UPX Ridership Update

Metrolinx has published ridership stats for the Union Pearson Express to the end of March 2017.

These do not break down trips between various points on the line to show what portion of ridership is end-to-end Union-Airport traffic, and what portion travels to or from stations along the way.

In this chart the blue line traces daily counts and these show a regular weekly cycle. The total ridership grows after the fare reduction of early 2016 and peaked in September 2016. Except for that peak, and a winter dip from Christmas 2016 to mid-February 2017, the average number of daily riders (on a weekly rolling average, orange) has remained slightly below 8,000. This appears to be the new stable level of ridership with the current fares and service pattern. A related issue is that with some trips on busy days reporting standees, growth during certain periods will be constrained by available capacity.

The original projection for UPX was that it would reach 5,000 daily riders after a year’s operation. This it would have abjectly failed to achieve but for the revised tariff. The gray line prorates that projection from the opening week to the first anniversary in June 2016, and then continues on the same rate of increase until March 2017.

In the Metrolinx financial statements (to be discussed in a separate post), it is not possible to separate out information for the UPX division, and for management and accounting purposes, this has now been rolled into GO Transit.

A note to anyone at Metrolinx who is reading this: When you publish data like this, make it available as a spreadsheet (as well as PDF for general consumption) so that the numbers can easily be extracted and analysed without the need to “scrape” the PDF.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No, SmartTrack Stations

After a recent Metrolinx Board Meeting (about which more in a separate article), reporters the Star and the Globe peppered Chair Robert Prichard about decisions to approve two future GO stations against original staff recommendations.

Ben Spurr wrote in the Star about the Kirby station in Vaughan that leapt from an initial review to part of GO’s plans thanks to political intervention at Queen’s Park. In between the detailed station reviews and the final recommendations to the Metrolinx Board, a summary report consolidated the detailed reviews. This report, which has not been published by Metrolinx, has different recommendations that those presented to the Board, according to Spurr’s article.

I wrote extensively about the reviews of proposed stations within the City of Toronto in these articles:

Another station that found its way onto the approved list in spite of a negative review was Lawrence East. This station is critical to plans for the Scarborough Subway providing a replacement for service in an area the subway will bypass.

The future of stations that would be added through the SmartTrack scheme is rather cloudy. Even though Lawrence East, for example, is “approved”, this is subject to operational reviews and intensification of land use by the City of Toronto to build demand. Talking of the Kirby station, Spurr reported:

Prichard said the board’s decision was “conditional” and that Metrolinx will continue to update its analysis based on development in Vaughan. If the greater density doesn’t materialize “we can back off,” he said.

For the stations in the City of Toronto, the situation begs more questions. First, Metrolinx required Council to sign on guaranteeing that they would fund added stations for SmartTrack in November 2016. Council was told that Metrolinx was going into design and construction, and that a commitment was needed “now” for this work to stay on schedule. Second, the total cost of the six proposed stations approved by Council was more than twice the cost estimates in the Metrolinx station reviews.

Metrolinx station review cost estimates:

  • Lawrence East: $22.7 million
  • Finch East: $108.9 million
  • Liberty Village: $30.8 million
  • St. Clair: $27.4 million
  • East Harbour (Unilever): $118.9 million
  • Gerrard: $251.7 million
  • Total: $560.4 million

City Council estimate: $1,251.8 million

With total costs much higher than in the original evaluations, the business cases for these stations are even weaker than have been stated. The City is not strictly on the hook for these costs yet, whatever they might be, because there will be a final approval point when more detailed estimates are available prior to tendering the construction work. This point is unlikely to be reached before the municipal election in fall 2018.

Several of the proposed stations pose construction challenges, and it is not clear how well all of them can be fitted into the corridor. Liberty Village station is particularly tight for space.

Lawrence East poses a delicate political problem because it cannot be built while the SRT remains in operation. However, the Scarborough Subway will not open until late 2026 leaving the possibility of an early shutdown of the SRT, or a delay in the provision of a SmartTrack station. Intensification at Lawrence East could be a hard sell given Toronto’s intention to focus substantial development on the Scarborough Town Centre and uncertainty about the type and cost of transit service that would be available.

