River is not scheduled to close until Fall 2022. The northern portion, from Gerrard to Eglinton will close in Fall 2023. This contract is being held back pending results for the south contract to determine the industry’s appetite for the work.

The southern portion, with a long tunnel through downtown and stations in congested street locations would start first. However, the line cannot actually open without the northern portion because this provides the link to the maintenance facility which is included as part of item 3 above although the actual access connection would be built as part of item 4.

An issue linking all of these projects is the choice of technology which, in turn drives decisions such as tunnel and station sizes, power supply, signalling and maintenance facility design. When the Ontario Line was a single project, Metrolinx could say that this choice was up to the bidders, but now there must be some co-ordination to ensure that what is built can actually be used to operate the selected technology. It is hardly a secret that Metrolinx is promoting a SkyTrain like technology, although which propulsion scheme (LIM vs rotary motors) is not clear. There are well-known problems with LIMs and the power pickup technology used on the SRT, and this would also be a consideration for the outdoor portions of the Ontario Line.

Scarborough Subway Extension

Like the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Extension has been split into two pieces. The first will be the tunnel contract from Kennedy Station to McCowan. This is now in the  procurement phase, and financial close is projected for Spring 2021.

The remainder of the project previously had a projected closing date of “Winter/Spring 2023”, but this is now just “2023”. With the tunnel hived off into a separate contract, it is reasonable that the remainder would have a later start date because the tunnel is a key component that must be in place first.

Metrolinx recently published a Preliminary Business Case for this extension. It includes the following text:

Kennedy Station Pocket Track/Transition Section

The Kennedy transition section extends roughly 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue and will include special track work and a pocket track to enable every second subway train to short turn to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs. [p 24]

This turnback has been an on-again, off-again part of the project but it is now clearly included as a cost saving measure. With only every second train running to Sheppard/McCowan, the fleet required (as well as storage) would be within the system’s current capacity. This ties in with the timing of the T1 fleet replacement on Line 2 as there are enough T1s to run alternate, but not full service to Sheppard. This would be similar to the arrangement now used on the TYSSE where only half of the AM peak service runs north of Glencairn Station to Vaughan.

Richmond Hill Subway Extension

The Ontario government recently signed an agreement with York Region for the extension of the Yonge line from Finch to Richmond Hill. The status of this project is unchanged with an RFQ to be issued in Fall 2021, an RFP in Spring 2022 and financial close in Fall 2023.

Sheppard East Subway Extension

This project remains in the planning phase.

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Bill Davis Had A Plan (Updated)

Updated June 3, 2020: A PDF version of the document has been added.

With all of Metrolinx’ recent hype about the Ontario Line and its design, I have been digging into my archives looking at the promises made back in 1972 when Premier Bill Davis announced “An Urban Transportation Policy for Ontario”. This was to be the transit answer to his cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, a new transit network that would bring rapid transit to outlying areas in Toronto, as well as to Hamilton and Ottawa.

There was to be a test track around the CNE grounds linking to Ontario Place. A new technology, trains that would fill the missing link between buses and subways that were far too expensive at the then astronomical cost of $25 to $30 million per mile.

This scheme was doomed from the outset by its dependence on an untried technology (although at the point of the announcement, the Krauss-Maffei magnetic levitation system had not been officially chosen). All that ever happened at the CNE was a small stand of trees near the Princes Gates were felled in anticipation of guideway construction, and a few column footings were built. So much for the brave new world of a transit network.

Oddly enough, buried in the announcement is the following acknowledgement that existing technology could be used, at least as a stopgap:

“As an interim measure it may be feasible to provide express routes through parts of these corridors using existing modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars. When operating in exclusive rights-of-way these facilities are capable of providing intermediate capacity transit facilities.” [p 15]

This was the only time the government acknowledged that a brand new technology was not a pre-requisite for building their network. Within a few years, Davis’ dreams would be dust. The government would resurrect the work on a new TTC streetcar design that was underway in the late 1960s, but was stopped when the focus shifted to Davis’ Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS). Eventually, a less technically complex system that we now know as the SRT in Toronto and Skytrain in Vancouver came along, but the plans were never resurrected on quite so grand a scale.

The announcement itself makes interesting reading with many comments that will be familiar today especially as they relate to the limits of car-based travel and expressways.

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Metrolinx Spins Their Tale on the Ontario Line’s Alignment

In a recent article, I reacted to a Metrolinx blog post about the Ontario Line’s design with a series of questions hoping that as the project has now advanced to the Request for Information stage, there would be more details available. Metrolinx chose not to answer, an odd decision for a route about which they are so proud.

