Now on NOW: Billions for Transit, But What Do We Get?

My article for this week on NOW is up. The topic overlaps with a previous piece on this site TTC Announces Capital Spending Plan For City Building Fund, but more from the background of TTC’s shifting project priorities and the dangers of planning for shared funding with other governments.

Regular readers here will know that I bemoaned the policy change from major renewal of Line 2 to patching up the existing fleet and infrastructure for an extra decade. This change wafted through TTC Board “approval” without any public discussion a year ago, and now TTC management appear to be rethinking their position. The result? A large chunk of the new money in Mayor Tory’s City Building Fund goes to projects that should never have been deferred in the first place.

Of course if there had been a big debate about funding for the existing Line 2, this might just have pricked the balloon that is the Scarborough Subway Extension. Imagine if we said that the extension could not be built until the existing line was brought up to scratch?

Maintenance and renewal versus shiny new builds is an endless story with public infrastructure.

TTC Announces Capital Spending Plan For City Building Fund (Update 2)

Updated January 23, 2020 at 12:10 pm: The TTC has responded to queries about the acquisition of land for new yards for subway lines 1 and 2. The updates are flagged within the text of the article.

Updated January 27, 2020 at 9:30 am: The section on new streetcars has been corrected to state that 60 more cars is the limit on what the TTC could handle, including the use of Exhibition Loop for storage and the renovation of Harvey Shops at Hillcrest as a carhouse for central routes like 512 St. Clair. Previous text stated that 20 was the limit on fleet growth.

The TTC has released a report detailing its planned spending of the newly-allocated funds from Toronto’s City Building Fund. This will be discussed at the TTC Board meeting on January 27, and will go to Toronto Council for incorporation in the 2020-2029 Capital Budget.

Major changes in capital spending include:

  • A return to renewing and upgrading Line 2 Bloor-Danforth as a project for the current decade. This work had been postponed thanks to a lack of funding and, until recently, was replaced with a proposed overhaul of the existing T1 fleet aimed at an eventual lifespan of 40 years. Replacement of the 1960s-era signal system with Automatic Train Control (ATC) has also been restored so that new trains, not to mention the Scarborough extension, can operate under modern technology within this decade.
  • Additional funding for capacity enhancement on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina.
  • A large commitment to bus purchases including electric vehicles.
  • Partial renewal of the Wheel-Trans bus fleet.
  • Purchase of 20 new streetcars.

Three quarters of the newly-available funding goes to subway renewal, and even then, the subway projects will require additional money to be completed. Many items in the TTC’s 15 Year Capital Plan remain unfunded, and there are obvious opportunities for generous governments to come to the table and fund aspects of the plan.

Line 2 Renewal

When the TTC deferred the projects associated with Line 2 Renewal, they created a potential collapse of that route thanks to aging vehicles and infrastructure. The T1 trains serving Line 2 were delivered between 1995 and 2001, and replacement of them should have begun in the mid-2020s corresponding to their 30 year design life. The alternative plan to extend this by 10-years depended on an as-yet unproven major overhaul. If the TTC has learned anything from its experience with the streetcar fleet, there are limits to the new life that can be breathed into old equipment especially if the overhaul is more cosmetic than a thorough replacement of technical components.

The other major component of Line 2 Renewal is the replacement of the signal system which dates from the mid 1960’s. If this did not get underway within the coming decade, the TTC could be left with a 65 year old signal system on Line 2 and all of the reliability problems that represents as we know from experience on Line 1. The non-ATC territory on Line 1 dates from the early 1950s (from Eglinton south) to the early 1970s (north to Finch), and problems with this technology are a common source of delays. (ATC will be extended “around the U” from St. Patrick to Queen Station within the first quarter of 2020, and the section from Queen to Rosedale will follow later in the year. Completion to Finch is scheduled for 2022.)

An important factor in plans for Line 2 is the timing of the Scarborough Extension originally planned for 2026, but now pushed out to 2029-30 in Provincial plans. This extension should be built and operated with modern trains and signalling technology, but deferral of the Line 2 Renewal would have meant that the extension to Sheppard would have to be built with provision for co-existence of old and new trains and signalling. This is precisely the sort of plan that complicated the Vaughan extension which, astoundingly, did not include ATC in its original design.

The plan now calls for 62 new trains for Line 2 for delivery between 2026 and 2030. This is a full replacement for the existing fleet and considerably exceeds the 46 peak trains now required for the line even allowing for 20% spares making provision for future growth. There is also the matter of additional trains for the Scarborough extension, although these should be funded by Ontario as part of that project. Whether they actually will be is another matter.

The money allocated from the City Building Fund will only pay for one third ($458 million) of the anticipated cost of the new trains. This is a clear invitation for joint funding from other governments.

The T1 fleet will receive a minor overhaul necessary to extend its life until the new trains arrive.

