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.

Continue reading

Metrolinx Board Meeting September 12, 2019

The Metrolinx Board met on September 12, 2019, but there was not much of substance on the public agenda. Presentations consisted as much of rehashing old news (including he oft-announced service improvements on GO Transit), but almost no substantive policy discussions.

Links here to the Agenda and Video for the meeting.

Ontario Line Initial Business Case (Video at 23:35)

This report was presented by a team of four from Metrolinx:

  • Mathieu Goetzke, Chief Planning Officer (Acting)
  • Malcolm Mackay, Project Sponsor for the Ontario Line, and until 13 days ago an engineer at TTC with 13 years experience, now transferred to Metrolinx. His previous major TTC projects included the Relief Line and the Union Station second platform.
  • Duncan Law, Head Sponsor for the subway program
  • Becca Nagorsky, Director for Project Planning

As I have already reviewed the Initial Business Case (IBC) in some detail, I will not dwell on that here, but will flag comments during the presentation and discussion of particular interest.

There were two threads on which nobody remarked, but which were significant given the way that the Ontario Line was announced:

  • The project details are far less advanced than the bluster of the original announcement might have indicated, and Metrolinx acknowledges that significant technical challenges remain for the design.
  • Language implying the general incompetence of the TTC to build a “modern” rapid transit line is much reduced if not eliminated from the discussion.

These are welcome changes, but we now face the need to build something because the Premier announced it.

Mathieu Goetzke introduced the presentation saying that although the Initial Business Case (IBC) was published in July, they are now going into more details. The Preliminary Business Case (PBC), the next step in the process, must resolve some issues and Metrolinx needs to “activate all possible levels” to address project costs. (See video at 27:00.)

Duncan Law continued in this vein saying that it was important to recognize that the IBC is an early stage of the project. Both the Relief and Ontario Lines are underpinned by the recognition that more capacity is needed. With roughly 50 per cent of the Ontario Line being at or above grade, there would be cost savings. Moreover, with the line separate from the existing subway system, there is an opportunity for technology change that would not otherwise be possible. There is a big difference in this outlook from saying that the TTC uses out of date technology.

Becca Nagorsky echoed the remark that the IBC is a first phase saying that its purpose is to define the project’s goals that must be preserved through the life cycle of more detailed design. She continued what has become a standard Metrolinx comparison of the original Relief Line project to the Ontario Line considering only the Relief Line South. This works from the assumption that the Ontario Line’s technology change will save so much money that the Relief Line North, as a conventional subway, does not even come into the discussion. This precludes the possibility that future design work might discover that the Ontario Line could be more expensive than originally thought, but by then the idea of going back to a subway project will be difficult, if only for political reasons. (There are parallels with the now-entrenched concept of a Scarborough Subway.)

The capital cost projections include anticipated savings due to “risk transfer” to a private sector partner in a Design-Build-Finance-Maintain (DBFM) P3 arrangement, but as with so many P3 schemes, there is little explanation of how exactly this is achieved. In particular, there is always the possibility that circumstances and designs will change, and the private sector “partner” will not assume this risk.

Note that none of the Benefit-Cost ratios exceeds “1” indicating that any version of the project does not produce a “profit” within the Metrolinx benefit-cost methodology. This came up in discussion a bit later (see below). The important issue here is that a large project such as the Ontario or Relief Line has benefits (and possibly costs) that the methodology does not capture notably the value of increasing resiliency in the rapid transit network by provision of alternate routes, and the enabling of projects such as the Richmond Hill extension that would otherwise overload the system.

A new addition to the discussion is a map showing the supposed benefit of the Ontario Line to residents of low income areas. It is no surprise that the OL (and the full RL to Eglinton that preceded it) benefit low income areas such as Thorncliffe Park and Moss Park, but there is a bizarre problem with the map which shows a reduced access to low-income jobs for residents between the Spadina Subway and the Barrie GO corridor south of Eglinton, far from the Ontario Line, not to mention Flemingdon Park north of Eglinton. There is something wrong here with the underlying model, but nobody at the meeting picked up on this.

Duncan Law bravely observed that “we are trained to challenge how things have been done” and this will lead to cost avoidance in the design (video at 38:00). He noted that early works on the route would be accelerated, although this is a tactic already in place (after much political fighting with Mayor Tory who eventually embraced it) for the Relief Line. At this point, Metrolinx is considering what their options for the OL design are before they take them to the public for comment, and they are still at an early stage.

In other words, they have a line on a map, but even that may change, and they fear alarming the locals with designs that are not yet definitive.

Malcolm Mackay spoke about the early works and the importance of co-ordination with large programs in the corridor to “leverage” contracts and consultants for other projects such as delivery of the (now) six track structure from East Harbour to Gerrard (four GO tracks plus two for the OL). There is also the potential role of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) works where some OL work could be combined with private development. However, it is not clear whether the likely construction timeframes of East Harbour and other projects would mesh with the schedule for construction of the OL.

In a marvellous piece of bafflegab, the presentation notes:

To demonstrate visible progress and to de-risk the schedule, a progressive works program is being contemplated with a ground breaking target of 2020 – 2021. [p 20 of the PDF]

What this means is that if Metrolinx actually undertakes some work soon, there will be political benefits of “progress” (shovels in the ground) and would-be bidders for the larger project will see that it has progressed beyond a political slogan and a line on a map. It is unclear just how much will actually be achieved by 2020 when the requests for qualifications and proposals (see chart below) occur.

Among the potential early works is design work the Don Valley crossing and possible launch sites for tunnel boring machines (TBMs). The decision to place some of the OL at or above grade means that there are more transitions in and out of tunnels than would be the case with an all-underground line, and launch sites at the transitions are required. These have significant effects on their locations as recent experience on the Eglinton Crosstown shows.

Mathieu Goetzke observed that the Queen Street corridor has challenges, but of course that would also have applied to the RL at least as far west as Osgoode Station. There is the larger question of the choice by the RL project of Queen versus a route further south, and again that is both a technical and political decision that is now set in stone.

The Next Steps slide below contains the troubling observation that Metrolinx will work to “understand community engagement” as if somehow Metrolinx has been operating in the dark while the Relief Line project went through its assessment and consultation stages. In a telling, but common, misuse, Metrolinx describes what they will undertake as “fulsome” intending to imply “copious” or “substantial”, but the word can also mean “excessive and insincere”, the fawning behaviour of one who insults by being overly complimentary. Metrolinx and GO before them have a long history of insincere public participation.

Discussion by the Board raised various questions starting with one from Michael Kraljevic who asked how much of the work already done on the Relief Line can be used for the Ontario Line? Mathieu Goetzke replied that work on the Queen Street corridor “feeds in” to the OL project, and Queen is “incredibly complicated”. The northern branch of the OL was built in part on the Relief Line North study. Malcolm Mackay stated that all of the work done so far will still be used giving the example of an underground station where geological information would inform design for a nearby structure. Some strategies that were “not successful” will not be pursued for the OL.