A related issue came up in discussion of the fall 2017 GO Transit fare increase. This will see fares rise by 3% except those for short-distance trips that will be frozen at $5.65. Metrolinx has recently discovered the importance of short-distance travel on its network as an untapped market after years of deliberately overpricing these trips to discourage demand. Keeping inside-Toronto trips at a fixed cost would allow GO fares to gradually become more attractive to TTC riders, although that would take many, many years. Clearly Metrolinx is rethinking the role of its network both for in-Toronto trips and for shorter trips in the 905 that could become more attractive as service improves.

All of this leaves the question of which stations might be built up in the air subject to future considerations in spite of Toronto Council’s support in 2016.

A Contrary View of Ontario’s 2017 Budget

With the release of Ontario’s budget for 2017, City Hall launched into predictable hand-wringing about all the things Toronto didn’t get with the two big-ticket portfolios, transit and housing, taking centre stage. Claims and counterclaims echo between Queen Street and Queen’s Park, and the situation is not helped by the provincial trick of constantly re-announcing money from past budgets while adding comparatively little with new ones.

There was a time when budgets came with projections of three to five years into the future, the life of one government plus some promise of the next mandate, but over time the amounts included within that period simply were not enough to be impressive. Moreover, in a constrained financial environment, much new spending (or at least promises) lies in the “out years” where “commitment” is a difficult thing to pin down, especially if there is a change in government.

Toronto has “out year” problems, but it has even more pressing concerns right now, today and for the next few years. Very little in the provincial budget addresses this beyond the authority to levy a hotel tax, and a gradual doubling of gas tax grants for transit over the next five years. These add tens, not hundreds, of millions to a City budget that runs at $12 billion.

The transit tax credit for seniors will cover eligible public transit costs beginning in July 2017 with a refundable benefit of 15 percent. Whether all seniors actually deserve this credit is a matter for debate, but an important difference from the soon-to-disappear federal credit is that Ontario’s is “refundable”. This means that even if someone does not have enough income to pay tax, they can still receive the credit. The devil is in the details, however, and the degree to which this will be available to casual, as opposed to regular transit users remains to be seen. The term “eligible costs” is key. (The federal credit includes restrictions on eligibility.) In any event, a tax credit does nothing for transit budgets because it adds no revenue either directly to the transit agency or to the City which provides operating subsidies.

There are two major problems with both Ontario’s support for transit and Toronto’s politically-motivated budgets:

  • In both cases, the focus is on capital projects, building and buying infrastructure, with little regard for the cost of operating new and existing assets.
  • Past decisions on transportation spending have locked billions of dollars into a few projects for short-term political benefit at the expense of long-term flexibility.

Toronto perennially assumes that there will be new money somewhere to backfill the shortage in its capital budget. The Trudeau economic stimulus plan was the most recent magical relief Toronto expected, but it came with dual constraints: Toronto gets a fixed amount over the life of the program, and Ottawa will not contribute more than 40% to any individual project. Toronto had hoped that Ontario would chip in, possibly at the 30% or even 40% level, leaving the City with a manageable, if challenging, task of finding money to pay its share for the backlog of projects. The Ontario budget is quite clear – Toronto is already getting lots of provincial money and at least for now, there’s nothing new to spend.

Ontario is hardly innocent in this whole exercise having meddled for years with Toronto’s transit plans, most notoriously in Scarborough where the whole subway extension debate was twisted to suit political aims. After leading Toronto down the garden path on the SSE, Ontario has capped its project funding leaving Toronto to handle the cost of its ever-changing plans.

Queen’s Park loves to tell Toronto how much provincial money is already spent for Toronto, if not in Toronto, and the distinction gets blurry. GO Transit improvements, for example, will bring more service into Toronto benefiting the core area business district, but they will also improve commuting options for people outside of the City itself.

Before the fiscal crash of 2008, when Ontario was running surpluses, the typical way to handle project funding was to hive off surplus funds at year end into a trust account. That is how the provincial share of the TYSSE was handled. By contrast, Ottawa operates on the pay-as-you-play basis, and only turns over subsidies after work has been done. Each approach suits the spending and accounting goals of the respective governments. In a surplus situation, one wants the money “off the books” right away, but in a deficit, the spending is delayed as long as possible. Further accounting legerdemain arises by making the assets provincial to offset the debt raised to pay for them.

To put all of this into context, here is a review of projects proposed or underway in Toronto.

