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.

Another Scarborough Subway Boondoggle?

The Star’s Ben Spurr reports that the Glen Andrews Community Association in Scarborough has proposed yet another variant on the Scarborough Subway, and that this is supported by Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker and provincial Minister (and former Councillor) Brad Duguid. City Planning staff are already engaged in reviewing this proposal without any direction to do so from Council, according to Spurr’s article.

glenandrewcommassn_bigbendmap

The scheme, nicknamed the “Big Bend” would enter Scarborough Town Centre on an east-west axis rather than the north-south route proposed by the TTC. It would veer east at Ellesmere and then make a wide turn bringing the route under the existing RT through the STC station area and continue to vacant space on the east side of Brimley. This open area would be used as the staging area for the tunnel construction akin to the sites on the Crosstown project at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe.

This would avoid creation of a staging area for the subway tunnel near Ellesmere and McCowan and limit the need to expropriate lands for the subway and a new station, but it would also leave the subway aligned in a way that would allow eventual westward extension to link with the Sheppard line.

Although this has been reported simply as a revised alignment, much more is involved in this proposal. Instead of twin tunnels, the TTC’s typical construction method, a single 12m to 13m bore would be used, one that could accommodate station structures within the tunnel and eliminate (or at least reduce) the need for surface excavation such as we have seen on the TYSSE station projects. The technical side of this scheme was put forward by Michael Schatz, Managing Director of engineering company Hatch (a portion of the former Hatch Mott Macdonald) which shows up from time to time as a consultant to the TTC and GO Transit. Whether this is an official company proposal, or a personal scheme, or some sort of “business development”, is hard to say. There is no reference to this proposal on the company’s website.

As for the politicians, De Baeremaeker in Council and Duguid behind the scenes at Queen’s Park have been meddling in the LRT/subway debate for some time. De Baeremaeker’s initial motivation appeared to be avoiding an election attack by a Ford stand-in challenging his dedication to Scarborough’s manifest subway destiny. Duguid’s role raises questions about who sets transportation policy in Kathleen Wynne’s government and just how much real commitment there is to any of the LRT schemes in Toronto beyond the Crosstown project now under construction.

At yesterday’s TTC Board meeting, De Baeremaeker was noticeably silent on this proposal, but instead focused on the need to get construction underway and end the delays which push up the project’s cost. (For a $3.6 billion project, inflation at 4%, the rate used by the TTC, adds $144m/year, or $12m per month plus the sunk cost of having the project team sit around working on alternative designs until Council makes a decision.)

This is not simply a case of looking at an alternative design for the STC area, but of reviewing the entire line. The larger tunnel would be dug at a different elevation, and the manner in which it would link to the existing structure at Kennedy, not to mention how it will co-exist with the planned eastern extension of the Crosstown LRT, must be worked out. Terminal operations for a pair of stacked platforms at STC also need to be designed if the TTC intends to run all service through to that point.

This represents a considerable delay. It was intriguing that GDB did not mention this proposal at today’s TTC meeting and in fact held to the idea of getting politics out of the way and letting the project proceed.

The Community Association appears to have conflicting goals for their proposal:

And at the end of all this we have a ‘dead end’ subway.

  • A subway that can never be extended to the east if/when demand justified an extension to Centennial College or Malvern or U of T.
  • A subway that City Planners say ‘should not’ be extended north to the Sheppard.
  • A subway that cannot be turned north west toward the huge concentrations of potential TTC riders in the Kennedy-Sheppard area. [p. 2]

And if we are really into city building, true long term thinking, here’s a huge advantage: building The Big Curve means that the subway is not ‘dead ended’ at Scarborough Centre. It turns northwest. The ‘tail track’ points toward the huge concentration of potential TTC riders already in place and with more on the way in the Kennedy-Sheppard area. It points toward the Agincourt GO-Smart Track Station. It is in the approved alignment of the Sheppard Subway to our Centre. It has a future! [pp. 6-7]

It is self evident that if the subway is going to Agincourt and Don Mills, it is most certainly not going to Centennial College, Malvern or UofT. There may be Scarborough Subway Champions now at Queen’s Park (the Liberal’s Mitzie Hunter and the Tory’s Raymond Cho), but the proposed Big Bend line will never come near their ridings in eastern Scarborough.