Another article has appeared extolling the Ontario Line’s virtues and its benefits for overall capacity on the rapid transit network (all this, of course, with pre-covid assumptions).

The claims in this article clearly were not conjured out of the air, but are based on detailed modelling of the future network. With Metrolinx’ non-response, I will not bother asking question of them, but will simply address their article head on.

Without question, the Ontario Line will provide rapid transit to areas that do not have it today, notably to the northeast in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks and to the major redevelopment node at Don Mills and Eglinton. However, Metrolinx writes as if this was conceived as part of the Ontario Line when the Relief Line North project was already underway under their direction. That planning process was dragging along through an evaluation of alternative alignments most of which made no sense at all, and some of which did not hit these major nodes.

On an historical note, a proposed Queen/Don Mills subway from the 1960s would have gone through these areas. The idea is hardly new.

One might almost think that Metrolinx wanted this process to bumble along as a way to delay the project. Magically, by the time Premier Ford announced the Ontario Line, the always-obvious destination and route had been selected.

As for the west end of the line, yes, it will serve the south end of Liberty Village, but at a considerable walking distance from many buildings in a neighbourhood that has grown north to Queen Street. The problem with east-west service to this area is the capacity of streetcar service provided especially on Queen.

The Ontario Line will begin at the Ontario Science Centre where a new transit hub will connect it to the Crosstown LRT. With LRT trains and TTC buses delivering riders to this station, the Ontario Line will divert more people away from Line 1 than the earlier Relief Line South plan, which would have started near Danforth Avenue at Pape Station.

In fact, Metrolinx projects that the new plan will reduce crowding on Line 1 at Eglinton station by 15 per cent, compared to only 3 for Relief Line South.

In a strange editorial choice, the article illustrates “high-density neighbourhoods that need better transit” with a photo of a small residential street in Riverdale (the corner of Paisley Avenue and Booth Street, near Dundas and Logan) which is roughly midway between proposed stops at Queen and Gerrard Streets.

There is also a photo looking south from Queen Street East on McGee Street, a likely location for the Leslieville Station. Metrolinx does not mention the physical intrusion that expansion of the rail corridor and construction of a station here would produce, only that it makes a connection to the Queen streetcar. Directly behind the photographer is the Jimmie Simpson recreation centre and park which are both threatened by the line. These are conveniently ignored in the article.

Metrolinx is big on connections and travel time savings, but neglects that a rider who is already on the Queen or Kingston Road cars at this location can reach downtown directly simply by staying on board rather than transferring to the Ontario Line.

There is no question that the proposed Relief Line station on Eastern Avenue near Broadview would not make a convenient connection to the GO corridor being well north of the line and very deep so that the tunnel can go under the Don River. That said, this connection was never a principal function of the station, but rather it would serve the East Harbour development site immediately south of the station, and the proposed Broadview streetcar extension through the development would have linked to the Waterfront East streetcar line.

Metrolinx’ true aim both here and at Exhibition Station is quite clear: they need to offload demand from Union Station and hope to do so by diverting riders to the Ontario Line. To make this work, the link between the two routes needs to be as simple as possible, and Metrolinx often refers to the across-the-platform transfers between GO and the OL at East Harbour. That direct transfer is only possible with a surface, not an underground alignment.

However, this assumes a rider is actually destined for the north end of the core business area which, if anything, is moving south from King and across the rail corridor, not north to Queen. GO riders bound for the core area would be better off staying on GO trains, not transferring. There is real irony that Metrolinx trumpets a direct, transfer-free ride to downtown from Don Mills at the same time as they hope to shift GO riders away from Union Station with an extra transfer in their journeys.

This easy connection at East Harbour will give GO Train commuters an option to connect to the subway without going through Union Station – a big part of the reason why this plan will reduce crowding there by 13 per cent.

That’s 13 percent of all riders at Union Station including those arriving on other corridors – Barrie, Kitchener, Stouffville, Richmond Hill – and so this claim represents a very large shift of riders between GO trains and the Ontario Line. This is not credible, especially for outbound connections where the “easy transfer” includes waiting for a GO train running much less frequently than the Ontario Line. (There are also operational issues with the assignment of tracks to services in the shared Lake Shore East corridor, and I don’t think Metrolinx has thought this through.)

When Metrolinx cites the catchment area of stations, they use a distance of 500 metres (a circle one kilometre across). This might work well for a suburban GO station, but in an urban areas, the transit network is more finely grained and a rider could well have a surface route closer-by than a rapid transit station. Access and transfer times consume proportionately more of a trip than in-vehicle times.