Regarding the construction challenges listed in the IBC, Vice-Chair Bryan Davies asked about “showstoppers” in the project. Duncan Law stated that there are none in the project “at this stage”, and he claimed that the benefit is that we see the risks now. Undoubtedly there will be several challenges, but the team will work through them, he said. The objective is to get people to jobs and home. Integration with GO for local and regional travel is important, Low continued. Environmental Assessment amendments will be required including a review of technical options for the OL. There is a “significant mountain to climb”.

Consultants have been engaged for the EA process, but subways tend to be environmentally positive, said Mackay, Metrolinx claims, and challenges with the elevated sections will be overcome.

These comments really are a dodge of the main question about the ability to reuse work already completed. The basic fact is that the OL alignment diverges considerably from the RL in places, and the detailed RL work, including public consultation, does not reflect the OL plan as it now stands. Again, we hear that this is a complex, challenging project, a rather different characterization than the self-confidence of the line’s announcement.

Director Paul Tsparis asked how the OL project helps to alleviate pressure on Line 1, and how is the TTC helping on that front.

Malcolm Mackay trotted out the usual list of TTC efforts including:

  • Larger trains
  • Painted tiles on the platforms at St. George and Bloor-Yonge to channel waiting passengers
  • Automatic Train Control
  • Bloor-Yonge Station expansion

The reference to larger trains is getting tiresome whoever cites it because the “new” Toronto Rocket (TR) equipment has been operating for some time now, and their extra capacity was long-ago consumed by latent demand. The painted floor directions may have some effect, but the big problem at busy stations is that platforms become totally filled even with a slight delay and this prevents easy exchange of passengers with trains. As for ATC, Mackay despite his years working at TTC, was unsure of the dates when it will be implemented. He also neglected to mention that more service requires more trains and, eventually, more train storage when the TTC exhausts what it now has. If the province takes ownership of the subway, this problem will land in their lap.

This was capped off with an observation that going north to meet the Eglinton Crosstown is a “beautiful addition to relief” to Line 1. Well, yes, many advocates have been saying this for a very long time while others downplayed the importance of continuing north of Danforth. Even Metrolinx flagged the added relief of the northern extension, and this informed support for work on it by the previous provincial government.

Michael Kraljevic asked about the benefit cost ratio where the value is less than one, although the P3 arrangement is alleged to improve that factor. How does this line up against other subway projects?

Mathieu Goetzke replied that it is hard to get a ratio beyond 1 with brand new infrastructure. GO improvements have good numbers because they build on legacy infrastructure. Moreover other modelling techniques would pick up economic development issues that are not included in the Metrolinx model. Phil Verster explained that Metrolinx does not consider benefits outside of purely transit ones, and the wider economic benefits would make every transit business case a good one. A case will always be touch-and-go for tunnels to get to a ratio of 1. Goetzke added that the OL can enable other works [e.g. the Richmond Hill extension].

This is quite an admission for Metrolinx who have wrestled with their business case analysis for some time. In a political climate where projects must at least break even, the benefits that are balanced against costs have a huge influence on the results. This can include both the scope of benefits (how wide a net is cast to capture benefits) and what payback period is used in the calculation. If the scope is too wide, there is a risk that presumed benefits are not entirely due to the project itself. If the timeframe is too long (Metrolinx uses 60 years), there is a financial problem of substantial expenditure in the short term for savings that might or might not accrue over the very long haul. Moreover, a large proportion of the “benefits” do not capture revenue that can be used to pay off project debt, but rather accrue to transit riders in reduced travel time and increased mobility.

These approaches can be defended on the grounds of “city building” and the long term, cumulative effect of having more transit infrastructure. However, the attempt to make any one project “pay its way” can distort how it is evaluated for political reasons.

Footnote: The Metrolinx Blog includes an article which emphasizes that the Ontario Line will not be built on unproven technology. The ghost of the UTDC and the Scarborough RT still haunts provincial decisions.

Ridership Initiatives (Video at 1:13:19)

Metrolinx ridership for the second quarter of 2019 is up 4.1% over the same period in 2018. However, children did not ride free a year ago, and when they are removed from the “before” numbers, the remaining ridership rose by 5.2%. It is worth noting that the TTC attempts to count children even though they ride free on the system, and so ridership numbers for the two systems are not directly comparable, at least on that basis. There is also the challenge of defining a “ride” when trips can involve a series of transfers and the benefit of the two-hour fare on Presto. The whole question of reporting demand on the GTA network needs work, including granularity about when and where people actually travel.

Statistics reported by APTA show commuter rail up 2.1% among reporting agencies, and bus ridership down 1.0%. GO bus ridership is up 4.5%.

A detailed map (PDF) shows the ridership by station across the rail network. There is no data for the bus network where there has been some controversy about which services should be maintained and which should be cut. Moreover the rail network counts do not distinguish by time of day to break out growth, if any, in off-peak travel as GO moves beyond peak period, peak direction commuting service to downtown Toronto.

Ridership growth varies by corridor and station. The high roller is Barrie with a 10.6% growth in the corridor. Kitchener us up 5.6% and Lakeshore East is up 4.8%.

GO is doing a lot of online marketing which they report as being quite successful, and there is an uptake of e-Tickets as a way of purchasing fares. Many of the promotions are for attractions in the off-peak period and for casual users who would be new to the system.

GO regards riders in Toronto as “transit natives”, people familiar with what transit can offer, and markets to them differently than to potential riders in the 905. Whether this is valid all the way out to the 416/905 boundary is hard to say.

The lower base GO fares are driving ridership within Toronto, but there was no discussion of the effect that will occur if the GO-TTC co-fare arrangement ends thanks to lack of funding from Queen’s Park. This has already affected riders on the UPX who no longer get a UPX+TTC discount. All the marketing efforts in the world can be undone by fiscal policies that affect fares and service.

Presto Quarterly Report (Video at 1:28:08)

Director Janet Ecker asked about efforts to minimize TTC criticisms of Presto. From what she is reading, criticisms of the system way off base. She asked how Metrolinx is trying to deal with this.

Phil Verster replied that it is illuminating to see how some comments get headline status and do not reflect what’s happening on the ground. Things are challenging, he said, and Metrolinx continues to work closely with TTC. There are claims that Metrolinx feels are not valid, and they have encouraged the TTC “to put this behind us”, not to go to dispute resolution.

Annaliese Czerny, Executive VP, PRESTO, felt that it was a shame the story is not about new products and better experiences. Verster was optimistic about making progress with TTC to move to a better future – new devices, open payments – and that this will be the story rather than problems. Czerny noted that TTC is an active and positive partner in the process for future developments.

This was the usual positive Metrolinx spin on PRESTO, but it was undone by the TTC when they released their agenda for the Board Meeting to be held on September 24. In it, the CEO’s Report is quite clear that the TTC will pursue arbitration under their PRESTO contract in an attempt to obtain payment of lost revenue due to non-delivery of a working fare system.