There is an odd description of this project in the report’s recommendations:

$458 million, representing approximately 1/3 of the 10-year cost for 62 trains, to replace the legacy fleet of T1 trains on Line 2 required for delivery in 2026 through 2030, and which will require an additional $122 million to fund the 1/3 cost between 2030 and 2034. [p 3]

It is not clear whether all of the trains are supposed to arrive in Toronto by 2030 (which would fit with the completion of ATC conversion and opening of the Scarborough extension), or in later years as the funding described above implies. The yearly spending breakdown clearly shows the majority of the spending on new Line 2 trains beyond 2029, and this does not fit with the renewal plans. (See chart at the end of the article.)

The ATC project for Line 2 now lies in the same period as the delivery of new Line 2 trains so that by 2030 the trains, the signals, and the extended subway are all running up-to-date technology.

Line 2 will also require a new carhouse on land that the City of Toronto is acquiring (or may already have bought) southwest of Kipling Station, the old Obico Yard. The plan provides for acquisition and design, but not yet construction which is unfunded.

Updated January 23, 2020: In response to a query about the status of the city’s acquisition of Obico Yard, the TTC replied:

Yes it has already been acquired by the City but the market value assessment is being contested so funds are being secured for potential settlement. We’re also in negotiations to secure a second parcel of land to maintain access to the site. [Email from Stuart Green, Jan. 23/20]

Greenwood Shops will require changes to host new 6-car trains similar to the TRs now operating on Line 1. Originally, the plan was for this yard to be the carhouse for the Relief Line as well as for some of the work car fleet. The detailed plans for Greenwood are not included in this report.

Other funding for Line 2 includes a variety of projects in the state of good repair category that were previously unfunded, but most importantly the upgrade of the power supply system which needs both modernization and additional capacity for projected extra load from more trains.

Even with all of the new money, there is still a funding gap to complete all of the work that has been identified.

Line 1 Renewal and Upgrades

The existing TR fleet serving Line 1 does not require replacement within the timeframe of the Capital Plan, but more trains are needed to provide additional capacity on the route. The report allocates $165 million to one third of the cost of 18 trains to be delivered in 2026-2027. Again, this is a clear budget provision for other governments to come to the table with funding.

The compete conversion to ATC in 2022 will allow a reduction in round trip time on Line 1 so that the existing fleet can provide slightly more frequent service, but the proposed additional trains will allow full exploitation of ATC’s capabilities.

This, however, triggers capacity problems with stations, notably at Bloor-Yonge but also at major stations downtown where the flow of passengers to and from platforms will increase with more frequent service. As on Line 2, there is a need to upgrade power supply systems both to bring infrastructure up-to-date and to provide added capacity for more frequent service.

Also, as on Line 2, there is a gap between the funding allocated and the total cost of various projects.

Line 1 will require a new subway yard, and the TTC proposes to acquire land for it in York Region and design the facility. Why this is part of the Toronto City Building Fund spending is a mystery.

Updated January 23, 2020: In response to a query about Toronto paying for a yard that would be on the Richmond Hill extension, a provincial project, the TTC replied:

Referring to page 14 of the report, it is projected that additional vehicles beyond the 18 trains required in 2026 will be needed for growth of TTC’s existing system. As pointed out, the additional trains serving the Line 1 extension into York Region will also require new facilities for storage and maintenance. The TTC and MX are working together to scope requirements both independently and for a joint solution that meets the needs for Line 1. Whether the land can be found to serve future needs of both Line 1 Extension and TTC’s future growth needs remains to be seen but either way we need to budget for land. [Email from Stuart Green, Jan. 23/20]

Line 4 ATC

The plan include provision of ATC on Line 4 Sheppard. The trains there are ATC-capable, but software changes are required for the 4-car consists to move over the rest of the subway system which is designed for 6-car trains. This becomes an issue once ATC on Line 1 extends north of Davisville Yard where Line 4 trains are serviced.

Buses

The plan allocates $772 million to the purchase of buses and associated infrastructure:

  • $686 million for the procurement of 614 of the estimated 1,575 new buses required over the next decade.
  • $64 million for eBus charging stations at garages.
  • $22 million for the purchase of 232 Wheel-Trans buses of the estimated 498 required.

As with the subway projects, the bus projects require additional funding. There is a further problem in that the existing fleet will reach its retirement age, and without full funding, the number of vehicles available for service will drop precipitously as shown in the chart below.

The TTC has not yet published a consolidated plan for the conversion of its bus garages and fleet from diesel/hybrid to full electric operation, and so we do not know what other capital requirements lurk in future years to complete this work.

Streetcars (Corrected)

The report retains the proposal from the 15 Year plan for 60 more streetcars, but as with many other aspects of the scheme, only allocated funding for one third of this project, or 20 cars. As with so much else in the report, this is a clear invitation for participation by other governments.