The Sheppard connection proposal has been around for years, and is a leftover from Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign. De Baeremaeker’s recent comments disparaging the Relief Line take on a new meaning in the context of a politician looking to plunder the capital budget to suit his own ends. It is quite clear that with this outlook, the Sheppard LRT will never be built even though it still appears on official provincial maps. So much for Queen’s Park’s “commitment” to eastern Scarborough.

The single bore tunnel will be quite deep both for structural reasons related to its size and to stay out of the way of utilities. At STC station, the idea is that a deep station would be built within the tunnel under the existing bus loop thereby avoiding the need for a completely new terminal. However, the vertical difference would pose a transfer time penalty, an amusing situation when one considers the scorn heaped on the design of Kennedy Station’s SRT to subway link.

The tunnel option is presented as one that could proceed without the surface disruptions of conventional subway construction as practiced by the TTC. This is not entirely true.

At STC, it will be necessary to build large vertical shafts, at least two, linking from the surface down to the station itself. These must be long and wide enough to house emergency ventillation, stairs, escalators and elevators, and their surface footprint will be considerable. Whether such links can be built while the bus terminal remains in operation is hard to say, and more detailed design of this interface is needed

Similarly, if Lawrence East Station reappears, as the Community Association proposes, it will require access shafts from the surface down to the station. This is a difficult location because Highland Creek crosses McCowan here, but stations below the water table are not unheard of even in Toronto (see York Mills and Queens Quay for examples, although the latter is comparatively shallow). The press release argues that a Lawrence East Station would be cheaper with the single tunnel scheme than with a standard TTC cut-and-cover structure, but the real question is how much this station would add to the cost of a project which does not now include it.

Emergency exit shafts are required roughly between stations. Construction activity for one of these can be seen along Eglinton such as at Petman (east of Mt. Pleasant) where the access is dug down from the surface to tunnels that have already been built below the street. Just because there are no stations from Kennedy to STC does not mean that the space between them will be free of construction effects.

At STC, assuming that the existing bus terminal can remain in operation, there would be a saving on building its replacement. However, this is only one part of a more complex comparison that must be performed between the current TTC proposal’s design and whatever might develop from the Big Bend option. One cannot assume a “saving” until the relative cost and components of the two schemes are worked out.

The Community Association proposes that the tunnel launch site use existing green space on the west side of STC beside Brimley Road. By comparison with the sites on Eglinton at Black Creek and at Brentcliffe, this may not be large enough (especially considering its “long” dimension runs north-south), but that could be dealt with by temporarily closing an adjacent road and expanding into the existing parking lot.

The proposal includes a long list of items that could be avoided by the Big Bend option compared to what the TTC is likely to do, including ”

  • No need for a temporary bus terminal.
  • No need to buy a fleet of buses to carry SRT passengers.

Whether a temporary terminal can be avoided while construction of the links to a new station below it is underway remains to be seen. As for a fleet of buses for SRT passengers, that has nothing to do with the subway plan at all, unless the subway is built in the SRT corridor, an alignment the TTC has already rejected for other reasons.

It is ironic that this scheme only became possible once the City decided it could not afford to take the subway to Sheppard and cut the line back to STC. If there really were a desire to serve the area north of Highway 401 and east of STC, the subway would have gone there. Instead we are back to the Sheppard hookup proposal.

If Council really wants to reopen the entire debate, they need to be honest about what this will cost in time and dollars. Unless there is a change in funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, their contributions are fixed and any new costs are entirely on the City’s account. How many more years of the 1.6% Scarborough Subway Tax will be needed to pay for this? How will the return of the Sheppard Subway Extensions to the political field affect priorities for spending elsewhere in the City? How many more Councillors will cry that their wards “deserve” a subway?