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An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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Has John Tory Discovered Life After SmartTrack?

With all the flurry of transit funding and construction announcements lately, Mayor John Tory added his own contribution with a media statement at that busiest of stations, Bloor-Yonge. What prompted such a high-profile event? Rumour has it that Queen’s Park plans to fund the Richmond Hill subway extension in its coming budget, and Tory wants to be sure he defends the existing downtown system against overloading from the north.

(See coverage in The Star and The Globe & Mail)

Specifically, Tory wants to ensure that funding will be available for:

Building new transit lines including the Eglinton East LRT, waterfront transit and the downtown relief line

This is brave stuff, our Mayor rallying his city to the barricades [cue inspirational and very-hummable anthem here] were it not that Tory himself is responsible for much of the confusion and misdirection in transit plans today. His election campaign promoted “SmartTrack”, a single city-wide project that would solve every problem and magically be funded through taxes on new development the line would bring. A “surface subway” would speed riders from Markham to Mississauga via downtown with frequent service at TTC fares. Nothing else (except for a politically unavoidable subway in Scarborough) was needed, certainly not better bus and streetcar service to fill all those spaces in between major routes.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned. SmartTrack has dwindled to a handful of new GO stations to be built on the City’s dime, some of which Metrolinx might have built anyhow, and a few in locations of dubious merit beyond their soothing effect on local politicians. With the demise of a scheme to run GO trains along Eglinton from Mount Dennis to the Airport district, the Eglinton West LRT extension is also on the table, but it stops short of its necessary end, the airport, because Toronto lopped off the outside-416 segment to reduce the cost. Whether Mississauga and/or the airport authority itself will contribute to the LRT remains to be seen.

Tory discovered that surface routes suffered under his predecessor, and vowed more money for buses. Toronto bought the buses, but money to actually operate many of them is harder to come by. The only thing that saved the TTC from widespread service cuts in 2017 was a last minute City budget fiddle to bump the expected revenue from Land Transfer Tax.

Meanwhile in Scarborough, SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension vie for the same pool of riders, and it is only the comparatively infrequent GO service that preserves any credibility for the subway extension. Planners who once argued that an east-west line through the Town Centre precinct would better serve future development now compliantly endorse the supposed benefit of a single new north-south station between McCowan and the shopping mall.

Mayor Tory might now think of both ST and the SSE as “done deals”, although there’s a lot of ground to cover before the final cost projections and approvals by Council. Those extra GO stations and the express subway might still cost more than the preliminary estimates shown to Council, but there’s no more money coming from Queen’s Park. Indeed, the two governments cannot agree on how to calculate inflation in the provincial “commitment”, and Toronto thinks more money is on the table than is likely to be available. After all, Tory is in no position to tell a funding government how much they will pay out. Even those numbers are subject to change if the Liberals lose control of Queen’s Park to the Tories, as seems very likely in 2018.

Then there’s Ottawa and Trudeau’s huge infrastructure program, just the thing a politician who is desperate to make everything seem affordable could wish for. Except, of course, that the infrastructure pot isn’t bottomless. Once it is divvied up across the country, Toronto’s share is well below the level John Tory hoped to spend with his shiny new Liberal red credit card. Holding press conferences about the need for projects won’t change the amount of money available, and the federal program requires that municipalities, even big irresponsible ones, must set priorities. Tory’s plans also require Queen’s Park to come in with funding equal to the Fed’s contribution at a time when provincial budgets are tapped out, and Toronto’s ongoing game of holding down taxes rather than pay for its own services and infrastructure plays poorly beyond the 416.

What does the Mayor do? John Tory, the man who had a one-line plan to solve everything, now looks to a world beyond SmartTrack.

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How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (III) (Updated)

This is the third and final installment in my review of the Metrolinx Initial Business Cases for new GO Transit (and SmartTrack) stations.

Part I reviewed stations on the Stouffville and Kitchener corridors.

Part II reviewed stations on the Lake Shore and Barrie corridors.

Updated March 24, 2017 at 11:00 am: Additional information including replies to some of the questions I posed to Metrolinx and a report of GO Transit’s current ridership added at the end of this article.

Regular readers here will not be surprised at my skepticism regarding the methodology found in Metrolinx reports to perform comparative evaluations of projects. Much of the information is presented at a summary level, important details are omitted, and the underlying assumptions for some calculations are dubious. That said, these reports are the documents Metrolinx relies on to justify its decisions. Understanding how their methodology works is an important part of any critique of the outcome.

