Inching Ahead on Subway Plans

Toronto’s Executive Committee will consider a report from the City Manager at its meeting of May 15, 2017 regarding the preferred alignment for the southern end of the “Relief Line” subway, as well as the current status of the Yonge Subway Extension to Richmond Hill.

This report has taken on a more political context with Mayor Tory’s recent statements that unless Queen’s Park coughs up financial support for the RL, he will block any further work on the YSE. Needless to say, this stance did not play well in York Region or at Queen’s Park.

The two lines, as they currently are proposed, look like this:

One might cast a though back only a few years to Tory’s election campaign in which he claimed that SmartTrack would eliminate the need for a Relief Line, that it would have frequent service with many new stops, that it would operate with TTC fares, and that it would be self-financing. Most of these claims were demonstrably false or impossible at the time, and the project scope has changed dramatically. Even the question of a “TTC fare” is tangled up in the Metrolinx Fare Integration study which could well bring higher rapid transit fares to the TTC as a way of “integrating” them with regional systems.

Tory’s convoluted evolution into a Relief Line supporter undermines his credibility on many issues not the least of which is an understanding of when money he demands might actually be spent. There is no point in getting a “commitment” from Queen’s Park when the government will be unrecognizable by the time the bills come due. Toronto has far more pressing demands in the short and medium term, and meanwhile there is $150 million of provincial money going into design work for the RL.

As for the YSE, it has been on York Region’s wish list for years, and is more advanced than the Scarborough Subway which is mired in debates about the alignment and number of stations. The problem for Toronto is that there is no capacity for additional riders from an extension on the Yonge line, and indeed it is already over capacity according to a CBC interview with TTC Deputy CEO Chris Upfold on May 10.

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Toronto’s 2018 Budget and Continuing Transit Austerity

In a report to the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee meeting for May 11, 2017, City Manager Peter Wallace makes two recommendations that will have a major effect on transit planning and operations in Toronto:

  • All spending for the 2018 Operating Budget would be frozen at 2017 levels. For the TTC, this would mean flat-lining the operating subsidy at its current level ($560.8 million for the “conventional” system, and $142.7 million for Wheel-Trans).
  • No new projects would be approved within the Ten Year Capital Budget and Plan until 2027 when there is borrowing headroom available to the City to fund additional works.

If a project is on the favoured list that is tagged for federal infrastructure subsidy, then finding a way to pay for the City’s share would be a priority in budgeting. However, it is not yet clear just which items in the TTC’s long shopping list will attain this status. Those that are excluded have only a faint hope of going forward.

A related problem here is that Toronto does not yet know how much, exactly, it will receive in Federal infrastructure grants, and it is quite likely that the money available will not stretch far enough to cover the entire list. Moreover, Queen’s Park is an uncertain partner because (a) the province feels it is already showering Toronto with money for projects now underway, and (b) the current government is unlikely to survive the 2018 election, and the policies of a successor regime could be hostile to large-scale transit spending commitments for Toronto.

Although there is much focus on Capital projects, the real challenge in the short term will be for the Operating budget. In the City’s report, the “opening pressures” for the TTC budget are substantial:

  • In 2017, $18 million was used from the TTC Stabilization Reserve fund to offset the budget shortfall and some new services. This was one-time money that must be replaced in 2018 and beyond. The reserve fund is now empty and cannot be used as a source to “fix” 2018 problems.
  • TTC ridership is forecast to come in below the budgeted level for 2017, and on a budget-to-budget basis, this represents a loss of $10 million in revenue. When the TTC Board passed its 2017 budget, it also decided that there would be no 2018 fare increase. Quite bluntly, that was a political stunt that simply cannot be implemented without new revenue or cuts to the operating budget. Fare revenue in 2017 is about $1.1 billion, and so each 1% increase would generate about $11 million, less whatever is lost to elasticity (riders lost by higher pricing).
  • The base operating costs of the TTC are forecast to rise by $102 million, not including the operating effects of Capital projects (see below). This covers wage and material cost increases, as well as the cost of any new service (none is currently planned thanks to the ridership situation).
  • The opening of the TYSSE to Vaughan will add $26 million to the TTC’s costs. Most of the riders projected for this line already pay a TTC fare, and so the marginal revenue will be much less than the operating cost. Riders transferring from York Region services to the subway for a journey to York University will not pay an extra TTC fare (this will be implemented via a Presto tap-out).
  • Other increases arising from past decisions (i.e. the full year effects of changes made in the 2017 budget year) add $6 million.
  • With more riders using Presto, fees to that provider will rise by $38 million. In the City Manager’s report, this is offset by a saving of $45 through the elimination of station collectors (about which more below).
  • Elimination of legacy fare gates and other old equipment will reduce costs by $5 million.

In summary:

Lost Revenue
  Stabilization Reserve          $  18 million
  Ridership Shortfall               10
  Subtotal                       $  28 million

Additional Costs
  Maintain Existing Service      $ 102 million
  Open TYSSE                        26
  Eliminate Station Collectors    - 45
  Presto Fees                       38
  Fare gate & other savings        - 5
  Other Increases                    6
  Subtotal                       $ 122 million

Total                            $ 150 million

The savings from Station Collectors arise because, from the City’s point of view, the TTC “Station Transformation Program” constitutes a new “service”, not a continuation of an existing practice. This includes conversion of the Collectors (or an equivalent headcount) into roving Customer Service agents. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the cost of this group of employees might have been included as a saving in the cost justification for Presto (or any other fare card).