With PRESTO readers on every bus, streetcar and fare gate, and with PRESTO fare vending machines and self-serve reload machines at every station, the provincially-led fare card system has given our customers many benefits, but also many challenges.

Over the summer, I met with Metrolinx President and CEO, Phil Verster, to discuss the outstanding claims between the parties and the status of the outstanding deliverables of the contract for the implementation of PRESTO on the TTC. It is clear from our discussions that Metrolinx considers the contract deliverables complete.

So, while these discussions were informative about the positions of each organization, we were not able to reach a common understanding and agreement. We did agree that the next step is to proceed with arbitration, which is the dispute resolution process provided in the contract.

We are working with external counsel to review the process and finalize material and submissions. As we outlined in our report to the Board in June, the TTC does not consider the contract closed. Rather, there are significant deliverables outstanding, including open payment and account-based technology (which includes equipment), equipment to provide PRESTO Tickets on buses and streetcars, an acceptable third-party distribution network and Service Level Agreements for all equipment.

[TTC CEO’s Report at p. 14]

A major problem with Metrolinx’ perception of a “working” system is that they assume that any rider who encounters a fare machine that is out of service will use an alternate just as they would at a GO station. However, on crowded transit vehicles getting to another reader, let alone another fare machine for tokens or cash, can be very difficult and many riders do not bother to try. If they have a Metropass on their card (or a two-hour fare from a previous tap), this really does not matter because they have already paid, but for other riders this represents lost revenue to the TTC. Credit card holders cannot pay at all because this function rarely if ever worked.

Regular riders are familiar with the situation and just shrug when their tap does not register. I personally encounter this problem at least once a week, and see others having the same problems with unresponsive machines even more often. Things may be improving, but perfection is some distance off and Metrolinx has a lot to answer for from the earlier days of their PRESTO implementation.

Metrolinx tests the availability of fare equipment by “pinging” each device (sending a signal to a machine that elicits a response simply saying “I am here”). However, that function takes place at a low level within the hardware and the application software could be hung even though the “ping” gets a positive response.

Metrolinx measures of PRESTO access are likely too rosy because of assumptions about how easily riders can access the machines and about what constitutes a “working” box when tested remotely.

Metrolinx Shifts Responsibility for Improvements to Future 3P

In the comment thread on the article about GO Transit Service Changes, two readers asked about the status of expansion projects that were supposed to be “in the works” – the addition of track capacity from Don to Scarborough Junction and from Guildwood to Pickering, as well as a contract for signalling upgrades.

I wrote to Metrolinx for comment on these issues, and have received a reply from Matt Llewellyn in Media Relations.

1. Someone left a comment on my blog today claiming that the projects to add a fourth track from Don to Scarborough, and a third track from Guildwood to Pickering, have been cancelled. Is this true, and if so, why?

Through our new rigorous analysis of potential investments we are prioritizing the infrastructure needed right now, giving communities the transit system they need and deserve, while making taxpayer dollars go further.

As part of that process, it was determined it is possible to reduce the entire three-mile three track section while still achieving the current service levels needed between Rouge Hill GO Station and Durham Junction. We’re able to delay these major improvements now thanks to a stronger working relationship we’ve developed with our Railway partners. By finding smarter and better ways to work together, we’re significantly accelerating service improvements to these areas.

Any future infrastructure needed in this area will be determined through the OnCorridor Program that is currently in procurement.

We will continue to work closely with the impacted stakeholders and community as we work towards upgrading transit and adding essential regional transportation capacity to our network.

On a related note, has the scheme to build the “Ontario Line” above grade, possibly in the rail corridor from Gerrard west to Parliament, had any effect on the four-track plans for that section of the corridor?

Metrolinx Initial Business Case indicates the Ontario Line will have a portal east of Cherry Street, crossing over the Don River and continuing along the GO Rail corridor, along a widened embankment or elevated structure.

We are currently reviewing the work that is needed to advance the infrastructure necessary to provide more GO service on this stretch of the corridor, alongside the infrastructure needs for the Ontario Line.

What is the status of a project to re-signal GO corridors to allow more frequent headways and better safety control? There was a consulting contract let to Parsons in late 2017 but is the project actually progressing?

Parsons is supporting Metrolinx as a technical advisor for the Signal and Train Control program under Go Expansion.

The signaling and train control program, which will allow for more trains at a lower headway and improved safety, is progressing under Go Expansion.

The Go Expansion program is currently in the procurement phase.

Through the GO Expansion program, we will be leveraging the worldwide expertise of the private sector to drive contractor accountability for delivering on the required service outcomes.

From these answers it is clear that Metrolinx has decided to shift responsibility for any infrastructure upgrades to whichever consortium wins the GO Expansion program bid and takes over responsibility for this work. This could bring a level of expertise to GO not seen before (if the comment above is to be believed), but this could also add yet another layer of opacity and frustration to any meaningful public participation in a review of what might or might not be built.

GO Transit Service Changes Effective September 3, 2019

After the flurry of activity about rumoured widespread cuts to GO Transit’s bus service, the changes announced for September 3 are all “good news”. Whether there is “another shoe to drop” later in the fall remains to be seen. So far, these are not the moves of an agency about to make widespread route cuts.

Bus Routes

Seasonal bus service will end on 12 Niagara Falls. Effective Labour Day weekend, weekday express service will end, and weekend express service will be cut back to every two hours. The weekend express service will end at Thanksgiving.

School trips will be restored on the following routes:

  • 15 Brantford/Burlington
  • 25 Waterloo/Mississauga
  • 29 Guelph/Mississauga
  • 45-46-47-48 Highway 407 West
  • 51-52-54 Highway 407 East
  • 88 Peterborough/Oshawa
  • 93 UOIT/Scarborough

The 60 Canada’s Wonderland route will not return, and riders are encouraged to use TTC or GO services to reach York Region Transit Route 20.

In the announcement of restored and extended service on the Stouffville corridor, there is a note:

Evening bus service will continue to help you transition back to the train.

This implies that the bus service will disappear after the transition is complete, but there is no effective date for this.

Rail Corridors

On the rail network, there are many changes with new trips and hours of service on five corridors.

Lakeshore West

  • Service at West Harbour Station in Hamilton will be doubled to four trips each way from the current two.
    • In the morning peak, two trains that now originate at Aldershot will begin at West Harbour departing at 7:09 and 7:49 am. These are added to departures at 6:09 and 6:39 am.
    • In the afternoon peak, a new train will leave Union at 4:45 pm, run express to Clarkson and then local to West Harbour arriving at 5:57 pm.
    • The 6:30 pm train from Union which now ends at Aldershot will be extended to West Harbour arriving at 7:42 pm.
    • The other two PM peak trips to West Harbour leave Union at 4:00 and 5:15 pm.
  • Two Oakville trips will be extended to Aldershot leaving Union at 3:13 and 6:15 pm.
  • The 8:32 am eastbound train from Oakville will be extended from 10 to 12 cars to add capacity.