Muddled into all of this is the status of SmartTrack which even though the brand name remains in use is really nothing more than a few local stops added to GO’s RER plans. Toronto will have to decide before the end of November (a Metrolinx imposed deadline) just how much it will shell out for additional “SmartTrack” infrastructure.

Councillors are quick to complain that transit project costs rise uncontrollably, but faced with the need to settle on a design so that it can be costed to a reliable level for budgets and construction, continue to pursue alternatives. No doubt the Big Bend proponents will want a cost estimate for their scheme in months so that a formal decision can be made.

If De Baeremaeker, Duguid and Tory have already decided that the Big Bend is the only scheme that will be acceptable, then the whole process of past years has been a sham. It is entirely possible that the Eglinton East LRT, the sweetener added to the Scarborough transit plan to make the subway more palatable, will simply fall off of the map and the money will all go to the subway project. This would be a brutal “bait and switch” for eastern Scarborough, but it would show the true colours of their “subway champions”.

Toronto Transit Plan Punted From Executive Committee

On October 26, 2016, Toronto’s Executive Committee was supposed to receive a report dealing with a wide range of transit issues.

… the City Manager will be providing a report to Executive Committee with recommendations on the Transit Network Plan, including information on cost-sharing discussions with the Province of Ontario on a range of transit projects, as directed by City Council in July 2016 (EX16.1). This report will also include an update on the planning and technical analysis for SmartTrack, Relief Line, and Scarborough Transit. Additional time is required to ensure proper consultation and coordination with relevant stakeholders including the Toronto Transit Commission, Province of Ontario and Metrolinx. [Placeholder item in the agenda]

This report is not yet available as discussions with Queen’s Park are ongoing. A deadline facing Council is that Metrolinx wants a commitment to specifics of SmartTrack work that will be bundled with the RER construction contracts that will go to tender early in 2017.

Given the time constraints, it is possible that the report will go directly to Council at its November 8 meeting. In theory, materials for the Council Meeting should be posted in advance, and for November 8, the usual deadline is only days away. Whether the materials are actually available in advance remains to be seen. This would put a major debate before Council with almost no advance briefing or public debate.

SmartTrack is not the only time constrained project as an updated transit plan and cost estimate for the Scarborough projects, not to mention a financing scheme for the entire package, needs to be dealt with so that work can begin. Any spending commitments will also affect the City’s budget which will be formally unveiled at the start of December.

As material becomes available, I will provide updates and commentary.

 

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, September 4, 2016 (Updated)

Updated August 15, 2016: The detailed table of service changes has been added to this article.

September 2016 will see a return to the “winter” schedules on most TTC routes. Despite talk of service cuts in the budget process, the new schedules include some improvements to correct for operational problems on a few routes, and to better handle existing demand. The scheduled mileage for September is actually above the budget level due to greater than anticipated requirements for diversions and extra vehicles to deal with construction projects.

2016.09.04 Service Changes

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Council Approves Tory Transit Plan, Attempts Pet Project Revivals

Toronto Council has approved the transit plan for Toronto featuring Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack line and the Scarborough Subway after a long debate on July 14, 2016. Notwithstanding severe problems with financial pressures and the blind faith needed to expect that the entire package can actually be funded, Council added a few pet projects that never quite fade from view thanks to the efforts of individual members.

LRT proposals for Eglinton East and West survived the vote largely because they are part of larger packages – SmartTrack in the west, and the Scarborough Subway Extension in the east. The subway debate has so polarized camps that “LRT” is synonymous with third class transit simply because it was the heart of the “non subway” option. Without the bitterness of the SSE that required subway advocates to paint LRT in the worst possible light, its potential role in Toronto’s future network might not have been so poisoned while other cities embrace this mode.

Staff recommendations in the report were amended in some respects, and a few new clauses were added, notably one asking for City staff to pursue a co-fare arrangement with GO Transit.

The Waterfront Transit Reset report is a separate agenda item and, at the time of writing, Council has not yet dealt with it.

The Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown LRT projects are under Metrolinx, and they are already underway to varying degrees.