These 60 cars would take the TTC to the limit of what it can handle with existing carhouses, including conversion of Harvey Shops as a small carhouse for central routes and the overnight storage of cars at Exhibition Loop.

20 cars would bring the total fleet to 224 assuming that the warranty repairs on the existing fleet will be completed by the time new cars arrive. This would support a peak service of about 186 cars assuming 20% spares, or 26 cars more than the current peak streetcar service. This would allow full restoration of the streetcar system, but would not leave much room for improved service, and the remaining 40 cars in TTC plans should not be ignored, let alone another 40 projected for growth in the 2030 timeframe.

A related issue here is the status of the Waterfront LRT extensions east to Cherry and south to Villiers Island, as well as west to the Humber Bay. More cars will be required for these extensions and that will add to pressure for carhouse space.

Miscellaneous Subway Infrastructure

The plan includes considerable spending in the second half of the 2020s on state of good repair for subway infrastructure. This relieves a looming problem where the subway could begin to fall apart through lack of maintenance and the attempt to worn-out equipment in service. The plan also accelerates work such as asbestos removal as part of overall efforts to improve subway air quality and as a prelude to structural renewal for the aging tunnels.

Overall Spending Plans

The chart below shows the overall capital plan including the detail of the subway infrastructure spending. This is not the total budget, only those portions paid for through the City Building Fund. The TTC’s shopping list for additional contributions is quite clear with many of these lines only partly funded from the CBF.

Indeed, there is an implicit assumption that many of these works can be launched with the expectation of more funding to come, a lot of which is not even required until after election cycles at all level of government. Will our future masters will be more inclined to fund transit?

Ontario Line Open Houses

Metrolinx will hold four open houses on the Ontario Line later in January. All events run from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

Thursday, January 23rd
Ontario Science Centre Telus Room
770 Don Mills Road
North York, ON

Monday, January 27th
Ryerson University Tecumseh Auditorium
55 Gould Street
Toronto, ON

Tuesday, January 28th
Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto Social Hall
115 Simpson Avenue
Toronto, ON

Wednesday, January 29th
Exhibition Place Beanfield Centre
Room 201 ABC
105 Princes’ Boulevard
Toronto, ON

It is not clear how much of this will be simply a dog-and-pony show with whatever design info they have pulled together by then, or if there will be real opportunities for community input.

[Source: Metrolinx Ontario Line Page]

TTC Capital Budget 2020-2029 and 15 Year Plan (Updated)

Updated December 17, 2019 at 12:00 nn

This item has been updated to reflect actions taken at the TTC Board meeting of December 16 to accelerate decisions on priority projects in light of new funding that will be available through the Mayor’s proposed City Building Fund. The new information is in a postscript at the end of this article.

The link to the “Blue Pages” has been updated to point to a revised version that corrects formatting problems with some amounts in the table, and corrects the names of several budget lines. Among these was a line called “Purch 496 LF 40 ft Diesel Buses”. This has been revised to “Purchase Conventional Buses”. The section on “Buses” within the “Fleet Plan” has been revised to reflect this and include some information from discussion at the meeting

Introduction

At its meeting on December 16, 2019, the TTC Board will consider its Operating and Capital budgets for 2020. The Operating Budget was my subject in a previous article, and here I turn to the Capital Budget and 15 Year Plan. There are two related documents on the TTC’s website:

The TTC has various ways of presenting its capital budget and plans, and navigating these can be tricky for the uninitiated. There are:

  • The 15 Year Capital Investment Plan (CIP)
  • The 10 Year Capital Plan
  • The current year Capital Budget
  • Variations on the budget and plan that do not include “below the line” projects that have no committed funding
  • Estimated Final Costs (EFCs) for projects beginning within the 10 or 15 year window, but stretching beyond

For anyone making comparisons with the opaque budgets and plans at Metrolinx, that agency does not include inflation over a project’s life in cost projections, while the TTC does. The simple fact is that Toronto borrows real dollars to fund projects at then-current prices, not a some years-old notional cost. City financing plans must be based on future year spending at future prices.

The Capital Investment Plan

The Capital Investment Plan was introduced in January 2019 to bring some reality into capital planning that had been absent at the TTC, City and Provincial levels for years. In an attempt to make its future exposure to large capital expenses and possible borrowing look better than it really was, the TTC and City produced 10-year capital budgets that omitted a growing list of critical and expensive projects essential to the health of the system. The CIP pulled up the rug, so to speak, under which all of these had been hiding, and revealed officially what anyone following the TTC already knew – the difference between available funding and needed investment was an ever-deepening hole.

This arrangement suited many parties because the City could make its future debt problems look less intimidating that they really were, and advocates of big spending on new projects did not have to contend with needed spending on repairs and renewal for funding. At the Provincial level, the cost of taking over the TTC, and especially the subway network, looked manageable, but that myth exploded when the real exposure to system renewal costs emerged. Toronto, now happily back in charge of all existing TTC assets, faces the bill for a mountain of projects that Ontario might otherwise have taken off their hands.

