The ongoing saga of SmartTrack, once billed by then-candidate John Tory as the saviour of Toronto’s transit, took another hit with the publication of an update on the SmartTrackStations project.
As originally proposed, SmartTrack looked like this. The line ran from Unionville to the Airport Corporate Centre with 22 stations, mostly new.
It would work hand-in-glove with GO Transit’s Regional Express Rail concept as former Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard enthused in the project’s promotional literature:
The project contemplates making the GO train corridors virtual “surface subways” with service so frequent and fast that the trains became an irresistible substitute for driving, thus significantly mitigating traffic congestion. Imagine going to the GO station confident that the next train will be along soon, just like when we go to a subway station.Robert Prichard: Transforming the Way We Move. Address to the Empire Club April 23, 2014. Cited in Surface Subways for Toronto from John Tory’s election website [since removed].
Many parts fell off of this plan including:
- The proposed Eglinton West branch to the Airport would have required a mainline rail corridor from Mount Dennis to the Airport. This was not technically practical, and plans for this area reverted to the western extension of the Crosstown LRT.
- Instead of being a dedicated service with its own fare structure, SmartTrack stations will now be served as part of the GO network using whatever fare arrangements are in place by the time service begins.
- The City’s plan now includes only four stations on the Weston-Scarborough corridor, plus one on the Barrie corridor that had previously been part of GO’s plans.
- The most recently deleted stations were at Lawrence East and at Gerrard as these locations will be served by the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Ontario Line respectively. Bloor-Lansdowne has become a “City” station while Spadina-Front remains a “GO” station.
Park Lawn and Woodbine, also shown in the map below, are “GO” stations that are not part of the SmartTrack plan.
Of the stations that remain in the project, their viability deserves reconsideration:
- Three of the stations (Finch-Kennedy, St. Clair-Old Weston and Bloor-Lansdowne) are projected to have little walk-in trade.
- Transfer traffic at two stations (Finch-Kennedy and Bloor-Lansdowne) may be limited by competing nearby services including the Scarborough Subway terminal at Sheppard-McCowan and the subway-GO connection at Dundas West.
The original SmartTrack plan projected very high all-day demand:
The SmartTrack line will have a conservatively estimated ridership of 200,000 per day. This is the equivalent of about half the daily ridership of the existing Bloor-Danforth line.Source: The SmartTrack Line from John Tory’s election website [since removed].
To put this in context, this is about two-thirds of the entire GO Transit network, pre-pandemic. That is simply not possible with trains running every 15 minutes that must also carry riders from other GO stops.
The demand projection depended on a level of service and fare structure that will not be part of whatever “SmartTrack” is by the time service finally operates to the new stations. When SmartTrack was “sold” to Council, a different service level, station count and fare structure were cited than now appears to be likely.
Indeed, Metrolinx had already change its future service plans and announced their miraculous discovery (a mix of local and express trains) at a Toronto Region Board of Trade event. Frequent service at SmartTrack stations would not be possible if the express trains did not stop there.
As for fares, the whole idea that somehow riders on trains in GO corridors could pay via two different tariffs with free transfers to/from TTC service was always hard to believe. It is now clear that a “TTC” fare will be achieved by forcing everything, including local TTC service, into a regionally integrated system that, judging by Metrolinx’ long-held preferences, will be based on distance travelled.
Council and Torontonians were misled as they have been on more than one transit project.
A related problem, considering the size of the investment, is that the lion’s share of ST riders will not be net-new to transit, but rather will be diverted onto ST trains by the lure of a faster, and possibly less-crowded journey.
In total, the five stations are projected to attract a combined 24,000 boardings and alightings during the average weekday peak hour. Taken together, the five new stations are projected to attract 3,400 new daily riders to Toronto’s transit system by 2041 every weekday. Ridership would likely be higher with full fare integration between the TTC and GO Transit.Source: Technical Update, p. 3
Note that by counting both boardings and alightings, these figures double the number of trips because anyone who “boards” must eventually “alight” somewhere. This will count everyone who makes a trip on GO twice for the network as a whole.
Time savings were illustrated by a “SmartTracker” website (still active as of January 20, 2021 at 3:00 pm) to demonstrate how one might make a faster journey with ST in place. The calculated ST travel times did not include any wait time for the train because service was assumed to be very frequent.
Projected values are in the Technical Update for each station, but they do not show the network as a whole. “Person Minutes Saved” are calculated by multiplying the riders for a station by the extra time they would have required to make the same trip if the ST station did not exist. For a station that is off of the beaten path like East Harbour, this translates into a large total saving.
It is not clear which lines were in the “base network” without the ST stations, and in the particular case of East Harbour, whether the Ontario Line was there or not. In other words, what is the extra riding and time saving due to SmartTrack as opposed to the Ontario Line? We don’t know because this information is not in the report. Another key missing piece of information is the service level assumed in the model.
|Station||Peak Hour Boardings & Alightings||Person Minutes Saved||Notes|
|Finch-Kennedy||4,600 (*)||> 250,000||Demand primarily from bus transfers|
|East Harbour||13,000||> 1 million||Major development node and transfer point with Ontario Line|
|King-Liberty||3,200||> 175,000||Major residential neighbourhood|
|St. Clair-Old Weston||300||Limited demand, but some development possible. Project will include road reconfiguration between Keele and Old Weston Road.|
|Bloor-Lansdowne||2,900||Connection to subway poor|
How Much Will “SmartTrack” Cost?
The City’s original budget for SmartTrack was $1.463 billion of which $585 million would be from the pool of Federal infrastructure funding. The project is now smaller because there is, net, one fewer station and some elements originally included have been deferred to a “phase 2” (and a separate budget line). However, the total is unchanged probably due to inclusion of other options in the design such as the City-initiated Keele-St. Clair project.
Cost estimates for specific stations have not been released yet, only the totals: $1.195b is for base station infra and $268 is for city initiated station requirements. That’s a cost/station of over $200 million, rather substantial for a line that is not underground.
Metrolinx will carry the operating and maintenance cost of the stations which they will own, and they will get to dictate the service level. Fare revenue will flow to Metrolinx who will set the tariff.
How this would interact with City policies on reduced fares for low-income riders is difficult to say, but the higher GO fares could work against any benefit for low-income areas the new stations might otherwise provide.Continue reading