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Brimley: The Station That Never Was

In all the discussion about options for service to the Scarborough Town Centre, an important factor is the superiority of an east-west alignment through the area (which is itself an east-west rectangle). One subway station serves a node in the middle of the STC precinct, but an east-west line, especially with a technology where multiple stations are comparatively inexpensive, can do a better job of serving a future, developed town centre.

City Planning’s own reports say as much, but because discussion of the LRT option has been expunged from debates, we don’t hear how this might perform.

As a matter of historical interest, the original LRT proposal that predated the Scarborough RT by a decade included not only the three stations we have today – Midland, STC and McCowan – but also made provision for a future station at Brimley. The site would have been just east of the Bick’s pickle vats, for those who knew the area back when, on the west side of Brimley.

Some years later with the RT well established, local Councillors pressed for a Brimley Station. Council funded this and the TTC in due course produced a design. That’s as far as things ever got, and despite development near the station site, nothing more has ever come of the idea.

Brimley SRT Station Feasibility Study, January 2004:

Given its very light usage and difficulty of access, one might even argue that Ellesmere Station could be replaced by one at Brimley in any new design.

We will never know, because “LRT” in at least this corridor is a naughty word.

Reviving the Scarborough LRT Proposal (Updated)

Updated July 5, 2016 at 8:00 am: Revised drawings for Kennedy Station have been added showing better detail of the the LRT lines and a temporary bus terminal. Minor textual changes have been made in the article including an observation that the scope of replacement costs for removing the existing SRT structures will vary depending on the timing of shutdown and the degree to which existing structures are adapted/recycled.

Updated at 8:45 am: The potential sources of cost overstatement for the updated LRT option have been summarized.

With the recently announced increase in the projected cost of the Scarborough Subway Extension, the question of reverting to the original LRT plan for Scarborough has surfaced again. It is no secret that I favour this plan, but the political environment has been so poisoned that discussion of the options is, mildly speaking, difficult. When the Mayor feels that he must imply racism in critics who are simply trying to advocate for their view of a better transit system, Toronto politics are at a new low. However, the implications of the LRT plan must be addressed on their merits, not on simplistic political comments unworthy of the Mayor’s office.

On June 29, the TTC issued a briefing note regarding the cost of the LRT option in the context of current events. The question here is whether the claims and assumptions behind this note are legitimate and represent what could be achieved with a “best effort”, as opposed to presenting a less attractive picture to give the impression that the LRT represents an unacceptable downside.

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Toronto’s Network Plan 2031: Part II, Scarborough Subway Extension (Updated)

This article continues my examination of the mound of reports going to Toronto Executive Committee and to the Metrolinx Board on June 28, 2016. For a complete list, see Part I of this series.

The subject here is the Initial Business Case for the Scarborough Subway Extension.

A few central points underlie the study:

  • In a review of possible subway alignments through the Scarborough Town Centre, an east-west alignment comes out on top because it would better support future growth of the STC precinct via an eastern extension that is impossible with a north-south alignment.
  • Options that would produce an east-west alignment are eliminated from consideration before a full technical and financial evaluation because it is claimed that the SRT would have to be shut down for the entire period of construction.
  • The preferred alignment via McCowan includes technical challenges, and there are alternatives via Brimley, but these have not been studied in detail. There is no sense of the comparative cost of the alternatives.

Opening date for a Scarborough Subway is now pushed off to 2025 because various reviews, debates and studies have pushed back the start date for the project.

The report is completely silent on related capital projects that are pre-requisites to an SSE including:

  • Replacement of the existing fleet of cars serving the BD subway to allow automatic operation over the extension.
  • Provision of a new subway yard.
  • Launch, but not necessarily completion, of a project to re-signal the existing BD subway.

Updated June 25, 2016 at 10:30 pm:

In the evaluation of options that would require the shutdown of the SRT during construction of whatever might replace it, the report states:

Bus replacement for the SRT service during the construction period would require 63 additional buses and infrastructure requirements such as a bus facility to accommodate the additional bus fleet, and bus terminal expansions at Scarborough Centre and Kennedy Station. The cost of shutting down the SRT during the construction period would amount to approximately $171 million (YOE/Escalated $).