The 2019 CIP showed that there was a $33.5 billion investment requirement over the 15 years to 2033, of which over $20 billion had no identified source of funding. A gap that incoming City Manager Chris Murray though was a few billion exploded by an order of magnitude as he noted at a recent speech at the Munk Centre. This was not something that could be fixed with a nip here and a tuck there in the City and TTC budgets.

We must now have faith that the total amount shown in the CIP really is an exhaustive tally of needed spending. However, this could be subject to upheavals such as changes in policy about renewal cycles for equipment, service levels affecting fleet size, technology selections affecting vehicle costs and the timing of major projects paid for by others but affecting the existing network such as the Scarborough and North Yonge subway extensions.

Until quite recently, future spending on TTC capital projects other than rapid transit expansion faced a big downturn in the mid 2020s corresponding to the point where the City’s ability to borrow net new funds crashed into the City’s debt ceiling. In order to maintain a good credit rating and thereby save on borrowing costs, the City limits its debt service charges (interest) to no more than 15% of the revenue stream from property taxes. Other sources of revenue do not count toward this calculation either because they are earmarked (e.g. TTC fares or targeted subsidies from other governments), or because they cannot be counted on to survive as long as the debt they might pay for (government transfers that come and go with a Premier’s whim).

Mayor John Tory has proposed a substantial increase in the City Building Levy, an extra property tax just like Rob Ford’s Scarborough Subway Tax, that will allow the City to borrow $6.6 billion more to cover its share of transit and housing projects. There is a catch, of course, in that we have no idea what other governments might contribute, if anything. Toronto has already burned through its infrastructure stimulus money from Phase I of the federal government’s PTIF (Public Transit Infrastructure Fund), and the Phase II money will go substantially to a few major rapid transit projects as approved by Council. Asking for more effectively opens up the question of better support nationally for public transit, not just for Toronto. As for Queen’s Park, Ontario’s Ford government, not exactly a friend of Toronto, could well say “we are paying for your new subway lines, but you want more”, and dismiss any request. Both Toronto and Ontario are guilty of wasteful spending on big ticket projects while underfunding basic maintenance.

When the 2019 CIP was approved by the TTC Board, it included a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to begin steps required to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2020 Capital Budget [Minutes of January 24, 2019, Item 10, point 3]

There is no sign of prioritization among the various projects as an indication of what any new funding, should it appear, would be spent on.

The 2020 CIP includes a recommendation that the Board:

Direct the CEO to update the Capital Investment Plan on an annual basis based on refined cost and schedule estimates as projects progress through stage gates and to prioritize critical base capital needs in advance of the Board’s consideration of the 2021 budget process

The situation with the budget is too critical, and the need for action now by Council and the TTC to identify critical projects that should be first in line for funding cannot be overstated. Without a priority list that identifies the core requirements, Toronto risks losing at least another year to debate and indecision, hallmarks of the City’s transit planning.

In the intervening year, the CIP has grown by about eight percent to $36.1 billion. This is a troubling development because a good chunk of the recently announced “new” money for transit could vanish into supporting cost overruns, not to building and renewing the system.

This growth is summarized in a chart from the TTC’s report. The top portion shows the original CIP presented in January 2019 with $9.7 billion in funded projects and $23.8 billion unfunded.

The bottom portion shows the changes moving forward one year:

  • The project to add capacity at Bloor-Yonge Station has grown by 45% with an additional $500 million above the $1.1 billion shown for this item in the 2019 CIP.
  • SAP ERP is a project to replace legacy IT systems with a modern, integrated suite of software. The added $200 million arises from a combination of scope change and higher estimated cost for the work already committed.
  • ATC resignalling has grown by $900 million due to a scope change in the Line 1 project, and a rise in the estimated cost of Line 2 ATC from $420 million cited in the 2019 CIP. It is not clear whether this includes funding for the retrofit of the T1 fleet that will, under current plans, continue to operate during the ATC era on Line 2, notably on the Scarborough extension (assuming it is built with ATC from day 1, unlike the Spadina Vaughan extension where this was an afterthought). Line 4 has been added to the scope of this project.
  • Lighting in Open Cut refers to the replacement of existing lighting along the above-grade portions of the subway much of which is decades old. This item was included in the 2019 CIP as part of a bundle of subway upgrades, and at a much lower cost.
  • It is not clear from the report just what is involved in the $300 million for “Subway Signal System Alterations” beyond the work under other projects to implement ATC.
  • The last line moves year 2029, originally part of years 11-15, into the years 1-10 column.

This should be a cautionary example that the full cost of maintaining and renewing the system is not written in stone, and increases are inevitable. This also does not include potential changes related to a fleet plan that focuses on replacing vehicles and expansion rather than making do with rebuilds of existing buses and trains.