What these calculations do not consider is the political context where the “value” of a station is more strongly linked to its perceived delivery on a campaign promise, or to give the impression that transit service will substantially improve where the station is located. This is quite different from how the new facilities will actually affect the transit network or improve the lot of transit riders.

Most of the proposed stations actually do not fare well in the evaluations, although that could well be due to pessimistic projections of the effect of added stops on other “upstream” users of affected GO Transit routes. The evaluation process is very sensitive to the ridership estimates, and if the underlying assumptions change, then so do all of the outcomes.

The new stations to be funded by the City of Toronto have approved as a package, and the detailed IBC reports were not available to Council at the time. A smaller set of stations might make more sense from a financial or planning perspective, but they were sold as a package that is unlikely to be broken up unless some projects prove to be unexpectedly difficult or costly.

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How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (II) (Updated)

In the first part of this series, I reviewed the Metrolinx “Initial Business Case” reports for proposed stations within the City of Toronto on the GO Stouffville and Kitchener corridors. This article continues with the Barrie and Lake Shore East corridors. (No new station is planned for the Milton or Richmond Hill corridor.)

In a third article to follow, I will review the overall methodology of these studies and the implications for the viability of the station proposals.

Updated March 21, 2017 at 6:51 pm: The Metrolinx study of stations at the Don River on the Lake Shore corridor does not include the effect of proposed employment at the Great Gulf “East Harbour” site. Therefore the ridership projections and comparative evaluations of stations are based on a situation where this major proposed node does not exist. I have added a relevant quotation from the study to illustrate this.

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How Many SmartTrack Stations Will Survive? (I)

On March 16, 2017, Metrolinx released a series of studies dating from July 2016 containing the “Initial Business Case” reviews of proposed new GO Transit stations. The list came from an earlier process in which Metrolinx began with every conceivable location for new stations on the planned Regional Express Rail (RER) network  and winnowed this down to those that were, broadly speaking, workable. The New Stations Analysis from June 2016 explains this process and the outcome, the choice of whether a station is “in” or “out” of the network, is summarized in the following map:

I asked Metrolinx why the detailed reports on each station were only released now rather than concurrently with the Board report.

Q: … the station analysis reports were only released [March 16, 2017] although they are dated July 2016. Moreover, the Board considered a report on this subject in June 2016 but the detailed reports have not been summarized nor presented to the Board publicly at this or any following meetings. Why has it taken so long for these reports to be published?

A: Upon approval from the Board last June, we engaged with our municipal partners and other stakeholders to finalize the documents. Metrolinx requested formal confirmation of funding from municipalities by November 30, 2016. Once that was received, we worked to get the business cases posted as soon as we could.

If one reads only the summary report presented to the Metrolinx Board, one might have the impression that many of these stations show a positive benefit for the network. However, the detailed reports tell a different story and beg the question of how Metrolinx planning staff got from the business cases to the conclusions in the Board report.

The posted reports are dated over six months ago, and their date does not reflect more recent work, if any, with “municipal partners and other stakeholders”. Whether this is only an editorial oversight, the basic issue is that the case made in the station analyses is not as rosy as the one presented in the summary report to the Board.

A key issue here is that many of the stations form part of Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack plan, and a Metrolinx report throwing cold water on their effectiveness would run contrary to the claims made for SmartTrack’s potential. One might ask whether the Board was misled about the potential harm the SmartTrack stations could bring to GO/RER’s goals.

As reported in both the Globe & Mail and the Star, many of the new stations are projected to have a negative effect on the network. The analyses can be summarized in a few points:

  • Any new station adds travel time to a GO Transit corridor.
  • Demand models are sensitive to travel time, and they predict a loss of ridership if trips are slower.
  • New stations could bring new riders, but these are not necessarily sufficient to offset the loss of longer trips which are the raison d’être of the GO network.
  • New riders from stations close to Union make shorter trips at lower fares leading to a net revenue loss even without considering the SmartTrack proposal to charge “TTC fares” for travel within Toronto.
  • The loss of longer trips drives up the modelled use of autos for commuting compared to what would have happened without these stations. This has a compound effect through the business case analysis because many factors depend on reduced auto mileage.