However, this makes no allowance for the following savings:

  • Avoiding the need to keep the existing SRT operating, a value estimated in July 2013 as $132 million including inflation. See Scarborough Rapid Transit Options at p 7.
  • Buses and garage space provisioned for the temporary shuttle would have a life beyond the end of the project, and indeed the TTC requires another new bus garage beyond McNicoll Garage in northern Scarborough. Only the cost of buying, building and operating these earlier than would otherwise occurs counts as a net cost against the project.

This is either an error in calculation, or a misrepresentation of the true cost of replacing SRT operation.

Given that the LRT option would require a shorter shutdown of the SRT than the subway options, the cost of the bus shuttle would be correspondingly lower.

[End of update]

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Spinning a Tale in Scarborough

Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development & Growth, also the de facto spokesman for the Scarborough Liberal Caucus, was on CBC’s Metro Morning talking about the planned Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) and its fast-inflating estimated cost.

Duguid had been quoted in the press a few days earlier as saying that downtown elitists have been opposed to the SSE from the start echoing the divisive us-versus-them context for so much of this debate. He likes to sound oh so reasonable, but his message is full of half-truths and puffery designed to support the “we don’t get our share” chorus so common from Scarborough pols and others.

The [subway] project has been on the books for 30 years.

Well, no, it hasn’t. The TTC’s original plan for Scarborough was that an LRT corridor would run northeast all the way to Malvern. (See Once Upon a Time in Scarborough and The Scarborough LRT That Wasn’t). More recently, the Transit City plan included an LRT network for Scarborough, and this received the endorsement of Council. Only when former Mayor Ford chose to use the potential of a subway as bait did Council change its mind.

If anyone has a plan for a subway from Kennedy to STC that has more status than the back of a napkin or a fantasy map, I’ll be happy to see and comment on it.

LRT was put in there as a political decision by the Davis government to promote UTDC globally.

The UTDC was a provincial agency that concocted the RT technology, and they couldn’t get a sale if Toronto wasn’t buying. This technology is most emphatically not LRT, no matter what Duguid and others like to call it, for the simple reason that it requires a completely segregated right-of-way. The true LRT line was already under construction when Queen’s Park pulled the plug, and there are remnants of the LRT design still visible in the RT structures.

Scarborough Town Centre is one of the fastest growing city centres in Canada.

Very little development, compared to the rest of Toronto, is planned for STC according to Toronto Planning’s own numbers. How many times must the following chart be published to drive home this fact?  [Source: How Does the City Grow, June 2015]

More generally, growth is not happening in the so-called centres which between them have less than 10% of the proposed development. The myth that the former “downtowns” of the old cities will become major nodes in their own right is neatly torpedoed here.

ProposedTorontoDevelopment_201506

Everyone is entitled to their views and opinions.

In a classic “yes, but” statement, Duguid tries to undo his slur against those who criticize the SSE project, but goes on to talk of how Scarborough residents have been fighting for a subway for years.

I [Duguid] have been involved in this debate for 30 years. All we’re asking for is that the fastest growing city centre be attached to higher order transit.

Fighting for “higher order rapid transit” (a phrase he uses a few times without recognizing that it actually includes LRT), maybe, but not specifically for a subway. The problem for years has been that subways and the rattletrap SRT are the only points of comparison Scarborough riders have, and it’s a no-brainer to choose one over the other. The LRT option has always been undersold, and then under Rob Ford, denigrated as “streetcars” (said with a pejorative sneer) when in fact the SLRT could be entirely on its own right-of-way.

The price came in over the estimate, but that was done a number of years ago. The price it’s come in at is the price it’s come in at.

No. The estimate was updated in 2016 for Council’s decision to go with the “optimized” Scarborough plan of a 1-stop subway and the LRT from Kennedy Station to UTSC. Does Duguid now claim that Council made a multi-billion dollar decision on a flimsy, unreliable estimate?