The travel time saving brought by the Ontario Line is illustrated in this chart from the project’s website. This chart assumes that access time to an Ontario Line station is the same as the time needed to reach a bus stop, but this is true only for people living very close to the station. At the trip destination, the time from Queen (City Hall Station on the OL) to King & Bay shows the effect of a transfer between rapid transit lines. This almost certainly understates the time penalty. One might well argue that simply walking from the west end of City Hall Station south via Bay to King or via the PATH network (to which the station would connect) would be faster.

This is not to argue against the obvious time and convenience savings of a direct trip, but proportionately the access and transfer times will contribute more than this chart shows for riders who are further from stations at their origin or destination. Metrolinx presents a best case scenario here.

In another recent article, Metrolinx talks about public consultation and the feedback they received from open houses along the route. The overwhelming concern of participants was with the route’s alignment and community effects.

“The Metrolinx team tasked with undertaking the Ontario Line is attuned to the sensitivities of preparing to build in such a vibrant city,” said Franca Di Giovanni, Metrolinx director of community relations for Toronto region. “We take people’s comments very seriously, and making this report public is part of an open and ongoing dialogue around Ontario Line planning.”

However, it is quite clear that Metrolinx is wedded to their alignment and will only “consult” on comparatively minor issues such as station design. Their intransigence to discussions of alternatives is a long-standing problem undermining the credibility of their public participation process.

All of this is slightly surreal in an era when the future of office space and demand to the core is under question. Personally, I prefer optimism that we will get back to something like “normal” eventually, but this will not happen tomorrow. Meanwhile, there will be a huge problem with travel demand outside of the core and on the road network where transit has little hope of competing.

Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario have issued an RFI to gauge interest from potential bidders on the Ontario Line project. This process was already delayed due to pushback from industry on the degree of risk transfer the government wanted its “partners” to undertake, and the covid crisis has added to the delay. However, there is a big push to reach a contract signing before the 2022 election. Whether this is practical, and whether any meaningful consultation will actually take place, are open questions.

Metrolinx Mum on Ontario Line Details

A recent Metrolinx blog post extols the virtues of the Ontario Line and the advantages of staying out of underground alignments.

Well, I thought, maybe they are further along in the design and can actually answer some questions about details that have troubled me, among others, for months. I wrote them an email on May 14:

Greetings:

In your recent blog post “The upside of Ontario Line’s upside – How Metrolinx experts are looking to design a Toronto subway that isn’t just confined to dark tunnels” you talk about an elevated alignment on the northern portion of the line through Thorncliffe/Flemingdon, but you state:

“In Leslieville and the Don Lands, the line will run at-grade alongside the existing GO rail corridor, helping to reduce construction impacts.”

One of the issues about this portion of the line has been the question of whether the new trackage would run at the same level as the GO trains, or above them on an elevated structure. This is particularly tricky for the proposed station at Queen Street that requires not just room for the tracks but also for platforms and vertical access to the street below.

Assuming you are still planning to straddle the GO corridor with OL tracks for across-the-platform transfers at East Harbour, this means that there will have to be flyovers/unders where the lines diverge south of Gerrard Station and at the curve north at Corktown.

Here are my questions (some of this is a holdover from the consultation round back when we could still have hundreds of people in a room together):

1. Please confirm whether the OL trackage will be at the same elevation as the GO trackage in the segment between the Don River/East Harbour and the point where the lines diverge at Gerrard Station.

2. How do you plan to handle the need for the eastbound OL track to cross the GO tracks at Gerrard and at Corktown, assuming that you are still planning to have the OL straddle the GO right-of-way? Will the OL eastbound go over or under the GO trackage?

3. How will you handle the station at Queen Street where space is required for platforms and access structures, not just the new OL rails, plus (possibly) one more mainline rail track?

4. Has the requirement for trackage for a possible high speed VIA service leaving Union via Lake Shore East and then the Stouffville corridor been factored into the track requirements yet, and if so, what is the effect?

5. Are there conflicts between a possible GO/Smart Track station at Gerrard and the planned OL structures/station?

6. Has the issue of lateral separation between mainline rail operations and the “lighter” OL vehicles been sorted out? What is the minimum spacing allowed between the two types of service?

Today, May 19, I received the following reply from Nitish Bissonauth, a Media Relations & Issues Specialist at Metrolinx:

Hi Steve,

We have nothing else to provide at this point in time as the project details are still being finalized and the preliminary design business case has yet to be released.

Remember, this is the same Metrolinx that originally expected to have a request for expressions of interest on the street already and a request for proposals in the fall. But they cannot, or rather refuse to answer basic questions that should have been settled long ago. This process has been delayed both by covid-19 and by the reticence of the construction industry to take on the level of risk Metrolinx so fervently wishes to push off of its books.