I asked the TTC for the breakdown of savings and costs of the Presto transition, and received the following non-answer from Brad Ross:

The short answer from the TTC is that we continue to assess the timing of all of this – moving collectors out of the booth and transitioning to customer service agents, the costs associated continued fare collection and distribution, and the costs we will bear with being 100% Presto-enabled.

The 2018 budget process will flesh all of that out, but we’re not there yet. [Email of May 9, 2017]

That’s a rather odd state of affairs considering that the TTC based its criterion for Presto fees on what they expected to save in fare collection costs. Like so much about Presto, this is a very murky subject.

As for the Station Transformation project, the City Manager’s report states:

It is important to note that the projected 2018 net pressure or “gap” does not account for any additional service investments or priorities approved or identified by Council. For example, the $126 million forecasted pressure for TTC is based on maintaining current service levels. This excludes an additional $59 million identified by the TTC for initiatives such as Station Transformation which would be categorized as a new request and will be considered separately, subject to funding availability. [pp. 12-13]

[Note: The City’s total of $126 million does not match the total shown above of $150 million for reasons that are unclear. I have asked the City to reconcile this.]

One can well argue that the idea of getting rid of all Collectors is unworkable (even GO Transit, an all-Presto system, has station agents), and that the many duties the new Customer Service staff would take on are logically inconsistent (being available at a booth to answer questions and provide general directions, but also roaming the stations). Whatever the intent, the TTC has not yet produced a clear explanation of whether savings on Collectors were part of the justification for paying Presto to handle fares.

In any event, this $45 million is not included in the TTC base budget requirement for 2018 from the City’s point of view. If it is to be approved, that will be an additional expense on top of the other pressures.

Completely missing is any discussion of a Ridership Growth Strategy. Although the TTC tells everyone that ridership is down for various reasons, they also have stated that both the St. Clair and King streetcar lines are currently running over capacity during peak periods. This does not square with the claim that the TTC does not require more service, and suggests that one source of ridership “loss” is the inability of people to actually use the service.

An RGS report was supposed to come before the TTC Board earlier in 2017, but it was held back pending resolution of budget issues. Clearly this problem has not gone away, and yet if the report continues to be hidden, we will have no idea what might be possible and at what cost. Advocacy is not the TTC’s strong suit, and we have no idea of just how badly the system will be crammed thanks to the shortage of vehicles and the lack of sufficient revenue to operate them.

Not to be ignored is the status of Wheel-Trans where demand is growing very quickly thanks to improved eligibility requirements from the province. Freezing the Wheel-Trans subsidy (which provides almost all of its operating funding) will not allow growth, and the TTC could find itself in violation of accessibility targets if the City does not come up with the cash.

On the Capital side, the inability to add projects to the “approved” list could punch a big hole in plans for the Bloor-Danforth Subway’s revival. A collection of projects is to be presented to the Board for the renovation of Line 2 BD including:

  • A new signal system with Automatic Train Control
  • A new fleet replacing the T-1 trains which were built from 1995-2001
  • A new subway yard near Kipling Station

The ATC project is “funded” in the capital budget at an estimated cost of $431 million of which $131 million currently appears under post-2026 spending. Whether money for that is actually available in the City’s financial plans is unclear, but this will obviously be a case of “in for a penny, in for a pound”. The budgetary timing is odd because 1/3 of the total is post-2026 after the new system is supposed to be enabled and the old system decommissioned.

Neither the new fleet nor the new carhouse are funded projects in the budget. However, there is a timing issue for this project and a new fleet because the Scarborough Subway Extension will use ATC signalling, and this forces the issue because there is no point in retrofitting ATC gear to cars that will be at or near retirement age when the extension opens. There will be some cost offset in other budget lines including the SSE because storage for the new Line 2 fleet will be consolidated. (Greenwood’s layout is unsuited to the new unit trains now operating on Line 1 YUS, although it could be reconfigured and used for a future DRL with a track connection via Danforth.)

Another unfunded project is the purchase of an additional 60 new streetcars required to handle growing demand in the early 2020s, plus a further 15 (a placeholder number, probably) for the Waterfront transit project.

Putting any unfunded project “on hold” for 2018 might work as a way to avoid a capital planning crisis before the municipal election, but it will not do for the long term.

During the 2017 budget discussions, City Staff appealed to Council to set its service priorities as an integral part of building the budget:

Staff advised Council that it should first establish its collective vision for the City to determine the level and quality of services it wishes to deliver, determine and prioritize the City-building investments required to achieve this vision and consider the associated expenditures necessary to carry this out. In order to fund this expenditure level and any resultant gap, City Council would have to raise revenues and should look to all of its revenue-generating authorities and tools to do so, including property tax rate increases. This would be especially necessary if Council chose not to reduce its services and service levels. [p. 6]

For 2018, the City Manager warns:

Further expense reductions in 2018 will require strong action and a willingness to both reduce and sustain reductions in service levels if residential tax increases are to be kept at the rate of inflation. As recently made evident in the 2016 and 2017 Budget processes, there has been a reluctance by Council to embrace service level or service model changes; creating a mismatch between service aspirations and revenue generation. [p. 13]