In what must be the most over-hyped part of the entire announcement, train service to Niagara Falls will run every day all year. However, weekday service remains one train each way, and otherwise travel between the Falls and Toronto will use buses for the portion of the trip beyond Burlington GO. The weekday trains serve West Harbour Station in Hamilton.

  • The morning commuter train leaves Niagara Falls GO (VIA) Station at 5:19 am arriving at Union at 7:50 am.
  • The afternoon train leaves Union at 5:15 pm arriving at Niagara Falls at 7:47 pm.

Weekend service that is now seasonal will become permanent. Note that these trains do not serve West Harbour, but run express between St. Catharines and Burlington.

  • Trains to Niagara Falls from Union depart at 9:00 am, 4:18 pm and 8:10 pm.
  • Trains to Union from Niagara Falls depart at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, 7:20 pm and 11:00 pm.

Lakeshore East

There are small changes to the Lakeshore East schedule:

  • New eastbound trips will leave Union at 2:58 and 3:28 pm running local to Oshawa arriving there at 3:56 and 4:26 pm.
  • A new westbound trip will leave Oshawa at 4:48 pm running local to Union arriving there at 5:50 pm.
  • The train which now leaves Oshawa westbound at 1:52 pm running express to Union will now depart at 1:53 and will stop at Whitby, Ajax and Pickering, then express to Union.

Kitchener

  • The train which formerly started eastbound from Mount Pleasant at 9:00 am will now originate in Kitchener at 7:57 am.
  • The 12:53 pm train westbound from Union will now run through to Kitchener arriving at 2:47 pm.
  • The train which formerly started eastbound from Mount Pleasant at 3:52 pm will now originate in Kitchener at 2:57 pm.
  • The 6:00 pm Kitchener train will now run express to Bramalea then local to Kitchener arriving there at 7:47 pm.
  • A new 5:45 pm train from Union will make all local stops to Bramalea.
  • From 6:53 pm hourly westbound trains run at least to Mount Pleasant with some continuing to Guelph or Kitchener.
    • The 6:53 train will run to Kitchener arriving at 8:47 pm.
    • A new train at 9:53 pm will run to Kitchener arriving at 11:47 pm.
    • A new train at 10:53 pm will run to Guelph arriving at 12:22 am.
  • A new train from Kitchener at 8:57 pm will arrive at Union at 10:51 pm.

Other schedule changes will reflect actual operating conditions and will adjust departure times earlier or later. Consult the schedule for details.

Finally, some train lengths will be adjusted to 6 cars:

  • The 9:48 am westbound train from Union
  • The 11:00 am eastbound train from Mount Pleasant
  • The 2:57 pm eastbound train from Kitchener

As a result of the new schedule, eastbound trains originating at Kitchener will run at:

  • 5:20 am, 5:45, 6:10, 6:50, 7:15, 7:57 (new), 2:57 pm (new), 8:57 (new)

Westbound trains running beyond Georgetown will leave Union bound for Kitchener (except as noted) at:

  • 12:53 pm (new), 3:35, 4:50, 5:27, 6:00, 6:53, 9:53 (new), 10:53 (Guelph, new)

Stouffville

On the current schedule, train service southbound to Union ends with the 3:31 pm trip from Mount Joy Station. The last northbound trip to Lincolnville leaves Union at 7:10 pm and the last Mount Joy trip leaves at 8:00 pm.

On the new schedule, southbound train service continues to end at 3:31 pm, but it resumes at 9:31 pm for three trips (hourly to 11:31 pm). The last northbound Lincolnville train remains at 7:10 pm, but train service to Mount Joy at 8:15 pm and hourly thereafter. The 11:15 pm train runs through to Lincolnville.

While this is some improvement, it is still a far cry from frequent, bi-directional all day rail service.

Two trains will be changed to six-car consists:

  • The 12:15 pm trip northbound from Union
  • The 1:31 pm trip southbound from Mount Joy

Barrie

The schedule for this corridor will not change, but some train lengths will be modified to better match demand.

  • The weekday 7:05 pm train from Union will be extended from six to ten cars.

The following trains will only be six cars long:

  • Weekdays:
    • 7:40, 8:40, 9:40 and 10:40 pm northbound from Union
    • 8:41, 9:41 and 10:41 pm southbound from Aurora
  • Weekends:
    • 11:40 am, 2:00 pm and 6:20 pm northbound from Union
    • 3:01 and 7:21 pm southbound from Aurora
    • 4:20 pm southbound from Allandale Waterfront

The full set of current and future schedules is available on the GO Transit website.

Comfirm or Deny: Big Changes Coming to GO Bus Service

Over the past weekend, a post appeared briefly on Facebook describing proposed changes to GO Transit bus service that were presented to ATU Local 1587 members on Wednesday, July 17. Normally I would take info like this with a grain of salt based on decades of hearing various half-baked stories about TTC plans that pop up from railfan speculation and internal TTC rumours. However, this was too detailed a list and from a first-hand source, and it cannot be ignored.

Updated July 23, 2019 at 8:55 am: The following email was sent to me by ATU 1587 who represent the GO Transit Workers:

A.T.U. Local 1587 was not aware of a posting on social media of service cuts produced by Metrolinx. It was brought to our attention from you, Steve. Thank you.

Metrolinx has however, brought to the union, approx. a month ago, of service cuts in bus that affected Beaverton, Oshawa, Waterloo, Bolton, Cambridge.

Metrolinx is trying to reduce bus service, and force passengers onto trains, which means less local access for our passengers. If there is local transit, then they will have to take that system and  transfer once they are close to a GO station, if not then they will have to use their personal vehicle.

Our members provide an excellent service overall. We don’t however, create the schedules of where we go or don’t go. Our members have voiced their disbelief about the cuts to trips not only for our seniors that use our service for appointments, but our university students as well. Everyone who uses GO Transit/Metrolinx is using us for a reason. Our members are proud of what they do, helping those with disabilities, seniors, children, etc. The pride does not stop at our drivers. Everyone from plant maintenance to station attendants, to our coach tech’s (mechanics), transit safety officers, OFPT. We are all proud of the job we do for the public, our passengers.

Thank you,

Christine Broeze
President/Business Agent
A.T.U. Local 1587

Updated 4:44 pm July 22: Metrolinx claims that the information posted on Facebook is not true.

The rumours are not accurate.

Buses form a vital connection between trains and communities not connected to train service or with limited train service.

Buses will always be an important part of our regional transportation plan. In fact, we are actively recruiting bus drivers to join our team.

We currently have a fleet of 532 buses and approximately 420 are used for service. We have more buses on the road today than we ever have and every year since our existence they have increased.

We are always monitoring our services to ensure we are making the best use of our resources.

We are embarking on the largest expansion of rail service in our history.