When challenged about insulting critics as a tactic to advance the SSE project:

Not everyone who has opposed this is from downtown, but generally critics are people who are less than 10 minutes to a subway station from their homes.

I don’t have the home addresses of the many SSE critics at my disposal, and there is no secret that I live within sight of Broadview Station. The point here is not where I live, but where people in Scarborough live, and most of them will not be within 10 minutes of the one remaining station on the SSE. Indeed, the “optimized” Scarborough plan does well on access not because of the subway, but because the LRT line to UTSC brings so many more people close to a station.

Scarborough people have been paying for the subway system for years. It is important to the entire city. We have to think about more than our ridings.

Duguid is getting too rich for words here implying that he’s not pushing the subway just to get votes even though his own party did just that, going along with Rob Ford’s fictional ideas about transit planning rather than opposing him. Yes, Scarborough has paid taxes for years into the pot, as has every other part of Toronto, including Etobicoke which is not exactly subway-rich. The SSE tax as well as development charges for new transit generally fall overwhelmingly on buildings nowhere near Scarborough, and the subway will be built mainly by funds raised outside Scarborough borders. That may be a fair trade, but not if the pricetag keeps going up and up, and not if other transit projects are cancelled to pay for it.

Yes, Scarborough too must think about more than itself, and stop acting like a brat who only wants the most expensive toy in the shop window.

Scarborough has been paying for years, but the minute something is going to SCC, such a big deal is made out of it. It’s easy for folks with higher order transit to oppose it, but it’s important to the people of Scarborough.

It is a flat out lie to say that people elsewhere in Toronto oppose “something going to SCC”. The problem here is that Duguid wants only a subway and will accept nothing else. We all need and want more and better transit, but we can’t have it when every penny is vacuumed up for one project.

Ridership numbers have to be put in perspective. STC is the first station in the system, and if the line were full here, people wouldn’t be able to get on elsewhere. It will be the 7th busiest station. If we had only looked at [terminal] ridership, we wouldn’t have built any of the subway lines.

Both the Yonge and Bloor subways were built in corridors where surface transit was already carrying thousands more riders than the RT is today, and where there was a concentrated demand to carry people from their homes to jobs downtown and on other parts of the (mainly) streetcar network. The same is not true for Scarborough, especially for transit carrying people to jobs at STC.

The Yonge extension was built to carry the very heavy demand pouring into Eglinton Station on buses from the north. The Spadina line was partly to relieve this, and partly to serve Yorkdale Mall not to mention sanitizing the proposed Spadina Expressway corridor. The extension through York University to Vaughan is well documented as a political creation, not the result of planning that would have independently justifed a line that far north.

This transcends politics.

That claim brought a guffaw from host Matt Galloway. The whole project has always been about politics, about being a “subway champion” for Scarborough and telling people how hard you are fighting for what they have been convinced they need.

The fact is that I’ve been supporting this since before I got into public office, for nearly 30 years. Scarborough residents take it very seriously. The subway will fulfill our full potential, and I fight strongly for it.

Actually, Scarborough has very substantial travel demands that have nothing to do with the Town Centre, and the subway won’t help them one bit. Moreover, most people who work at STC don’t originate from areas served by the subway network (or particularly well by transit) and they drive out of preference or because they have no choice.

Duguid and company have painted themselves into a corner by backing an option that is increasingly beyond the level where mutual back-scratching at Council and a hope for peace in the family will bring approval for the project. They’re now stuck having convinced voters that there is only one option, and that if Scarborough doesn’t get it, this will be the rich, elitist, downtown Toronto blocking their manifest destiny.

One might ask the same of City Councillors and the Mayor who short change transit at every opportunity and may even cut service rather than raise taxes and fares to pay the bills in 2017.

Our government already would have contributed 2/3 of the original cost estimate. We are the major contributor, and are unwavering in support. We will give the city the space to determine what the plans might be for the other part of the project – the line to UTSC – but we’re not in a position to commit more money.