There has been a fair amount of discussion by Council and input from the public (Long Term Financial Plan public consultation) that across the board budget targets do not reflect Council priorities, and therefore, should be differential. The current challenge to establish differential targets is the lack of stated relative Council priorities and implementation plans. A key issue is not that priorities are lacking but rather that there are many – many Council approved strategies, plans and service demand initiatives – some of which have been considered in relation to one another with their respective financial impacts within a priority-setting process that links service and policy planning to the City’s budget process and considered within the City’s financial capacity. [p. 14]

The priorities endorsed by Council for 2017 amounted to cherry picking a few very expensive capital projects, and demanding that staff find “efficiencies” with which to pay for any service improvements, indeed simply to keep the lights on. In the case of the TTC, a bit of last-minute hocus pocus avoided a large funding gap by boosting the assumed revenue from the land transfer tax. That particular hat does not have an endless supply of rabbits.

The overwhelming demand is to keep property taxes at the rate of inflation. That is an interesting concept as the City Manager explores in some detail both by reference to practices in other cities, and in the question of just what level of “inflation” should be used. Toronto has aimed at the CPI with a 2% increase in residential tax rates,but when the rebalancing effects for non-residential are factored in, the overall tax increase was only 1.39% for 2017. Moreover, there is a separate cost index measuring those items typically consumed by a municipal government, not by a private household. The municipal index has been running at over 3%, and it is no wonder that the City is unable to keep up with costs.

In addition to the “regular” property tax increases, there have been special levies to fund transit capital projects. The first, introduced during Mayor Ford’s term, is a 1.6% tax that will fund the City’s portion of the Scarborough Subway Extension. This tax will remain in place as long as needed to pay off whatever that share of the total cost is, eventually. The second, is a 0.5% tax building gradually to 2.5% to fund Mayor Tory’s capital projects. The situation is explained in the report:

Under current Council policy, debt servicing costs cannot exceed 15 percent of property tax revenues in any given year. In 2017, the 15% debt service ratio policy was relaxed to an average of 15% over the 10-year capital plan period as a result of the increased debt capacity made available to fund key capital priorities in 2017. $5.8 billion in new capital investments was made possible by adding $3.3 billion in increased debt capacity, based on the following actions:

  • $134 million debt room made available by better matching cashflow funding estimates to actual project timelines and activities
  • $2.2 billion in debt capacity was added in the latter 5 year years of the capital plan period by adding new projects that filled unoccupied debt room reflective of a 14.75% debt servicing ratio; and
  • $1 billion in additional debt borrowing capacity was made possible with Council’s approval of a 0.5% levy for each of 5 years as a contribution to a capital City Building Fund for transit and housing priorities.

The added debt capacity enabled the City to fund critical, unfunded capital priorities such as the added costs for the Gardiner Expressway Rehabilitation Project, the SmartTrack transit expansion project; Port Lands Flood Protection; the City’s required matching funds for TTC and non-TTC critical state of good repair projects eligible under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF); Toronto Public Library state of good repair and various transformation and modernization investments.

While this added debt capacity allowed the City to fund key projects included in the $33 billion of unfunded capital projects, doing so has maximized the City’s debt capacity based on its current, yet now relaxed, debt servicing policy. [p. 19]

In brief, if there is to be any new capital borrowing within the next decade for projects that are not already in the “funded” list, then these will require new revenue to service the debt. Even beyond 2026, the debt “mountain” will not recede quickly.

The only glimmer of hope within these recommendations is that:

Priority be placed on completing transit, transportation and social infrastructure projects funded through intergovernmental agreements in order to meet program conditions and deadlines to mitigate risk to the City, and

Should any funding become available, that capital funding priorities be limited to projects that address:

  • Critical State of Good Repair, including energy retrofits
  • AODA Compliance
  • Transformation, modernization and innovation projects with financial benefits
  • High-needs social infrastructure [p. 20]

Notably absent from that list is “rapid transit expansion”, or indeed transit expansion of any kind.

2018 will be a grim year for the City’s budget for all portfolios. Transit might get by, again, through some fiddling with figures, but that will not represent a real commitment to better transit, only to prevent its complete collapse while Councillors and the Mayor are trolling for votes.

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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TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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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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Scarborough’s New/Old Transit Map

In all the talk about the Scarborough Subway and SmartTrack, there has been much less discussion of how the surface route network will be adjusted around the new lines. In preparation for Council’s upcoming debate on the SSE, the TTC has produced a map of the proposed bus network following the subway opening. Here are the current and proposed maps for comparison (click to expand).

Many of the routes on this map are unchanged from the current network which is already built around the Town Centre and Kennedy stations.

What is quite striking, however, is the complete absence of services dedicated to existing GO and potential future SmartTrack stations that are supposed to be an integral part of a future Scarborough Network. Inclusion of connecting service to those stations would presume, of course, that ST will actually operate as advertised with frequent service and free transfer to and from TTC routes. There is also no Eglinton East LRT to the UTSC campus.

Looking at the map, and the degree to which “all roads lead to STC”, shows the effect of having a major “mobility hub” in the middle of Scarborough. If that’s where you want to go, there is a bus route to take you there. Other travel patterns can be more challenging, especially if the peak service hours are designed for downtown-bound commuters.