The original CIP did not include funding for the major expansion projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension even though in January 2019 this was a City project not yet assumed by Metrolinx. The reason for this is that the major projects have their own, separate budgets and funding streams and, therefore, they were not part of the CIP to begin with. This can lead to confusion when other major projects such as Waterfront Transit show up in the TTC/City project list, even though they are not in the CIP which, therefore, understates total future funding requirements.

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TTC Board Meeting: December 12, 2019

The TTC Board met on Thursday December 12, 2019 at 1 pm to discuss a variety of issues. Note that there is a special meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:30 am to discuss the operating and capital budgets for 2020.

Items on the agenda include:

Also on the agenda was the 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook which I have addressed in separate articles:

There is an update on the discussion at the meeting regarding this plan at the end of this article.

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Toronto Council Approves Ford/Tory Transit Deal With Minor Amendments

On October 29, 2019, Toronto Council approved the proposed deal between the City and the Province of Ontario whereby the Province takes full responsibility for construction of four new rapid transit projects while the City retains control of the existing subway. The details of that agreement were examined in previous articles and I will not repeat their content here.

The debate ran all day, and it is no surprise that in the end the vote went in favour of the deal. Queen’s Park is in a position to impose its will on the City, and the offer of “free” new lines and retention of control of the TTC’s existing network was too much to turn down. Moreover, this becomes the Mayor’s signature transit “accomplishment” while his previous fantasy, SmartTrack, is a shadow of its original promise, for practical purposes a dead issue.

Several amendments were adopted in an attempt to put conditions or restraints mainly on the Ontario Line project. These are really more suggestions that the Province might, if it’s not too much trouble, modify aspects of their plans. However, Council is in no position to impose any conditions on Provincial actions as they have ceded control and pledged co-operation for whatever the Province eventually builds.

The following motions were adopted (quoted text is from the Council agenda item EX9.1 Toronto-Ontario Transit Update).

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The Toronto Board of Trade Shills for the Ontario Line

Over on Facebook, I was challenged for simply slagging the opinion piece The Ontario Line: Give the future a chance. Originally, I wasn’t going to comment, but there are enough half-truths in the article that it’s worth writing about them. This is a consolidation of the Twitter version of my reply with slight modifications.

This article is credited to Jan De Silva as a “Contributor”. She is identified as the President and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade at the very end of the article. I would be very surprised if this article were not the product of Metrolinx itself. Too many of the arguments are stock Metrolinx boilerplate, including assumptions about the nature of criticism of their project.

Associations matter, especially when they aren’t acknowledged in the byline. If an article was by a policy wonk from the Manning Institute, for example, you would read it with a different media filter. If you read something from me, you put on the SwanBoatSteve filter. Identification of the author, of the voice, up front is important.

“billions of city dollars can be freed up for maintenance”

These are billions the city has yet to allocate in any budget. They are net new spending which will crowd other works. The only money we actually have is the accumulated revenue from the Scarborough Subway Tax and that’s less than $200 million in the bank. Moreover, everybody seems to be earmarking these $$$ for new projects like the Eglinton East extension.

Why is TO paying for an extension to a Metrolinx line? Ditto for the four surviving SmartTrack stations.

“some critics still fear using new technology for the Ontario Line”

This is a red herring used to cast aspersions against critics. We don’t know which technology might be used because in all probability the P3 proponent will come with their own technology partner just like the Canada Line in Vancouver. Other SkyTrain lines must use the Bombardier technology because they are part of a network, but the Canada Line was deliberately made separate to break Bombardier’s stranglehold as a vendor.

Unfortunately, the spec for that line was cocked up and the builder was able to cheap out on station size and train length. These are contract design/management issues, not technology issues.

“Some critics”, yes, but many critics have much more substantial objections.

“critics who claim that the Ontario Line is “drawn on the back of an envelope.” Even if that was true – and it never was – the Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario teams behind the initial proposal have been working with the TTC to refine their plans.”

Either it was a plan that needed TTC’s refinement, or it was a rough sketch enough to work for Doug Ford’s announcement. It was not a finished plan. The City’s own report states that it is at a very low level of engineering detail with wide potential variation in the cost estimate.

“Planning for this line incorporates greater use of above-ground rights-of-way”

There is a reason we put lines underground, sometimes needlessly, and it has a lot to do with neighbourhood effects and the political will to get transit out of the way of cars. These are separate effects depending on the location. Eglinton’s central section is underground because it won’t fit on the street.

Some people claim that surface operation elsewhere (including the extensions) shows socioeconomic bias against the affected areas. Cue the “poor Scarborough” theme. That story doesn’t work so well in Etobicoke.