At times, when new train service is introduced it makes sense to redeploy bus services to other communities. Trains can carry far more passengers and shorten the trip.

It is difficult for us to comment on the presentation made to union members as we were not there. [Email from Fannie Sunshine 4:35 pm, July 22]

Original post below:

Continue reading

61 Questions And Counting (Updated)

Update: Council’s action on this report has been added at the end of the article.

As I write this article on April 17, 2019, it has been three weeks since Toronto learned that Premier Doug Ford’s love for rewriting transit plans would turn Toronto’s future upside down. Ford’s special advisor Michael Lindsay wrote to Toronto’s City Manager Chris Murray first on March 22, and then in an attempt to paper over obvious problems with the provincial position, on March 25.

Just over two weeks later, Ford announced his transit plan for Toronto, and this was followed by the 2019 provincial budget.

A hallmark of the process has been a distinct lack of details about design issues, funding and the future responsibility for an “uploaded” subway system. In parallel with these events, city and TTC staff have met from time to time with Lindsay and his team to flesh out details and to explain to provincial planners the scope of TTC’s needs, the complex planning and considerable financial resources required just to keep the trains running.

On April 9, Toronto’s Executive Committee directed Murray to report directly to Council on the effect of provincial announcements, but his report did not arrive on Councillors’ desks until early afternoon April 16 with the Council meeting already underway.

The report reveals a gaping hole in the city’s knowledge of provincial plans with a “preliminary” list of 61 technical questions for the province. So much for the idea that discussions to date have yielded much information. Click on any image below to open this as a gallery.

 

To these I would add a critical factor that always affects provincial projects: cost inflation. It is rare to see a provincial project with an “as spent” estimate of costs. Instead, an estimate is quoted for some base year (often omitted from announcements) with a possible, although not ironclad, “commitment” to pay actual costs as the work progresses. This puts Ontario politicians of all parties in the enviable position of promising something based on a low, current or even past-year dollar estimate, while insulating themselves from overruns which can be dismissed as “inflation”. The City of Toronto, by contrast, must quote projects including inflation because it is the actual spending that must be financed, not a hypothetical, years out of date estimate from the project approval stage.

That problem is particularly knotty when governments will change, and “commitments” can evaporate at the whim of a new Premier. If the city is expected to help pay for these projects, will the demand on their funds be capped (as often happens when the federal or provincial governments fund municipal projects), or will the city face an open-ended demand for its share with no control over project spending?

Unlike the city, the province has many ways to compel its “partner” to pay up by the simple expedient of clawing back contributions to other programs, or by making support of one project be a pre-requisite for funding many others. Presto was forced on Toronto by the threat to withdraw provincial funding for other transit programs if the city did not comply. Resistance was and is futile.

How widely will answers to these questions be known? The province imposed a gag order on discussions with the city claiming that information about the subway plans and upload were “confidential”. Even if answers are provided at the staff level, there is no guarantee the public will ever know the details.

At Council on April 16, the City Manager advised that there would be a technical briefing by the province on the “Ontario Line” (the rebranded Downtown Relief Line) within the next week. That may check some questions off of the list, or simply raise a whole new batch of issues depending on the quality of paper and crayons used so far in producing the provincial plan. It is simply not credible that there is a fully worked-out plan with design taken to the level normally expected of major projects, and if one does exist, how has it been produced in secret entirely without consultation? The province claims it wants to be “transparent”, but to date they are far away from that principle.

The Question of Throwaway Costs

Toronto has already spent close to $200 million on design work, primarily for the Line 2 East Extension (formerly known as the Scarborough Subway Extension, or SSE). The province claims that much of this work will be recycled into their revised design, and this was echoed by TTC management at a media briefing. However, with changes in both alignment, scope and technology looming, it is hard to believe that this work will all be directly applicable to the province’s schemes.

The city plans to continue work on these lines at an ongoing cost of $11-14 million per month, but will concentrate on elements that are likely to be required for either the city’s original plan or for the provincial version. The need to reconcile plans has been clear for some time:

In order to minimize throw-away costs associated with the Line 2 East Extension and the Relief Line South, the City and TTC will be seeking the Province’s support to undertake an expedited assessment of the implications of a change at this stage in the project lifecycle. The City and TTC have been requesting the Province to provide further details on their proposals since last year, including more recently through ongoing correspondence and meetings under the Terms of Reference for the Realignment of Transit Responsibilities. [p 4]

The city/TTC may have asked “since last year”, but Queen’s Park chose not to answer.

The city would like to be reimbursed for monies spent, but this is complicated by the fact that some of that design was funded by others.

Provincial Gas Tax

As an example of the mechanisms available to the province to ensure city co-operation, the Ford government will not proceed with the planned doubling of gas tax transfers to municipalities. This has an immediate effect of removing $585 million in allocated funding in the next decade from projects in the TTC’s capital program, and a further $515 million from potential projects in the 15 year Capital Investment Plan.

At issue for Toronto, as flagged in the questions above, is the degree to which this lost revenue will be offset by the province taking responsibility for capital maintenance in the upload process. Over half of the planned and potential capital projects relate to existing subway infrastructure, but it is not clear whether the province understands the level of spending they must undertake to support their ownership of the subway lines.

Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF)

City management recommends that Council commit much of the $4.897 billion in pending federal infrastructure subsidies from PTIF phase 2 to provincial projects:

  • $0.660 billion for the Province’s proposed three-stop Line 2 East Extension project instead of the one-stop Line 2 East Extension project; and
  • $3.151 billion for the Province’s proposed ‘Ontario Line’ as described in the 2019 Ontario Budget, instead of the Relief Line South. [p 3]

This is subject to an assessment of just what is supposed to happen both with proposed new rapid transit lines and the existing system in the provincial scheme.

Mayor Tory has proposed an amendment to the report’s recommendations to clarify the trigger for the city’s agreeing to allocation of its PTIF funds to the provincial plan, so that “endorsing” the plan is changed to “consider endorsing”. Reports would come back from the City Manager to Council on the budget changes and uploading process for approval that could lead to the city releasing its PTIF funds to the province.

The Status of SmartTrack

Part of the city’s PTIF funding, $585 million, is earmarked for the six new stations to be built on the Weston, Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors. The future of these stations is cloudy for various reasons:

  • The Finch East station on the Stouffville corridor is in a residential neighbourhood where there is considerable opposition to its establishment, and grade separation, let alone a station structure, will be quite intrusive.
  • The Lawrence East station on the Stouffville corridor would be of dubious value if the L2EE includes a station at McCowan and Lawrence. Indeed, that station was removed from the city plans specifically to avoid drawing demand away from SmartTrack.
  • There is no plan for a TTC level fare on GO Transit/SmartTrack, and the discount now offered is available only to riders who pay single fares (the equivalent of tokens) via Presto, not to riders who have monthly passes.
  • Provincial plans for service at SmartTrack stations is unclear. Originally, and as still claimed in city reports, SmartTrack stations would see 6-10 trains/hour. However, in February 2018, Metrolinx announced a new service design for its GO expansion program using a mix of local and express trains. This would reduce the local stops, including most SmartTrack locations, to 3 or 4 trains/hour. I sought clarification of the conflict between the two plans from Metrolinx most recently on April 3, 2019 and they are still “working on my request” two weeks later.