Rearranging the network to feed into SmartTrack would require some work, and it is unclear if multiple hubs could actually co-exist. However, SmartTrack is planned to open five years before the SSE, and will trigger its own interim changes. Without really intending to, the TTC has given us a view of Scarborough transit that is uncomfortably closer to what might actually be built than many, certainly Mayor Tory and his circle, would care to admit.

Meanwhile, the SSE does not bring the same degree of change to the surface transit network as might occur in other areas because STC is already a major transit node. Indeed, the TTC could introduce new and revised routes long before the subway opens in 2026.

[The information in this article is taken from a compendium report in the TTC’s upcoming Board Meeting agenda at pp. 129-130. Routes and names shown are, at this point, only proposals and are subject to refinement.]

Proposed Changes
9 Bellamy Warden Stn to STC Unchanged
16 McCowan Warden Stn to STC Unchanged
21 Brimley Kennedy Stn to STC Unchanged
38 Highland Creek Rouge Hill GO to STC Unchanged
39A Finch East Finch Stn to Morningside Hts Branch rerouted and extended
199 Finch Rocket Finch W Stn to STC Unchanged
42 Cummer Finch Stn to Morningside Hts Extended
43B Kennedy via Progress Kennedy Stn to STC Unchanged
53 Steeles East Finch Stn to Morningside Hts East end loop revised
53E Steeles East Express Replaced by 253 Steeles Rocket
253 Steeles Rocket Pioneer Village Stn to STC New route
54 Lawrence East Science Ctr Stn to Starspray Base route unchanged
154 Lawrence East Kennedy Stn to UTSC Orton Pk service replaced and extended
254 Lawrence East Express Science Ctr Stn to Starspray via Kennedy Stn Replaces 54E express. Link to Kennedy Stn added.
57 Midland Kennedy Stn to Steeles Loop at Steeles revised
85 Sheppard East Don Mills Stn to Rouge Hill GO Supplemented by 285 Sheppard E Rocket
285 Sheppard East Rocket Don Mills Stn to UTSC via STC New route
86 Scarborough Kennedy Stn to Zoo Unchanged
93A Ellesmere East STC to Kingston Rd Replaces 95A York Mills east of STC. Route number already in use by 93 Parkview Hills.
93B Ellesmere East STC to Conlins Rd Replaces 95A York Mills east of STC and 116A Morningside Conlins Loop
95 York Mills York Mills Stn to STC Partly replaced by 93 Ellesmere East and 295 York Mills Express
295 York Mills Express York Mills Stn to UTSC via STC New route
102 Markham Rd Warden Stn to Steeles North end loop structure simplified
202 Markham Rocket Warden Stn to Centennial College New route
116 Morningside Kennedy Stn to Steeles Extended to Steeles & Markham Rd. Service via Guildwood replaced by 153.
153 Kennedy Stn to Beechgrove New route replacing 116 Guildwood service
129 McCowan North STC to Steeles Express service provided by 253, 199 and 285 Rockets
130A Middlefield STC to Steeles Route and loop from McNicoll to Steeles revised
130B Middlefield STC to Tapscott Route consolidates existing peak period loops of 42, 53, 102, 134
131 Nugget STC to Old Finch Service to Kennedy Stn replaced by subway
132 Milner STC to Hupfield/McClevin Unchanged
133 Neilson STC to Morningside Hts Unchanged
134A Progress STC to Finchdene Unchanged
134B Progress STC to McNicoll Discontinued, partly replaced by 130B
134C Progress STC to Centennial College Unchanged
169 Huntingwood Don Mills Stn to STC Unchanged

Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again (III)

This article continues a series on the cost estimates for the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) and includes commentaries on:

Previous articles in this series:

  • Part I: A review of reports before Toronto’s Executive Committee and Council in March 2017
  • Part II: A review of previous and current cost estimates

The origin of the Value Engineering Study and a related Peer Review of costs lies in a distrust at City Council that the TTC’s cost estimates for the SSE are credible given the experience of the Vaughan exension (TYSSE). It is ironic that the TYSSE went over budget, and yet the desire for an SSE review was at least in part motivated by the idea that it could be brought in below the TTC’s projected cost.

In brief, the Peer Review concludes that the TTC estimates are reasonable at the current level of design.

The Value Engineering (VE) Study entailed a week-long series of meetings at which many ideas for potential cost savings were developed by a large group, then winnowed down to those with the most promise.

Although a few proposals foresee cost savings of over $100 million, these options have either already been rolled into the base project design or were replaced by a more expensive alternative. SSE advocates, notably Mayor Tory, have trumpeted these potential savings as future reductions in the project estimates, but in fact they are not available for that purpose.

Many of the proposals have no calculated saving, and it is unclear whether they will survive further review, and if so, would contribute substantially to reducing the overall project cost.

The VE study raises many questions in cases where its proposals appear to be superseded by a more recent design for the SSE than the one the VE team considered, and in cases where some VE proposals are contradictory. I have written to the City asking for clarification on these points and have included their reply in this article.

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Selective History Colours Transit Commentary

In a recent column in the Toronto Sun, Gordon Chong advances the argument that transit developments are too much about politics without enough professional planning.