“changes to how tunnels are bored”

The TTC was already looking at single bore tunnels for some projects. These work in some areas, not so well in others especially if the larger diameter triggers problems with the available space, utilities, groundwater and bedrock.

“lighter trains to facilitate easier river and overpass crossings”

True, assuming that the lighter trains are capable of providing the capacity required. More importantly, lighter and smaller trains affect the structure size be it elevated or underground.

“more standardization of stations above and below ground to build quickly and affordably”

Tell this to the politicians who want architectural grandeur as a mark of their importance. Some variation in stations is inevitable because of location, demand, etc.

We probably would not have to look very hard to find the TRBOT gushing over the designs for the TYSSE stations when they were proposed.

“Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are merely proposing to use the same tools cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Paris use to build dozens of kilometers of new subways at speeds we’ve only dreamed of before.”

The important thing those cities have is (or was) money and commitment. They had senior governments (including the EU) willing to pay, and a political climate where plans were not rejigged every few years to suit someone’s ego. And they had plans that ensured a continuous program of construction rather than the stop-start situation we have in Toronto thanks to political meddling and competition to “build MY subway now”.

“Subway systems in all three of these world class city transit cities have multiple car sets on their tracks, and even used different gauges as technologies developed.”

This is another red herring. Toronto has had multiple car sets on its streetcar and subway tracks since the 19th century. Old heavy red “G” trains, larger lighter “H” and “T” trains, 2 car sets and 6 car sets, wooden streetcars, steel, PCCs, CLRVs and now Flexitys.

Gauge is a question mainly of history and system age. Suburban lines in Toronto were standard gauge until they were incorporated into the “city” system e.g. Long Branch.

“critics insist Metrolinx may not hit its 2027 target date for the Relief Line … And even if this solution took until 2029 – the target date for the earlier Relief Line – this route should be more effective at providing relief than originally planned, too.”

The fundamental problem with the analysis of the Ontario Line vs the Relief Line is that the RL South is the basis of comparison, and so of course a longer RL has a greater benefit. The fact that the RL North study was being run by the Province and was stalled is not mentioned at all.

“The Ontario Line also creates a true subway network, with connections to the Yonge University Line, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the GO system at Exhibition Station,  so riders on the shoulders of our inner suburbs can shift commutes to avoid other chokepoints from several directions.”

The reference to offloading GO is key and it applies also at East Harbour (although that station does not exist yet). The OL is as much a relief line for GO at Union as it is for the TTC subway. This is a valid goal, but it should be acknowledged so that everyone is aware how much future capacity will be dedicated to GO relief rather than subway relief.

The article is completely silent on neighbourhood effects along the way which are not trivial. This is not just two tracks for an updated version of the SRT, but a six-track corridor for GO and the OL. Yes, SRT trains are not as noisy as GO trains, and the latter might even be toned down when, if ever, they electrify. I am not holding my breath on that as it costs a lot of capital that Metrolinx does not have and does not want to spend.

The Ford/Tory Subway Plan: Part II – Technical Appendices

In the first of two articles, A Big Announcement, or a Transit Three Card Monte?, I reviewed the proposed agreement between Ontario and Toronto whereby the Province would build four lines or extensions at no capital cost to the City, and ownership of the existing system would remain in City hands. This has been hailed as something of a “peace in our time” solution to the contentious relationship between Premier Ford and the City, but there are many outstanding issues that will not be resolved before the City signs on to the new deal.

In this article, I turn to three appendices to the City report, specifically:

Citations in this article are in the format [A3, p5] where “A3” is the attachment number and “p5” is the page number.

Reading through these documents, I was struck by how an essential section is buried right at the end of Attachment 4: the City/TTC evaluation of the Metrolinx Initial Business Case for the Ontario Line.

The main report is enthusiastic about the viability of the proposals and the contributions they will make to the City of Toronto. However, the attachments reveal the degree to which the scheme is far from complete or settled. There is a caveat that if the proposals change significantly, then the gushing support for the new plans could become only a trickle. But the political pressure is for the City to commit to the scheme, whatever it may become, in the rush to “get shovels in the ground”.

This is a long article intended to pull key points out of the technical discussion of proposed new lines in an attempt to highlight the major chunks without requiring readers to wade through every page (although the keen ones among you certainly will, I’m sure).

Timing of Market Calls for Procurement / Public Participation

The City/TTC have not received a detailed schedule from Metrolinx, however the Infrastructure Ontario Fall update includes the following timelines:

  • Ontario Line: RFQ Spring 2020, RFP Summer/Fall 2020
  • L2EE: RFQ Winter/Spring 2021, RFP Summer/Fall 2021
  • YSE: RFQ Fall 2021, RFP Spring 2022
  • EWLRT: To be determined [A3, p12]

This is aggressive for the OL and gives very little chance for substantive change before the RFP goes out. “Public participation” will be minimal in the best Metrolinx tradition.