In other words, don’t come to Queen’s Park looking for a handout, and if you have to raid the piggybank for the billion you thought you had for the UTSC LRT, then that’s Toronto’s decision. Needless to say, Duguid does not represent the ridings that the LRT would serve.

The real issue here is why a provincial Minister gets away with making such inflammatory statements about a decision which, in theory, is Toronto’s to make. Queen’s Park will spend the same dollars on Scarborough regardless of what is built, but they gingerly avoid commenting on which plan they prefer.

We’re getting almost an announcement a day from the Wynne government about transit expansion, even for some LRT funding, but Queen’s Park has stayed out of the Scarborough debate until now. When the bill comes due for the extra cost of a one-stop subway, when the hoped-for line to UTSC vanishes from the map, will Duguid or Wynne be anywhere to be found?

The Scarborough Subway Fiasco

For the benefit of out-of-town readers who may not follow the moment-to-moment upheavals in Toronto politics, the lastest news about the Scarborough Subway is that it will cost $900 million more than originally forecast, and the Eglinton East LRT line has gone up by $600 million.

Updated 10:45pm June 17: The increase in the Eglinton LRT line’s cost may only be $100m, not $600m. Awaiting further details to confirm this.

No details of the components of these increases have been published yet, but here are the current (as of 6:45 pm on June 17) media reports:

  • The Star: Mayor John Tory accused of ‘political posturing’ as Scarborough transit plans balloon by $1 billion
  • The Globe & Mail: Scarborough subway cost rises by $900-million
  • Torontoist: The Bad Decision on the Scarborough Subway Extension Gets Worse

Earlier this year, the much-touted “optimized” plan for Scarborough changed the subway scheme from a Kennedy to Sheppard line stopping enroute at Lawrence and Scarborough Town Centre (STC), to a one stop extension whose terminus and only station was to be at STC. Money saved by shortening the subway would be directed to the Eglinton East LRT project linking Kennedy Station to University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. [See Scarborough Transit Planning Update]

At this point, the total project cost remained within the original 3-stop subway project’s estimate of $3.56 billion (as spent dollars including inflation) of which the City of Toronto’s share would be $910 million financed primarily by a 1.6% Scarborough Subway property tax over 30 years. The remainder would come from Queen’s Park and Ottawa, but their contributions are fixed and any overruns are on the City’s dime.

Material from this report reappeared in a March update on the overall transit network [see Developing Toronto’s Transit Network Plan: Phase 1] and in the May-June presentations to various public consultation meetings. At no time was the possibility of a cost overrun for the Scarborough network mentioned.

Meanwhile, ridership estimates for Scarborough were revised downward quite drastically with a projected AM peak hour demand of 7,300 inbound from STC station. About half of this would be existing SRT riders and the rest would be net new to the transit system. The May presentation makes a point of defending the lower numbers, but here is what City Planning staff said only a few months earlier in their March report:

Preliminary ridership forecasts … indicate:

  • The options are capable of capturing significant ridership. Daily users range from 115,000 to 147,000 in 2031. Morning peak hour, peak point, peak direction ridership ranges from 13,700 to 17,700.
  • Assuming the McCowan 3 option, the introduction of SmartTrack would reduce ridership on the subway extension to about 109,800 daily users and 12,600 peak hour, peak point, peak direction riders assuming 15-minute SmartTrack service in 2031. Assuming 5-minute SmartTrack service daily users would be about 88,200 and peak hour, peak direction, peak point ridership would be about 9,800 riders. In either case, the peak point ridership would be comparable or higher than that observed today near the terminal points of existing subway lines, with the exception of the Yonge line in the vicinity of Finch station. [p. 32]

During his election campaign, John Tory trumpeted SmartTrack as the one line that would solve every problem claiming very high peak and all day ridership based on service probably three times better than we will ever see. SmartTrack is now proposed with trains every 15 minutes, not every 5, and this has a huge effect on ridership both on ST and on neighbouring lines as the numbers above show.