The politics of transportation, published Saturday March 4, 2017

Up to that point, he and I agree, but our analysis of the situation quickly differs. Chong writes of decisions that were influenced by political considerations. He uses the Wynne flip-flop on support for tolls, and the ongoing question of how much the Scarborough Subway will cost, as jumping-off points, but then lists:

  • Cancellation of the Spadina Expressway by Bill Davis in 1971
  • The TTC/City decision to reverse plans to eliminate streetcars in 1972
  • The current emphasis of reimagining King Street rather then concentrating  on a Queen Street subway

Chong is acerbic, to put it mildly, in his remarks about Davis and the Spadina calling it

One of the most egregious examples of political self-interest and, some would say, spinelessness in transportation planning …

He goes on to say that stopping Spadina was important:

Holding the downtown riding, where the Spadina Expressway was deeply unpopular, with a tough, capable and popular Jewish cabinet minister was important to the Conservatives.

It is amusing to think how readers would react if some other group were the target of Chong’s ire, especially considering the role of the Shiner family in fighting for the expressway. Regardless of how one feels about the issue, it is the planning merits that should be debated.

Citing former Transportation Commissioner Sam Cass, certainly the “black hat” of the expressway battles, Chong argues for “balanced” road and transit networks. Nobody has ever been able to define just what should measure this so-called balance, and cynics among us translate the term as “an expressway for me, transit for everyone else”. Toronto is about to spend $1 billion to maintain that sort of “balance” with the Gardiner East rebuild project.

Chong goes on to talk about how the Spadina would have provided relief from the northwest into downtown instead of the current status, a “virtual parking lot”. He ignores the effect the expressway would have had on the city. Unlike the DVP which was built through an unpopulated area, the Spadina would have torn through established neighbourhoods setting the stage for a Crosstown expressway parallel to the CPR tracks at Dupont, and an eventual extension south to the Gardiner. The renaissance of downtown’s west side could not have happened with an expressway in place.

Relief and the Queen Street subway? Yes, there was another transportation plan on the books in the 1960s, and it was a Queen Subway that would have turned north to Don Mills and Eglinton, what we now call the “Downtown Relief Line”. That didn’t get built either thanks to a shift in attention from the downtown to suburban rapid transit lines.

As for the streetcars:

Another misguided political decision occurred when the Toronto Transit Commission’s Streetcar Elimination Program was stopped in its tracks by an alliance of local citizens and aldermen (now councillors) delaying the sensible transition to subways and buses capable of maneuvering more easily in traffic.

Unfortunately, the streetcar lovers prevailed and motorists are now stuck behind slow moving and frequently disabled streetcars and LRTs in the downtown core.

Chong has been beating this drum for years, and he forgets that the subway to which streetcars might have “transitioned” has never been built. I was part of the group who fought to retain streetcars, and our argument then as now was that the routes streetcars serve require higher capacity that would be difficult to provide with buses. In the early 1970s, the TTC ran almost twice as much service on most streetcar routes as it does today, and the problem with a shortage of vehicles is not a recent one. Ever since the 1990s recession when ridership fell and the TTC was able to cut back on the size of the fleet, there have been almost no improvements in streetcar service. A fleet well beyond its design life limps along attempting to provide service.

Buying more cars is long, long overdue, especially now that the near-downtown areas served by these routes are starting to redevelop. King Street is the most pronounced example, but more residents and potential transit riders are coming to the other routes even though the TTC has no way of providing better service. Bombardier’s glacial delivery rate for new streetcars is only the latest of problems, but the TTC’s inaction on buying more streetcars predates that order.

Keeping the streetcars was not just a matter for the existing network, but for suburban expansion, something that would have been ruinously expensive with subways back in the 70s and 80s, let alone today. But Queen’s Park preferred its high tech trains (now known as the SRT), and the promise of inexpensive suburban expansion evaporated with them.

Suburban transit in Toronto has been badly served by a succession of administrations going back to pre-amalgamation days. In 1990, then Premier David Peterson announced a “network” of rapid transit lines amounting to “a chicken in every pot” planning. This included a Malvern extension of the SRT, a Sheppard Subway from Yonge to STC, a Yonge/Spadina loop subway via Steeles, an Eglinton West subway from the Spadina line out to the Airport, a Bloor subway extension to Sherway, and a Waterfront LRT to southern Etobicoke. The first the TTC heard of this plan was when the Premier announced it.

Peterson lost the election, but the Rae government, looking for make-work projects in the face of a recession, kept the Sheppard and Eglinton projects alive, although the latter didn’t get far, and was killed off by Mike Harris five years later. The only part of the Waterfront line built was the new connection via Spadina and Queen’s Quay into Union Station. (The Spadina streetcar and the Harbourfront connection to Bathurst came later.) The Sheppard line survived the Harris regime only because he needed Mel Lastman’s political support for amalgamation, and that subway was part of the deal.

By 2007, David Miller proposed the Transit City LRT network with the intention of bringing better transit to routes that were not all aimed at downtown Toronto. The lines served the city’s “priority neighbourhoods”, not necessarily locations where civic egos dictated prestige transit lines. That network was sabotaged first by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s cutbacks in transit support, and later by Rob Ford’s visceral hatred of any plan that had Miller’s name on it, not to mention his loathing for streetcars.

LRT (as streetcars on some degree of reserved right-of-way are known) is used in hundreds of cities around the world, and two substantial networks in Calgary and Edmonton are the core of their respective transit system. But none of that matters to the subway boosters in Toronto.

Chong argues for both a Queen subway and a Relief Line, but presents this as an alternative rather than as a complement to the streetcar service on King.