Some of the SmartTrack stations will be very costly because of the constrained space on corridors where they will be built. The impetus for Council to spend on stations would be substantially reduced if train service will be infrequent, and the cost to ride will be much higher than simply transferring to and from TTC routes. Both the Mayor and the province owe Council an explanation of just what they would be buying into, although that could be difficult as cancelling or scaling back the SmartTrack stations project would eliminate the last vestige of John Tory’s signature transit policy.

The Line 2 East Extension

The City Manager reports that the alignment of the provincial version of the three-stop subway is not yet confirmed, nor are the location of planned stations. Shifting the terminus north to Sheppard and McCowan and possibly shifting the station at Scarborough Town Centre will completely invalidate the existing design work for STC. This is an example of potential throwaway work costs the city faces.

The design at Sheppard/McCowan will depend on whether the intent is to through-route service from Line 2 onto Line 4, or to provide an interchange station where both lines would terminate. The L2EE would have to operate as a terminal station for a time, in any event, because provincial plans call for the Line 4 extension to follow the L2EE’s completion.

An amended Transit Project Assessment (TPAP) will be needed for the L2EE, and this cannot even begin without more details of the proposed design.

The Ontario Line

Although this line is expected to follow the already approved route of the Relief Line between Pape and Osgoode Stations, the map in the provincial budget is vague about the stations showing different names and possibly a different alignment. This could be a case of bad map-making, or it could represent a real change from city/TTC plans to the provincial version.

A TPAP will definitely be required for the extended portions of the line west of Osgoode and north of Pape. A pending technical briefing may answer some issues raised by the city/TTC including details of just where the line would go and what technology will be used, but the degree of secrecy to date on this proposal does not bode well for a fully worked-out plan.

Council Decision

The item was approved at Council with several amendments whose effects overall were:

  • The City Manager and TTC CEO are to work with the province:
    • to determine the effects of the provincial announcement,
    • to negotiate principles for cost sharing including ongoing maintenance and funding arrangements, and
    • to seek replacement of funding that had been anticipated through increased gas tax transfers to the city.
  • The city will consider dedication of its PTIF funding for the Line 2 extension and for the Relief Line to Ontario’s projects subject to this review.
  • The city requests “confirmation that the provincial transit plans will not result in an unreasonable delay” to various transit projects including the Relief line, the one-stop L2EE, SmartTrack Stations, Eglinton and Waterfront LRT lines.
  • Discussions with the province should also include:
    • those lines that were not in the provincial announcement,
    • compensation for sunk design costs,
    • phasing options to bring priority segments of the Relief Line in-service as early as possible,
    • city policy objectives such as development at stations, and
    • public participation on the provincial plans.
  • The City Manager is to investigate the acceleration of preliminary design and engineering on the Waterfront and Eglinton East LRT using city monies saved from costs assumed by the province.
  • The City Manager is to report back to Council at its June 2019 meeting.

Former TTC Chair Mike Colle moved:

That City Council direct that, if there are any Provincial transit costs passed on to the City of Toronto as a result of the 17.3 billion dollar gap in the Province’s transit expansion plans, these costs should be itemized on any future property tax bills as “The Provincial Transit Plan Tax Levy”.

This was passed by a margin of 18 to 8 with Mayor Tory in support.

Toronto’s Omnibus Transit Report: Part II

On April 9, Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a massive set of reports on the many transit projects at various stages of design and construction in Toronto.

In Part I of this series, I reviewed the financing scheme for four major projects as well as details of the Scarborough Subway Extension, aka the Line 2 East Extension. In this article, I will review the Relief Line, SmartTrack and the Bloor-Yonge Station Expansion project.

The reports applicable to this article are:

  • Main Report: Toronto’s Transit Expansion Program – Update and Next Steps
  • Attachment 1: A status update on all projects

There are related reports about signalling and capacity expansion of Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina in the TTC Board’s agenda for their April 11 meeting. I will deal with these in a separate article.

After decades in which the focus of transit planning looked outward to the 905 beyond the bounds of Toronto, there is now a political realization that capacity into the core is a major issue for the region’s economy. Politicians and planners may show optimistic studies of suburban centres and growth, but the development industry, a bastion of free enterprise thinking, persists in building downtown because that’s where they can sell at the greatest profit.

The Relief Line, SmartTrack, Automatic Train Control, subway station expansions and even surface transit projects like the King Street Pilot all attempt to address the demand for travel to and through the core area. Looking beyond the city boundaries, there are subway and GO Transit extensions and service improvements. Some of these schemes are more successful than others, and some have very long lead times before any benefit will be seen. Political attention has shifted from the fights over which one project will be built each decade to the recognition that many projects must occur in parallel so that capacity can catch up with latent and growing demand.

Continue reading

Metrolinx, New Stations and the Auditor General (Updated)

The Ontario Auditor General released her 2018 annual report on December 5. Many topics were examined by the AG, but two related to Metrolinx bear examination by anyone concerned with the future of transit planning and management with more responsibility shifting to the provincial level.

This article deals with the station selection process and the controversial recommendations for new stations at Kirby and at Lawrence East. I have written about this process and related issues before:

Updated: Links to Articles & Interviews

The Auditor General appeared on Metro Morning on December 6 speaking about, among other things, the cost of policy changes regarding LRT lines, and the evaluation of potential stations.

Former Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star claiming “I wasn’t meddling, I was building transit”. This is rich considering the effort Metrolinx went to in revising its evaluation of new stations.

Del Duca was notorious during his Ministry as using Metrolinx as an unending source of profile-building photo ops. He uses the Relief Line as an example of his intervention to get the project going despite early reluctance at the City and TTC level. This is a convenient rewriting of history and, in particular, of the huge difference between an RL ending at Danforth, and the one later evaluated by Metrolinx running north to Sheppard. The RL became popular and scored well once its extent and projected demand produced a significant dent on the Yonge line so that the Richmond Hill subway might be feasible.

A Few Thoughts About the Metrolinx Board

Although the Metrolinx Board meets in public from time to time, the legislation governing this body allows most issues to be debated and decided in private. There is no reason that this will change for the better. The chronologies set out by the Auditor General reveal situations where the Board was advised privately as issues evolved and met publicly only for the formality and patina of respectability conferred by their “approval” of matters already decided.

Throughout the station evaluation process, Metrolinx revised both published analysis and supporting documentation. This obscured the net economic costs estimated in the original business cases, making the results of the business-case analysis—both on Metrolinx’s website and in the published report to the Board—much less clear and transparent. [p. 315]

What is unclear is whether the Board actively participated in directions to staff that would lead to the rewriting of reports and recommendations, or merely chose to avert their eyes from the mechanics of political sausage making.