There are three fundamental issues here. First is the problem of repurposing the regional GO/RER network to provide local service within Toronto. Although SmartTrack as proposed in John Tory’s election campaign included very frequent service, what is actually to be implemented is considerably less ambitious thanks to constraints (both physical and financial) on GO’s investment in additional capacity. Planned peak period services are:

  • Stouffville (Scarborough) corridor: 7 trains/hour with an average headway of 8.6 minutes
  • Kitchener (Weston) corridor: 6 trains/hour with an average headway of 10 minutes
  • Lake Shore East corridor: 11 trains/hour with an average headway of 5.5 minutes

The only corridor to receive service at the level foreseen for SmartTrack is the Lake Shore, and this is applicable only to stations from Danforth (at Main) to Don (at or near the Great Gulf East Harbour development). This higher service level results from the combination of trains on both the Lake Shore East and Stouffville corridors serving these stations. Any new ridership due to SmartTrack has to fit within capacity planned for GO/RER.

Second is a problem of assumptions in the modelling. In all cases, a new station is seen as slowing down GO service, but a major benefit cited for GO/RER electrification is the ability to serve more stations with no increase in trip times over diesel operations. The business case models assume a 1.8 minute delay for each additional stop, and this translates to ridership loses for the long-haul travellers whose trips are affected. However, this analysis does not take into account the possibility that new, electrified service would be implemented concurrently with the new stations thereby eliminating the delays.

Depending on the corridor and the degree of electrification, some trains could remain with diesel power, typically those running to the outer ends of routes beyond electric territory. These long trips would suffer more delay than the shorter electric-propelled ones. However, if the diesel trains run “express” past some or all of the new stations, the resulting service levels will be less attractive to riders, and the wait for a train to Union from an inside-Toronto station would be a substantial portion of the total trip.

I asked whether electrification had been taken into account:

Q: In the studies, there is a reference to the extra time needed to serve a new station on the line, and in the case of Lawrence East this adds 5% to the upstream travel time. Has this number been adjusted to reflect operating characteristics of electric trains? One important point in the electrification study was that these trains could sustain more stations with the same running times as existing diesel trains having fewer stops.

A: Electrified vehicles were assumed in the calculation of delay time.

This does not address the issue that if stations are added concurrently with electrification, there may be no change in travel time and still possibly a net improvement.

Also:

Q: For corridors with multiple proposed new stops, there is the question of the cumulative upstream effects which, I suspect, are not additive.

A: The business cases analysed stations individually and independently. Effects of adding multiple stations to a line would be cumulative, creating trade-offs between end-to-end trip time and the journey time of individuals taking advantage of new stations. This limited the total number of stations that could reasonably be added to a corridor.

That last comment is telling in that it effectively says there is a point where making a route more “local” is counterproductive. This is no surprise, except possibly to SmartTrack advocates.

A related issue acknowledged in the studies, but apparently not in the modelling, is that other factors will influence the choice between driving and taking a GO train – increased road congestion, the difficulty of obtaining parking at one’s destination, and a reduction in car ownership levels over coming decades. A large component of the negative analysis for some stations arises from a ridership loss than may not materialize.

The third problem is the proposed “TTC fare” on SmartTrack services, and the parallel efforts by Metrolinx to change the TTC fare structure for “rapid transit” services to more closely match its own fare-by-distance model. Demand studies for the Scarborough transit network have shown that a TTC fare (defined as the current flat fare with free transfers between routes) combined with very frequent service (12 trains/hour) contribute substantially to potential ridership for SmartTrack. Without these, less demand migrates from the TTC network to GO/RER.

To put these issues another way, there is little point in adding stations to the GO network if the combination of location, service level and fare attracts little ridership inside Toronto, while extra travel time for trips originating outside of Toronto drives riders back to their cars. That said, I believe that the unattractiveness of GO as an alternative to TTC would be a more serious effect than the anticipated ridership loses because other factors would affect a decision by long-trip commuters to move away from GO.

Indeed, if capacity on GO services were compromised with large volumes of short-distance riders, this could be as much of a deterrent to GO ridership as the extra time spent at inside-Toronto stations. The Business Case reports do not address network capacity issues because they review each station proposal in isolation except where station catchment areas overlap.