Now, city council is considering a King Street traffic mitigation plan giving priority to streetcars and pedestrians over cars, when it should be looking at Queen Street and how to complete the planned subway along it, linking it with the long-awaited downtown relief line.

They are two completely separate projects, especially considering we are unlikely to see a DRL until the early 2030s at best. Meanwhile, King needs substantially improved transit service with larger streetcars and priority for transit movements over cars.

The Relief Line suffers, as we have repeatedly seen, by its characterization as “Downtown” by those who would exploit suburban feelings of transit inequity. Politicians prefer to play to their voters with inaccuracies and slurs, always implying that “someone else” is getting what their voters deserve.

Finally, Chong puts in a plug for the Sheppard West subway connection.

There are many other examples of short-term thinking and aborted transit plans requiring a 50- to 100-year vision, such as completing the Sheppard subway.

The Sheppard connection from Yonge to Downsview was one of two options before Council, and it was in direct competition with the line to York University. That route, and the possible further extension to Vaughan, had better political connections, and a higher likely demand. The subway ends today at Downsview (soon to be renamed Sheppard West) because that was common to the two possible routes. It was the only extension Council could agree on. But now, integration of a Sheppard service with the Spadina line is impossible due to mixed train lengths and incompatible headways on the routes. At best there would be a transfer between the lines.

Political intervention in transit planning? Certainly, but this goes well beyond the few battles Chong trots out. Transit battles have led to the bizarre combination of paralysis, the inability to actually build, and intense pressure to build specific projects with high political profile, one that has been artificially inflated by populist rhetoric, not by good planning.

Why write an article about an opinion piece in the Sun by a has-been politician? Simple. Gordon Chong is a Tory, and he was both Vice-Chair of the TTC, and Chair of the predecessor agency to Metrolinx. He can be expected to lobby for some position of influence over Toronto’s transit plans if Patrick Brown’s PCs take control at Queen’s Park. His selective view of history is something we can do without.

Toronto and the GTHA have major transit and transportation issues for any government after the 2018 election. Fighting old battles on long-expired pretenses is no way to plan the city.

Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again (II)

After publication of a series reports going to Toronto’s Executive Committee on March 7, there have been many competing claims about just how much the Scarborough Subway is going to cost. Subway advocates prefer the lower number of $3.35 billion cited as the base cost of the subway itself plus an improved bus terminal, while others point out that many elements have been omitted from this number.

I reviewed many of the reports in a previous article, but this post looks beyond the subway itself to other projects that are required for the subway to open. Some of these are unfunded, or are now planned for a date beyond the Scarborough line’s opening, or are simply missing from TTC and City plans.

Previous Cost Estimates for the “Express Subway”

The Scarborough Subway project, as described in all previous reports included the following three items:

  • Construction of the subway from Kennedy Station to STC at a cost of $2.3 billion in 2010 dollars, or $3.315 billion in year-of-expenditure (YOE) allowing for future inflation.
  • Life extension work to keep the SRT operational until the subway opens at a cost of $132 million (YOE).
  • Demolition and removal of the existing SRT structure following the subway opening at a cost of $123 million (YOE).

These values, totalling $3.56 billion, appeared in:

The October 3, 2013 report to Council:

201310_costextimate

A presentation to a Value Engineering workshop by the TTC in September 2016:

201609_ttcprojectcostestimates_vesession

The TTC’s 2017-26 Capital Budget recently approved by Council (click to enlarge):

2017_capbudget

The $3.305 billion cost for the subway itself is intriguing because it has not changed between the 2016-25 and 2017-26 versions of the budget. The detailed views are below. (These are taken from the detailed TTC budget books that are not available online.)

2016 (click to enlarge):

sse_006_2016

2017 (click to enlarge):

sse_006_2017

The major change between the two versions to line item totals is that an allowance for property has been offset by an increase in “fixed facilities”. However, expenditures timings change, and there is no adjustment for inflation. I have asked the TTC for comment on this and related matters.

Item                          2016-2025        2017-2026
                                ($000)           ($000)
Fixed Facilities              $2,458,000       $2,623,000
TTC Installation                                      250
Property                         165,000
Consultants                      398,123          397,297
TTC Engineering                  101,877          102,453
Vehicles                         182,000          182,000
Total                         $3,305,000       $3,305,000

In the 2017 Capital Budget the section for the SRT life extension shows values only to 2023 and the demolition of the SRT structure is in 2025. These timings do not  make sense except in the context of a 2023 opening as described below. It is clear that these two items have not been updated to reflect the later opening date and the added cost this brings for ongoing support of the old system, and inflation in the cost of demolishing and removing it.

From the description of the Life Extension project:

lifeextensionprojectdescription

Additional Costs Not Included in the Current Projected Total

The $3.35 billion cost now claimed for the SSE project does not include several items cited in the City’s reports:

  • Procurement costs through Infrastructure Ontario: $15 million
  • Financing costs of a 3P project, net to TTC: $40 million
  • Public realm improvements (optional): $11 million
  • Platform edge doors (optional): $14 million
  • Increase in “management reserve” for scope changes to the level recommended by consultants: $100 million
  • SRT Life Extension: $132 million
  • SRT Decommissioning and Demolition: $123 million

As noted above, some costs have been estimated based on a 2023 opening for the subway, but without allowances for inflation to a later date.