The opportunity for feedback and input throughout a project’s development may differ given the anticipated P3 delivery model. Details regarding the Province’s proposed approach are provided as Attachment 11 to this report. City and TTC will continue to advocate for meaningful public consultation on provincial transit projects. [A3 p11]

There are conflicting priorities in completing work regarding the new design and changes to the Assessment with the desire for an expedited delivery process.

Q22: Has an assessment of construction-related impacts been undertaken as part of the preliminary planning and design? What about impacts on community, businesses, traffic congestion, noise, etc.? If not, when will this occur and be factored into decisions on build methodology, procurement, and a program for business and community supports?

A: The City/TTC expect that this will be undertaken as part of the updated environmental work for the TPAP(s).

Q23 Will the Province adhere to City permits and approvals, per the practice under the LRT Master Agreement?

A: The applicable Master agreement(s) for these projects are to be developed, and it will be the expectation that agreed upon service standards and timelines for applications, permits and approvals will be adhered to. The Province is seeking city commitment to explore opportunities to accelerate and expedite delivery including review of processes, and leveraging powers and authorities. [A3 p13]

Q29: Are you building the [Ontario] line to a budget of $10.9 B or are you building a line with a defined scope of work?

A: The project cost estimate is preliminary based on the current state of development. The scope in so far as length and areas served have been consistently stated. Future adjustments to scope, budget and schedule will be identified as part of subsequent phases of work. [A3 p15]

“Future adjustment” is a term that implies potential change, but how would this be handled with a P3 contract already in place? When do the requirements to deliver on time, on budget, supersede whatever objections or improvements might emerge from a review process?

Transit Oriented Development

One of the Province’s favourite terms now is “Transit Oriented Development” and the supposed ability to pay for transit with development charges and fares from new riders. There is a question, however, of whether the Province will seek higher density around stations to pay for its rapid transit plan even if this requires development at a scale beyond what the City has planned or the neighbourhood is expecting. What other costs will TOD bring for infrastructure, services, schools? The overdevelopment of Yonge & Eglinton, where the Province wants to see even more density, is a prime example.

Q13: With respect to “transit-oriented development” and seeking private sector investment, what assumptions are being made with respect to compliance with the City’s Official Plan policies and guidelines?

A: The Province has committed to work with the City to ensure that transit oriented developments advance a shared understanding for effective growth and high quality development of Toronto. The City and the Province are working through the details of an agreement on how they will work together to advance TOD opportunities. [A3, p10]

That is not the most reassuring of comments given the bull-headed nature of Provincial policy development. Doug Ford (and his brother before him) believes in the magic of the private sector somehow covering the cost of his dreams. This could have severe consequences for both the City and for the transit system if that dream is exploited to remove controls on high density development.

Getting There From Here

There is a problem throughout much rapid transit planning in Toronto that agencies only consider the end state after many projects have been built, new jobs and residences have been created, and magically we are transported to a future date and city where the models run.

Unfortunately, we have to get from 2019 to 2041, the year for all of the modelling cited in these reports, and there is no guarantee that the system can handle either the intermediate stages nor the “end state” if things do not occur as quickly as we hope.

Although GO expansion is part of the next decade’s work, there is nothing published to show how it will affect the TTC network for good or ill. Indeed, a major role for the Ontario Line now appears to be “relief” for congestion at Union Station almost to the point that relief of subway congestion is a secondary matter.

SmartTrack is a mythical “service” whose final configuration is still not known. Metrolinx has been quite evasive on this point, and the best we can hope for is a train every 15 minutes at “SmartTrack” stations along the Weston and Stouffville corridors. Two of the six ST stations may never be built because they physically conflict with, or lose projected ridership to, other services.

It may suit planners and politicians to talk of demand models for 2041, but what will the 2020s and 2030s look like on Toronto’s and the wider region’s transit system as we await the arrival of new services? This is a major shortfall in the City reports because they do not address the “how do we get from here to there” problem complete with associated operational and financial headaches. A scheme for the province to pay the entire cost of four new lines is wonderful, but there is much more to the transit system’s future than Premier Doug Ford’s map.

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A Big Announcement, or a Transit Three Card Monte?

On October 16, the governments at Queen’s Park and Toronto City Hall announced a deal to sort out competing transit plans for the city. The current provincial priority projects are the Ontario Line (Don Mills/Eglinton to Exhibition), Scarborough Subway extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard, Yonge Subway extension from Finch to Richmond Hill, and the Eglinton West LRT extension from Mount Dennis to Renforth.

The main City of Toronto report will be discussed at Executive Committee on October 23, and then at Council on October 29-30.

This article reviews that report with reference to a few parts of its many attachments. I will turn to the technical attachments in a second article. To focus material on each subject for readers, I have grouped related items together or re-sequenced things for emphasis. There are extensive quotations of key material so that readers hear not just my “voice” but that of the report’s authors.