How people are supposed to intelligently comment with any hope of actual “participation” in the design process is beyond me. This is an organization devoid of any sense of public responsibility answering only to their bosses at Queen’s Park. Fearless Leader doesn’t want surface transit in his Etobicoke bailiwick, but it’s just fine for the folks elsewhere.

It will be amusing to see the pretzel-shaped logic that will appear in the “preliminary design business case” and whether, indeed, it bothers to address the technical challenges of the proposed route. Or will we simply get a line drawn on a map without regard to the local terrain and geography, much like a consultant now working for Metrolinx once did for SmartTrack?

A Preliminary Snow Job on the Scarborough Subway Extension

The Government of Ontario has been responsible for a lot of hot air over the years, and that applies to all three political parties. But their agencies Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx have come up with the biggest pile of crap I have seen in a very long time going back to Bill Davis and the flim-flam surrounding his failed maglev train project.

The Scarborough Subway Extension Preliminary Design Business Case is a classic attempt to support a bad project by cooking the books outrageously and hoping nobody will notice. Even with their sleight-of-hand, Metrolinx cannot make the SSE look good as a business proposition. It fails not by a small amount that could be “adjusted” out of the way, but by a country mile.

This raises two fundamental questions:

  • Is the methodology of Metrolinx’ so-called business cases a valid way to examine transit projects?
  • Has Metrolinx used a comparison that so flagrantly misrepresents reality that it destroys credibility not only of the report, but of the organization?

This analysis has a fundamental problem. It compares two schemes, one of which is the flimsiest of straw men, in an attempt to make the subway look better than it is.

  • One option is the extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard East with stops along the way at Lawrence/McCowan and Scarborough Town Centre.
  • The other is a network that assumes the Scarborough RT does not exist, but is replaced with many, many buses.

The latter option has never been on the table.

Missing is the one we all know and love or hate. The Scarborough LRT from Kennedy Station to Malvern is not even mentioned, not even in the potted history of rapid transit plans which begins with the SRT in 1985, not with the LRT plan that first appeared in the 1960s. Possibly Metrolinx planners are too young to know about this, or they are willfully ignorant.

The result? The subway “saves” thousands of hours of travel time, makes trips far more convenient, gets more cars off of the road, and on and on. But of course it would, just as the replacement of any surface network by a subway would make a huge difference.

However, that should not be the basis of comparison, and Metrolinx/IO flagrantly spend page after page extolling the subway’s virtue versus “Business As Usual”, a bus network that does not exist and has never been proposed. Their rationale is that the SRT will not last forever but will succumb to old age, and a bus network will be the “base case” against the subway would be measured.

Based on available information, it is understood that the SRT would require substantial investment to remain operational during the business case’s time frame (beyond 2029/2030) and so it would be inappropriate to include it for comparison purposes.

It has been assummed that a replacement bus network has been established to provide the type and volume of transit connections required to serve former SRT passengers. In reviewing this document it will be of value to keep this assumption in mind as the Scarborough Subway Extension is not being compared against the SRT, but rather against transit network scenario where Scarborough is largely served by surface route buses. [p 17]

Indeed, some text reads as if the SRT was never there, and the subway is a spectacular network addition built out into an area that has never seen rapid transit.

This is a deeply dishonest presentation. It does not review the real alternative to the subway, and it grossly inflates the subway’s benefit.

I am under no illusion that we will ever go back to the LRT plan. If the government would just say “a subway’s what we need and what we will build”, fine. That’s a policy decision. But when a collection of well-paid staff and consultants cook up this sort of BS to give a political decision a patina of professional respectability, that’s going too far.

If Metrolinx has stooped to this level in order to please their boss at Queen’s Park, they have shown just how trustworthy their work on everything else must be. For starters, there’s the Ontario Line, but that’s a whole other article.

As an aside, the document is littered with typos showing that it was not carefully edited even though it was considered by the Metrolinx Board in January, according to the Globe’s Oliver Moore. It has almost certainly been pushed out the door at the last minute in anticipation of public meetings next week.

It is also ironic that Hamilton lost its LRT plan thanks to provincial complaints about runaway costs while two signature Doug Ford projects, the three stop Scarborough Subway Extension and the underground version of the Eglinton West LRT extension roll on despite bad economic reviews.

There is little point in my reviewing this document in excruciating detail because almost every page depends on comparisons with an utterly invalid base case. However, there is the occasional point worth noting, a few of which will surprise readers I am sure.

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