Planning for Fleet, Signals and Carhouse Space

There are inconsistencies in the timing of various projects related to the Bloor-Danforth Subway that existed in the 2016-25 budget, and still pose major problems for 2017-26. These are all linked to the opening of the SSE which, like the TYSSE extension to Vaughan, will be built with Automatic Train Control (ATC).

  • Resignalling of Line 2 BD with ATC
  • Replacement of the existing T1 subway fleet with new trains capable of ATC operation
  • Construction of a new yard to house the replacement fleet

The TTC plans to resignal Line 2 following completion of Line 1 YUS in 2019. Here is the budget summary for these projects (click to enlarge):

2017_atcsignals

The T1 subway fleet is due for replacement in the mid 2020s, but current plans show this happening substantially after the SSE opens with delivery of prototypes in 2024 and the remainder of the fleet from 2026-2030. This means that a large part of the BD fleet would not be able to operate on ATC, and therefore could not run beyond Kennedy Station.

2017_t1replacement

There is also a provision in the SSE budget (above) for additional trains with funding in 2022-23 of $182 million. This corresponds to the original scheme to open the line in 2023, but not to the current fleet plan. In the table below, six trains are shown as a service addition for the SSE in 2023, but these come from available spares within the T1 pool (even though they cannot run in ATC territory). This would provide an AM peak service with alternate trains turning back from Kennedy Station, and overall BD service at the same level as today (2’20” west of Kennedy, 4’40” to STC). The replacement fleet begins to arrive in 2026 through 2030 including the seven trains funded from the SSE project budget. Full service to STC comes in 2027, but this and an allowance for ridership growth are clearly based on a 2023 SSE opening date.

The fleet plan is out of sync with the opening date for the SSE and its signal system.

2017_line2_subwayfleetplan

The T1 replacement project is on the “City Requested Budget Reductions” list, and does not have any funding within the current ten-year Capital Program. This represents a pressure within the City’s overall capital budget and its “below the line” iceberg of capital projects it cannot afford.

Finally, a new fleet cannot be provisioned without a new yard. This is required both to provide overlapping capacity for new and old trains (unlike Line 1 where Wilson Yard had room for expansion to handle the H to TR fleet changeover). There are also design problems with Greenwood in that the shops were not planned for 6-car unit trains, and major renovation would be required to do this, all within an active shop for the BD line.

The TTC recently authorized the purchase of land near Kipling Station for a new subway yard. However, the actual construction of a yard does not appear in the Capital Budget and there is no provision for this in the TTC’s financial plans. Quite obviously this facility is required before the new trains begin to arrive. If the T1 replacement project moves forward so that the new trains can all be here before the SSE opens in 2026, then the new carhouse must exist by the early 2020s. Considering how long it takes the TTC to get approval for a major new facility, let alone build it, this is a critical project that has not even been discussed in the context of SSE planning.

None of this is news, and the TTC is well aware of the problem. I wrote about this as part of my 2016 budget coverage, and the TTC replied with details of what is really needed. Management plans to bring an overall plan for the renovation of Line 2 to the Board at its March meeting, but this will inevitably produce ripples in the City’s budget. That can be fixed, in part, if some of Toronto’s PTIF money (the federal infrastructure program) goes to accelerating these projects, but this has to be fitted in among the many hopes Toronto has for that funding.

These are not, strictly speaking, “Scarborough Subway costs”, but they are projects triggered by the decision to extend Line 2 BD. Although federal money could be available, the City will have to pony up its share, and this will fall right at a period when it is tight for capital.

Toronto Council deserves to see the whole picture of funding and financing requirements for the SSE and related projects. Too much is hidden either by its unfunded status, or by simple omission from the overall plans. This inevitably creates a crisis when – Surprise! – a project is forced “above the line” because it cannot be avoided. This brings new spending that crowds other works, many having nothing to do with transit, off of the table. This is no way to handle City budgeting.

Scarborough Subway Cost Rises Again

Mayor John Tory held a press conference this morning (February 28, 2017) at Kennedy Station in anticipation of a newly released set of reports on the Scarborough Subway:

Note: Commentaries on the Value Engineering and Cost Estimate reports will be added to this article later.

There are few surprises here. The subway will almost certainly cost more than earlier estimates. There may be ways to save some money on the project, but these are small dollars compared to the overall scope. One proposed increase is a change in the bus terminal at Scarborough Town Centre Station to one that better supports future development even though its construction is more complex.

Despite implications by some Councillors that TTC cost estimates were unreliable, an external review agreed with the values the TTC presents. At this stage, with design work only at 5%, there is a very wide latitude in accuracy because so much of the detail is unknown. A range of -30% to +50% translates to over a billion dollars either way, and claims that the project cost is a hard, fixed number are simply irresponsible.

A long-suspected result is that the subway project, originally sold as part of a package of transit improvements including an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, now requires most of the previous “committed” money. The LRT extension used to sweeten the plan and encourage wavering Councillors to support the subway extension is in danger and requires its own funding.

Mayor Tory made an aggressive speech, supported by TTC Chair Josh Colle and Scarborough Subway Champion Glenn De Baeremaeker.

One expects a fair amount of civic boosterism given the history of this project, but I could not help feeling that the Mayor oversells his position and undermines his credibility.

He started off with a heart rending description of riders who for decades have faced the “Scarborough shuffle” of changing between the SRT and the subway at Kennedy Station. This is a tedious process given that four levels separate the two routes, and the TTC’s ability to keep escalators and elevators working over the full path is not sterling. Tory portrayed this connection as an accessibility issue because, of course, when any component of that connection isn’t working, riders face a long climb up or down stairs.