Almost all recent controversy between Toronto and Queen’s Park centres on capital subsidies for a number of projects, and operating costs are left for another day. However, the position of GO and SmartTrack in the network is intimately linked to operating costs as this will affect the sharing of incremental expenses for new station operation, pressures for additional capacity and service, and fare subsidies by Toronto to bring GO fares down to “TTC” levels.

The current studies do not address the relationship of SmartTrack to existing GO stations and the question of whether “TTC fares” will be available at Milliken, Agincourt, Kennedy, Danforth, Bloor, Weston and Etobicoke North stations, let alone stations on other GO corridors within Toronto. Why should a rider from a SmartTrack station travel downtown for a “TTC fare” while those at Rouge Hill, Cummer, York University, Kipling or Long Branch be forced to pay on the GO Transit tariff?

How much is Toronto, a city that refuses to properly fund its own transit system, prepared to subsidize travel on the GO network within its boundaries?

Station Reviews

The following sections review each of the proposed stations on the GO network as presented by the corresponding Interim Business Case report, grouped by corridor.

Toronto Council has agreed to fund eight stations, six of which lie on the “SmartTrack” corridor from Scarborough (Stouffville line) through Union Station to Weston. Two stations are part of the Barrie corridor.

Several scenarios were used to evaluate the stations, although not all options were considered in each case because local circumstances ruled them out.

Beyond the question of demand models and potential for ridership gains or loses discussed above, other factors appear commonly through these station reviews. Notable among them is the difficulty of attracting new riders to stations on the rail corridors within Toronto. These lines tend to lie in industrial districts well away from major residential or job markets. They are dependent on walk-in trade, to the extent that any exists, as well as connections from TTC routes. Unlike the typical 905-area GO station, the new sites within Toronto will not be surrounded by acres of parking and cannot depend on park-and-ride as their primary source of traffic. This makes the combination of service frequency, speed and fares even more important if GO/RER is to provide a credible alternative to or supplement of the TTC network.

A recurring problem with the reports is that selective data such as daily gains or loses of riders are sprinkled in the text, but the consolidated numbers are given only for a 60-year evaluation period. Where changes are reported, they are not given in context relative to the base numbers of projected riders, nor, as mentioned earlier, with any reference to the available capacity on each corridor. All of the financial effects (hard and soft) flow from these ridership numbers, but it is unclear how they were derived or how alternate assumptions might affect them. To avoid repetition, I will not mention this for each study, but statements regarding ridership, revenues and costs should be treated with caution.

I have asked Metrolinx for additional data on existing and projected demands so that these can be compared with the effects reported from the station modelling exercises. I will add this information when it is available.

Finally, there is an odd viewpoint about what constitutes a “nearby” station in several of the studies where the distance from a potential station to residential density is seen through the eyes of a suburban driver, not as by a city resident who measures trips in blocks, not kilometres. This is especially troubling when access to a station would require going out of one’s way or a difficult walk where where local geography interferes with a “crow fly” access path.

This article deals with stations in the Stouffville and Weston corridors. In a second installment I will turn to the Barrie and Lake Shore corridors.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting Wrapup February 17, 2017 (Updated)

The Metrolinx Board met on February 17 with the following items, among others, on their public agenda.

  • Presto Update
  • Regional Express Rail Update: Level Crossings
  • Fare Integration
  • Bombardier LRV Delivery

Updated: Replies from Metrolinx to questions clarifying their process for grade separation prioritization have been added to this article.

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Creative Writing From the Mayor’s Office

Back in June, an Op Ed from Mayor Tory appeared in the Toronto Star extolling the virtues of the Scarborough Subway. Torontoist, intrigued by how this piece came to be, made an FOI request for correspondence in the Mayor’s office. The result is an article and associated copy of the FOI response.

Tory’s article triggered a response from Michael Warren, a former Chief General Manager of the TTC. I have no brief for Warren himself, but what was intriguing was how the Mayor’s staff reacted with a need to debunk Warren. The following memo from the Mayor’s Chief of Staff is among the FOI materials.

chriseby20160630remichaelwarren

This memo is full of misinformation, but it gives a sense of the mindset in the Mayor’s Office and why so many statements from Tory simply do not align with reality.