In any event, the process detailed by the AG throws into question everything that Metrolinx has done. Can anyone trust an organization whose professional opinion is so pliable, and which will defend recommendations, threadbare though they may be, so strongly? This is not just an issue for Metrolinx but for many public agencies involved in transportation planning notably the City of Toronto and the TTC.

To its credit, Metrolinx is developing a standard methodology for Business Case Analysis and will publish this in April 2019. However, the problem remains of just how well this will protect against hidden interference from politicians and their friends.

Metrolinx Business Cases

For many years, Metrolinx has used a methodology to evaluate projects that purports to establish the worth of a scheme, which could be negative, such as a new transit line or a significant change to existing facilities. The framework includes multiple factors examining projects from different points of view.

The Strategic Case looks at how a scheme works within the network and the wider public goals of supporting regional development. Factors include:

  • Ridership projections
  • Revenue and Operating Costs
  • Population and employment served
  • Travel time changes
  • The reach of a new/revised service
  • Effects on greenhouse gas emissions from trips shifted to transit

The Economic and Financial Cases review a proposal from two different monetary viewpoints.

  • The Economic Case measures benefits such as auto operating cost savings, reduced emissions and air pollution, travel time savings, health benefits and reduction of accidents.
  • The Financial Case looks at the cost and revenue estimates to produce a net operating cost as well as a “net financial impact” stating the total revenue over the study period minus the capital and operating costs.

The Deliverability and Operations Case concerns the implementation plan, procurement, operations, maintenance and risk management.

These factors overlap and the calculation machinery includes many assumptions such as future population and employment patterns, fare structures, operating and capital costs, trip diversion rates to transit, and the value of various benefits both to transit riders and society in general. Many of these are not published at a level of detail that would permit an outsider to understand how each factor behaves, and there is considerable leeway to affect the outcome by “twirling the dials” on factors readers cannot easily review.

A big issue with these analyses has been the question of how benefits are valued. For example, if a new transit service attracts people out of their cars, then this reduces the operating cost of those vehicles and produces environmental benefits, but it can also reduce travel time both for new riders and those on existing services. The values assigned to these and other benefits do not accrue to Metrolinx, but to the wider population. These savings, whether they be tangible (lower driving costs) or intangible (the value of time saved) are used to offset the hard costs of actually building and operating a service. While there may be an overall balance, the savings do not pay the bills which must rely on future revenue and subsidy.

A major contribution on the “benefit” side of the analysis is almost always the travel time savings for riders. For example, in the recent GO Expansion BCA, this is the overwhelming contribution to “value” in the analysis. Any factor that increases travel speed affects this measure, and in the case of stations “less is more” is the rule. Fewer stations make for faster trips and that translates to a higher modelled benefit. This has been at the heart of Metrolinx analyses for years and drives a pressure for wider station spacing even on urban lines like the Crosstown project. Adding a station to any route triggers a requirement to find an offset elsewhere such as a stimulus to riding that will drive up total rides even if they are all a bit slower.

A further problem with Metrolinx analyses is that the time period for comparison of costs and effects has grown to a 60-year horizon with the effect that far-distant benefits are shown as potentially offsetting short to medium term costs. This requires assumptions about the future of the transit system, the economy and regional development far beyond a period where anyone can reasonably know what will happen. In an effort to temper this, Metrolinx performs sensitivity analyses by changing factors to see what the effect would be. For example, if a more conservative set of assumptions goes into the model, what happens to the benefits, or does the proposal even fall into negative territory? How “successful” does Metrolinx and the region have to be in order to achieve its goals?

Needless to say, with such a timeframe, most of the readers, let alone authors, of these studies will be long gone before we could challenge their long term validity. The more subtle problem is that showing such long term benefits tends to paper over the fact that in the short to medium term, new facilities (particularly those requiring large capital investments) will not achieve anything near profitability and this shortfall must be financed. I will turn to this in more detail in a review of the Metrolinx GO Expansion BCA in a future article.

Continue reading

A Few Questions For Metrolinx (II) (Updated)

Updated April 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm: Comments about projected demand at Park Lawn Station have been added at the end of this article.

In a previous article, I reviewed the Metrolinx technical report on the performance of proposed new GO and SmartTrack stations as part of their overall network. At the time, there was some debate about the validity of the report’s analysis.

Metrolinx has now produced a backgrounder to this report which gives greater details about their methodology and results.

This information is interesting not just in its own right as part of GO’s planning, but also in its implications for the City of Toronto’s expectations for GO/SmartTrack service. The service levels listed in the City’s report date from a Metrolinx plan approved by their board in June 2016. The levels shown in the backgrounder are different, and reflect the change to a mix of local and express trains in the GO corridors. The backgrounder takes pains to emphasize that the service plan is not definitive, but the express/local mix of trains is an essential part of GO’s strategy as approved at a recent Board meeting.

The report begins with an introduction common to such documents laying the basic process for “business analysis” of new proposals. This is summarized in the following diagram. The model focuses on a few key factors:

  • The degree to which riders are lost from GO because the addition of stops reduces the competitiveness of GO travel versus driving.
  • The degree to which riders shift to a new station thereby reducing their travel time.
  • The number of new riders who previously drove and are enticed onto transit by the new station.

This scheme underpins recent changes in the planning for services notably through the benefits conferred by a combination of express services (avoided delays from new stations) and level boarding (reduced station dwell times generally). The technical details of “level boarding” have yet to be revealed, but the analysis assumes a benefit through the elimination of the step between platforms and the interior of trains.

The benefits of electrification in reducing overall travel times and allowing for more closely spaced stops are not mentioned at all, and travel time comparisons are based on an electrified service as a starting point. Metrolinx has effectively discarded one of the arguments they used in advocating electrification in the first place.

Continue reading

Queen’s Park’s Long Overdue Move on Fare Integration

The recently-announced Ontario Budget includes a lot of spending on transportation that transit riders in the GTHA can only hope to see delivered by whoever is in charge at Queen’s Park after the June 2018 election. Even though the budget is as much about vote-getting as about actual governance, it is worth looking at what the promised fare changes would bring if they are implemented.

From the press release:

  • Beginning in early 2019, the province is reducing the cost of GO Transit trips to just $3 for PRESTO users who are travelling under 10 kilometres anywhere on the GO network
  • All GO Transit and Union-Pearson Express trips anywhere within the City of Toronto will be reduced to $3
  • With proceeds from Ontario’s cap on pollution, the province will also provide fare integration discounts of up to $1.50 per ride for anyone who travels between the York, Durham, Brampton and Mississauga transit networks and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), saving regular commuters up to $720 every year
  • PRESTO card users travelling on GO Transit between Union Station and stations near Toronto, such as Port Credit, Malton, Pickering, Ajax or Markham will see fare reductions.

As with any announcement, “the devil is in the details”, and I fired off a series of questions to clarify how this might all work. Responses came back from Metrolinx.