Despite the importance politicians at both levels place on the proposals, the fundamental problem remains that many of the details are cloudy, to be kind. Specifically:

  • The City of Toronto retains ownership of the existing transit system avoiding a complex realignment of responsibilities and governance, but with this comes total responsibility for funding the ongoing state of good repair.
  • A large gap remains between the amount of funding needed to maintain and expand Toronto’s transit system relative to the amounts actually available and committed in budgets at various levels of government.
  • Ontario will build four key projects substantially with its own money, but continued support for transit beyond this is uncertain.
  • Toronto will redirect funding originally earmarked for its share of the key projects to other priorities, notably the TTC’s repair backlog. However, much of that “funding” does not exist as allocations in existing budgets and new money is required from Toronto to pay its share.
  • Cost estimates for the key projects are based on preliminary estimates that could change substantially as the design process unfolds. These estimates are in 2019 dollars and make no provision for inflation. The reports are silent on how the proportion of total spending by each contributor might change over the decade or more of construction.
  • A substantial total of project costs will be born by private sector partners through a “P3” financing mechanism. These arrangement will require future payments for what will be, in effect, a capital lease, but the mechanism for funding this from three levels of government is unclear. The reports are silent on the split between short term borrowing to pay for construction as opposed to long term payments to the P3 financier.
  • Project details as they are known today will change in response to design work and the need to keep costs within the projected level. This will affect alignments and stations, and what we think we are buying could be quite different from what we actually get.

The challenge in all of this is, as always, the question of money. We can watch the hands of politicians and managers at all levels as they shuffle cards on the table. We hope to “find the Queen”, to win in the subway sweeps rather than being taken for suckers who will cheer any plan, but lose every game. It is far from clear whether the proposal is a “good deal” for Toronto, and there are huge future transit costs that are barely addressed.

The whole exercise is a political deal to bring peace, comparatively speaking, to the transit file which was needlessly fouled by Doug Ford’s insistence that he knows more about transit in Toronto than anyone else. Does Toronto take this as its last best chance to preserve some semblance of control over its transit future, or do we keep fighting for a better deal?

There are a lot of holes in this plan and severe implications both for the City’s finances and the future of Toronto’s transit system. Many questions need to be asked and answered, even if the result will be a whole new plan after provincial and municipal elections in 2022.

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To Upload Or Not To Upload, That Is Not The Question

In his continuing assault on the City of Toronto, one of Premier Doug Ford’s early promises was to take the TTC subway system completely off of the City’s hands. That scheme was cut back to handing Metrolinx the responsibility for planning and building new lines, with the existing TTC system left for future consideration.

Now, the Star’s Ben Spurr reports that the upload has fallen off of the table and a new “deal” will be proposed:

In exchange for Toronto supporting Ford’s pet project, the “Ontario Line” between the Science Centre (Don Mills & Eglinton) and Ontario Place (south of Exhibition Place), Ford would leave the existing subway system in Toronto’s hands. This is a huge retreat for a man once bent on eviscerating City Council’s control over transit, and it raises the question of “what next” for Toronto transit politics.

I have written before about the high cost of subway ownership:

In brief, there is a myth that the subway network “breaks even” because its high ridership, and hence revenue, more than pay for the cost of operations and maintenance. This has two fundamental flaws:

  • Much depends on the allocation of fare revenue, and the amount of the fare carrying a rider on a bus+subway trip, for example, belongs to each leg of the journey. There are various ways to do this, but they all produce distortions in a flat fare system with extensive free transfers between routes and modes. This process is even more difficult in the era of monthly passes and two-hour fares.
  • There is a huge ongoing capital cost for subway renewal, for systems, vehicles, stations and much more that do not last the mythical “100 years” subway boosters claim, but which must be refreshed on a regular cycle. Even the physical structure, the tunnel, needs major repairs to achieve its intended lifespan.

Cuts to provincial funding started years ago, and the Ford government has reversed plans to increase Toronto’s share of provincial gas tax revenue. The provincial contribution to ongoing capital maintenance is small. As for operations, the City pays the lion’s share of the subsidy and the riders pay most of the rest.

If Queen’s Park takes over the subway, it would hardly be fitting for Toronto to continue paying much of the cost of maintaining this asset, and it would become a new drain on provincial resources. Premier Ford never tires of telling us that these are stretched to the point where major cutbacks, not additional costs, are the focus of all government planning. True, the province would give up its share of surface system costs, but that is a small contribution compared to what the City already pays in operating and capital subsidies.

Doug Ford’s dream of being the Tsar of Toronto Transit Planning comes with a big price tag, and there is a good chance that the government is having second thoughts about whether the proposed changes are worth the bother and expense.

The challenge for Council is, however, more complex that one of embracing the Ontario Line, popping the sparkling wine, and celebrating the Premier’s retreat.

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