… greater use of existing GO rail tracks … six new stations …

The original SmartTrack plan was for a “surface subway” that would carry 200,000 passengers per day using capacity in the GO Transit corridors. However, this plan depends on key factors including good integration with TTC service and much more frequent trains. SmartTrack is now reduced to nothing more than GO’s already planned service stopping at six extra stations. That is not “greater use” of tracks beyond what would have happened with GO’s RER plan. Even the ability to make these stops with little or no penalty in travel time results from GO’s planned electrification, not as part of SmartTrack.

GO Transit has no interest in the work of upgrading signals on their corridors to accommodate the level of passengers implied by that all day count, and hence the network “relief” claimed for SmartTrack cannot possibly materialize without significant new investment.

Tory’s campaign literature talks about a “London-style surface rail subway”. In Toronto, the word “subway” means service that is at worst every 5 minutes, not every 15, and it’s that convenience the campaign expected people to key in on. Some of the timetables for London Overground do feature very frequent service at a level GO’s signal system (let alone Union Station’s platform arrangements and passenger handling) cannot hope to accommodate.

A recent City backgrounder on proposed new stations shows that they will attract some, but not a vast number of new riders. That’s why they were never in GO’s short list of potential stations to begin with.

At these six new stations, trains will come every six to ten minutes in rush hour. That’s better than what candidate Tory promised … every 15 minutes or better. And to be clear, the provincial RER model sees trains coming every 15 minutes.

Actually, the provincial RER model already sees trains coming more often than every 15 minutes during peak periods and the improvements are not confined to the SmartTrack corridors (Stouffville and Kitchener) or to the City of Toronto. Queen’s Park has made no move to bill Toronto for extra service above levels planned for RER, and therefore we must conclude that none is planned.

SmartTrack was always envisioned as a beefed up version of RER; more stations in Toronto, more access for riders, faster frequencies and a TTC fare.

In fact, there is no “beef” in SmartTrack, and its only contribution will be for those who live or work near the six new stations. The service levels are part of GO RER, nothing more. As for a TTC fare, this is far from decided, and the likely cost to Toronto to support such an offer is fraught with problems. There is the obvious question of where the operating dollars will come from, but moreover riders on other GO corridors within the city might reasonably ask why they don’t get the same deal.

Conversely, some of the Metrolinx machinations about “Fare Integration” have suggested that subways might be treated more like GO Transit with a fare by distance model. If that’s what a “TTC fare” for SmartTrack really means, that’s not what Tory was selling in his campaign.

… Warren suggests tax increment financing … has been abandoned. That’s flat out wrong. City staff are preparing to report back … and have already stated it “may be the appropriate revenue tool for funding …”

Warren may have been incorrect that TIF has been abandoned, although it is hard to tell because his original piece “was edited to make clear that John Tory still supports his TIF transit financing scheme” according to a correction notice following the online version of Warren’s article. Whether Tory still supports TIF is of little matter because City staff recently reported that it cannot support the full cost of SmartTrack and additional revenues from other sources will be required.

Warren … talks of the abandoned LRT option, which he says will cost $1.8 billion … The TTC said this week that building the LRT would now cost as much as $3 billion.

The infamous “Briefing Memo” from the TTC about LRT vs Subway costs provides that higher estimate, but this is based on the assumption that the LRT line would be build much later than originally planned. Most of the cost increase is a function of inflation. Also, of course, the LRT option would serve much more of Scarborough than the subway, including the Town Centre planning precinct, a fact Tory’s Chief of Staff conveniently ignores.

As for additional costs, the provincial commitments to various transit plans, including its own, have always included inflation to completion, although undue delay caused by Toronto Council’s inability to make a decision might reasonably considered beyond the level of Queen’s Park’s generosity. All the same, the $3 billion estimate assumed a leisurely LRT project schedule compared to what would have been possible with dedication and leadership.

Under the Mayor’s leadership, Toronto is moving ahead with the most ambitious, and badly needed, transit expansion in its history.

A great deal of the expansion now underway was in the works before John Tory was elected. Indeed, his campaign claimed that SmartTrack was the single project that would solve every problem, and no other transit schemes, notably the Relief Line, need even be considered. Tory has changed his tune on that, but the RL is still treated as something we will need, someday, maybe. There is no leadership on his part in demonstrating how this line would serve suburban riders with additional commuting capacity.

debate … should be guided by fact, not distortions and rhetoric

That comment speaks for itself.