Q1: Regular GO Transit riders now enjoy a monthly cap of 40 fares on their travel. The 36-40th trips are at a discount, and from 41 onward, they are free. Will this apply to the new $3 fare? In other words, is there an upper limit of 40 x $3 = $120 to a rider’s cost of using GO within the 416, or is it open ended like TTC fares where there is no cap unless one buys a pass?

A: Details on this will be worked out as part of our implementation planning and work.

Q2: There are now co-fare arrangements between the 905 systems and GO, as well as between GO and TTC. If someone makes, for example, a YRT-GO-TTC trip, what discounts apply? Are the cofares cumulative?

A: YRT-GO Co-Fare, GO-TTC DDF. Yes, cumulative.

Q3: By analogy to Q1, if a rider makes a three-legged trip regularly, thereby becoming entitled to free rides for the GO segment after 40 trips, what happens to the co-fares? Do they still apply, or does the rider pay full 905 plus TTC fare in this case? The potential savings are “up to $720 per year”. Is this simply a calculation based on 20 commutes for 12 months, or will it be a capped saving?

A: Details on this will be worked out as part of implementation planning and work.

Q4: If someone has a Metropass (or its Presto equivalent), they are not entitled to the TTC-GO co-fare. Is it correct to say that their monthly cost would be the cost of the pass plus $3 times the number of GO trips taken within Toronto?

A: For adults, yes.

Q5: For clarity, is the $3 fare a flat rate even if riders transfer from one GO service to another, such as from Lake Shore to UPX, but stays within Toronto for their trip?

A: Yes as long as [the] individual uses the GO readers for their UP Express trip.

Q5a: If part of their trip is inside Toronto, but a second leg goes outside, does the $3 apply to the “inside Toronto” portion? Example: Rough Hill to Union to Weston is all inside Toronto, but Rouge Hill to Union to Airport is not.

A: Fares for any trips to and from Toronto Pearson Airport remain unchanged.

Q6: The co-fare for GO-TTC is relative to an assumed $1.50 per full adult fare with lower co-fares for those getting discounts like Seniors. Will the same apply to the 905-416 co-fare?

A: Details on this will be worked out in conjunction with the transit agencies.

In brief, the only thing that is nailed down so far is that discounts between each leg of a trip are cumulative so that, for example, a Miway rider travelling to a station within the $3 GO tariff zone and thence to a TTC route will get the Miway co-fare discount, the new low GO transit fare and the GO-TTC discount. Also, transfers between GO services do not attract another fare provided that the trip stays within the city.

Every thing else is to be “worked out”.

There are a variety of scenarios one can construct including the combined effects of bulk fares (passes) on 905 systems, the existing GO Transit monthly fare caps, and whatever co-fare/discount arrangements will exist. Anyone trying to work out the permutations has my sympathy. From the Metrolinx point of view:

The reason these changes will only be introduced in early 2019, is because Metrolinx needs time to work with our transit partners to ensure the various scenarios and all fare rules are in place. This budget provided Metrolinx with direction to move forward on fare integration. [Metrolinx email]

Leaving aside the question of whether the government in place for the 2019-20 budget will support whatever fare scheme Metrolinx comes up with, there are also obvious questions about the implications for service crowding and for possible changes needed in local route networks, mainly on the TTC, to provide better connections with GO stations. The lower fares may look attractive, but actually using the service could be challenging within Toronto.

  • On Lakeshore West, most inbound trains run express from Clarkson to Union with local trains only every half hour in the AM peak. The same arrangement applies outbound on the PM peak.
  • On Lakeshore East, there is a similar pattern with express trains skipping all stops from Rouge Hill to Union, and local trains running roughly twice/hour in the peak, albeit on an irregular headway. Some additional service is provided at Danforth (Main) and Scarborough stations by the Stouffville line’s trains.
    • TTC services in southern Etobicoke and Scarborough focus on the Bloor-Danforth subway, and actually reaching the GO stations (or using the TTC as a connecting service from them) is not easy.
  • On the Milton corridor, trains operate only in the peak period, peak direction although for someone at Kipling Station, the all-local service now operated would actually be better than what is provided at, say, Mimico on the Lakeshore West corridor.
  • The Barrie corridor and the Vaughan subway extension are in direct competition with each other, although service is far more frequent, especially during the off-peak, on the subway than on the hourly GO train, and the GO stations within Toronto are not well-served by the TTC network (other than the connection point at Downsview Park station).
  • The Richmond Hill corridor, like Milton, has only peak service, and its stations within Toronto are poorly served by the TTC.
  • The Stouffville corridor has all-day service with stations that potentially could connect with TTC feeder routes at Steeles (Milliken), Sheppard (Agincourt) and Eglinton (Kennedy). As on Lakeshore, the tradeoff will be for a faster trip bypassing the subway.
  • The Weston corridor is a special case because it hosts not only the GO Kitchener service but also the Union Pearson Express (UPX) trains which provide the most frequent of GO services within Toronto.

The fare reductions for trips from the near-Toronto stations in the 905 could shift some travel away from the subway, although few of the stations are well-located for this purpose. The Richmond Hill corridor is the most obvious of these, but the limited service there does not offer a lot to diverting demand.

As a follow-up question, I asked Metrolinx whether they had any demand studies to show travel patterns with the new fares, to the degree that these are known. Their reply is pending, and I will update this article when I receive further info.

It is well-known that the demand models are sensitive to three factors: trip speed, service frequency and fare level. This came out quite clearly in the background studies for SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway where ST would succeed in drawing significant riding only if it operated frequently and cheaply, as originally touted in John Tory’s campaign. Just how many riders the lower GO fares, by themselves, will attract remains to be seen. A related problem, of course, is the question of train capacity if many actually shift to GO.

Not to be forgotten in all of this are the cross-border travellers between the 905 and 416 (in both directions) for whom a discounted fare will be a benefit. However, if this is only available to riders paying the full adult fare in each jurisdiction, this could undo the benefit now enjoyed by pass users who will not get any further discount. This would be particularly important if a pass holder took many “local” trips on the TTC in addition to cross-border trips into the 905.

In general, riders who already enjoy some sort of discount like seniors and students will benefit far less from the new tariff.

Whether any of this will come to pass is purely speculative at this point given the tenuous status of the current government and the well-known, vague bluster of their principal opposition.

Metrolinx (and by implication its political masters) have wasted years on pursuit of “fare integration” schemes that began with the premise of revenue neutrality to limit the government’s cost through added subsidies, and with the underlying view that distance-based fares were the end state at which they would aim. Had the option of added subsidy and reduction of short-haul GO fares been part of the mix a few years ago, the entire debate over fare integration could have taken a completely different path and a new tariff would already be in place.

Transit policy should arise from reasoned, open evaluation of alternatives, including those that may require an “investment” to make them work, not from a deathbed change of heart by an unpopular government facing defeat at the polls.