What he failed to mention, as has so often been the case in the subway-vs-LRT debate, is that the proposed LRT station would have been only one level above the subway, and the transfer would have been very much like the interchange at Spadina Station.

Taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, Tory argued that those who oppose the subway are working against the democratic will of voters and their representatives. Even newly minted Scarborough Councillor Neethan Shan, who stood at Tory’s side, ran on a pro-subway platform. Council voted many times on the subway and related issues, and approved the Scarborough transit plan by 27 to 16. Tory neglects to mention that the plan both the voters and councillors approved was quite different including a longer subway with more stops, and also the LRT extension to UTSC. This is the bait-and-switch game many suspected it would be all along, while others trying to “keep peace in the family” took the Mayor’s claims at face value.

Tory came dangerously close to portraying “tireless critics” of this project as outside of the political mainstream and subverting the will of the people. “Tell people they voted the wrong way, that they will be better off without a subway” and more in that vein.

Pressed on rising costs, the Mayor refused to say whether there was any cost beyond which he could not support the subway. Meanwhile he looks to Queen’s Park and Ottawa for support on the Eglinton LRT and other transportation projects. Tory describes the Eglinton extension as a “fundamental part of our plan”, but whether other governments will actually chip in remains to be seen.

A frequent claim for the subway is that it will spark development of Scarborough Town Centre, but Tory emphasized how it would provide a faster link for Scarborough residents to jobs downtown. A big problem with many transit plans (not just this subway) is that they do not serve the very high demand for travel to jobs (and other destinations such as schools) that are not downtown.

Tory suggested that the Value Engineering report implies there’s a few hundred million dollars for the taking in adjustments to the project. The report does not actually say this, but merely lists a range of options, some more practical than others, that might be embraced. At the current level of design, a few hundred million could go up in smoke with a cost revision.

One recent change is a proposal for a different, improved bus terminal at STC. Tory attempted to deflect criticism of this cost by saying that no matter what was built, we would need a terminal and, therefore, it really isn’t part of the subway’s cost. This dodges the issue that an LRT network would have spread out the collection of riders to other sites, and the number of routes converging on STC would have been lower. Pick a one stop subway as your design, and that dictates a large terminal.

The real advantage of the change lies in how it better integrates with planned development at STC.

Of particular note was Tory’s pledge to “get things done in this term of office”. He does not want “to be a leader who accomplishes nothing” on the transit file. He wants to take the long term view, although he is not at all clear on whether Toronto is prepared to spend enough to support it.

TTC Chair Josh Colle spoke of the need to move forward with transit plans, especially the one for Scarborough, as the city is “on the verge of a transit revival”. The condition of the SRT, on which the Mayoral party arrived for the event, shows that decisions cannot be put off.

Colle argued that we should learn from past failures and ensure that there is “accountability”, that a project does not get approved long in advance giving a blank cheque for rising costs. This is a direct reference to the Vaughan subway extension and a proposed tightening of the process for approving project changes (about which more later in this article). Colle neglects to mention that the imperative for TTC managers under the Ford/Stintz regime was to keep the project “on time, on budget” so that a smiling TTC chair could tout how well her TTC was doing. Colle was on that TTC Board and should have known the project was in trouble.

What actually happened was that the station contracts came in well over budget, but this was paid for with money earmarked for contingencies, for unexpected conditions during construction. Between chaotic management of overlapping contracts and raiding the piggy bank to avoid asking for more money, the TYSSE was in deep trouble. This all came to a head when both that project and the related resignalling contracts for the Yonge line had to be reorganized.

The Scarborough subway project will receive better scrutiny, or so the reports claim, but the political problem that saying “no” when the costs rise simply is not an option for the current administration.

Councillor De Baeremaeker emphasized that all but one Scarborough Councillor and all of its MPPs support the subway  project. Scarborough has 33% of Toronto’s area and 25% of its population, not unlike North York which has far more subway infrastructure. It might be churlish of me to point out that there has been a heavy transit demand north-south on Yonge Street since the days when cows grazed alongside the road, something Scarborough cannot claim for its rapid transit corridor.

Continuing his theme, De Baeremaeker talked about future daily demand at STC station of 70,000 which would exceed almost all of the downtown stations. Yes, it would, but this also reflects the concentration of all demand for Scarborough at one point roughly like having only a station at Finch on the Yonge line. It will be a busy station, but the bus network will be gerrymandered to feed it.

The real question has always been how well the subway will serve travel demands overall, but that debate is closed.

After the formal statements, Mayor Tory was challenged on locations the subway would not serve. He claimed, falsely, that Scarborough will have more transit stations with the new scheme, including SmartTrack, than before, and that ST work, the double-tracking of the Stouffville GO corridor, was already underway.

SmartTrack adds two stations to the GO corridor at Lawrence and at Finch, but the double-tracking is part of the GO/RER plan and has been in the works for some time. The lightly-used SRT stations at Ellesmere and Midland will disappear, and the new subway effectively consolidates the STC and McCowan RT stations into one location.

What is frustrating in all of this is the sense of people trying too hard to put their case. If the expectation is for overwhelming support at Council, why work so hard at the argument?

The balance of this article reviews the reports linked above.

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