Planners have been twisting themselves into pretzels trying to justify building a subway with the lower projected demand saying it wouldn’t really work at the higher level because there would be no capacity further downstream for existing riders (similar to the problem we now see south from Finch Station). That’s all very well, but the same planners sold Council with the subway concept by touting the much higher estimates that “justified” subway construction as ridership would be at the edge of what an LRT line could handle.

These two arguments cannot both be right, and it is quite clear that planning numbers either were gerrymandered or that they were simply the product of unreliable analysis. Either way, all future projections are suspect especially if they change conveniently to suit the political needs of the day.

Throughout all of this, there has been no change, until today, in the cost estimates, the other vital factor in deciding between transit options. To put this in context, other studies have turned on amounts in the low hundreds of millions to justify choice of a “cheaper” option, while other projects languish because they are “not affordable”. $1.5 billion is no small change.

Technical issues have now come to light that render the original cost estimates meaningless. According to the Globe:

An analysis in Scarborough showed that the topography would require deeper tunnels in some places. The stations themselves would have to be 45 to 90 per cent deeper than thought, raising their construction costs immensely. And the high water table of the area would require more concrete than expected.

This is not something that was discovered last week. Mayor Tory attempted to pirouette around the cost problems with the idea that somehow the “private sector and others” could find a better way to do things. However, the TTC’s CEO Andy Byford, in a restrained comment, demured. From the Star:

TTC CEO Andy Byford said a third-party already helped with the engineering estimates to look at creative solutions for tunnelling or station design.

“I welcome the suggestion of having a third party at least review our costs because we want to make sure that we’re being as efficient as possible,” Byford said, adding: “I want to deliver the Scarborough subway for the best possible price.”

But asked if it’s realistic to expect hundreds of millions of dollars could be shaved off the costs, Byford said: “I think that would be a challenge.”

Indeed, Byford is now in a difficult position because his political neutrality on the subway vs LRT question cannot survive. Any new money to build the more-expensive plan will have to come at the expense of something else. Already, the TTC Budget Committee meeting where a preliminary “wish list” of funding requests to Ottawa was to appear (Byford said as much during the announcement at Greenwood Yard of DRL funding) was cancelled, and we have no idea just what projects TTC management, let alone the Board, feel should vie for funds. At some point, Byford may have his “Gary Webster moment” at City Council where he should openly state a professional opinion. (The reference is to Byford’s predecessor who was sacked by Rob Ford for having the temerity to oppose the subway plan.)

Nothing has been published beyond the Mayor’s comments to the media, and if there was a prepared statement, it still is not available on his website.

The tunnelling issue noted above is one part of the cost, but there are likely to be others as I have already discussed on this site. The key point is that the TTC has many interlocking projects that must proceed before the Scarborough Subway can open.

There are five projects in the future on BD which have serious interdependencies:

  • T1 replacement
  • ATC
  • Scarborough extension
  • New storage facility
  • One-person train operation

Some are below the line and some are above the line. However, the dates and order of projects don’t align, so to minimize changes and maximize efficiencies the correct order should be:

  • New storage facility (ready for permanent 6 car consists)
  • New trains (ready for ATC)
  • ATC or OPTO (with ATC and OPTO ready trains)
  • ATC or OPTO
  • Scarborough extension

[Email from Mike Palmer (Deputy Chief Operating Officer, responsible for subway operations)]

The new storage facility will likely be near Kipling Station. It will be designed around the physical requirements of the new 6-car trainsets, and it will provide concurrent storage for the new and old fleets.

ATC (Automatic Train Control) is a prerequisite for the Scarborough extension which would be built using that technology. Conversion of the existing line to ATC would, strictly speaking, not be required before the SSE opens, but no T1 trains (the existing fleet) could operate on the extension without an expensive and short-lived retrofit. Hence the need for a new fleet sooner than might otherwise have occured.

OPTO is one person train operation. This cannot go into effect until the trains all have suitable cab equipment to allow an operator at the front of a train to monitor the entire train without assistance from a guard at the rear end.

That’s quite a shopping list as a pre-requisite to the SSE, and the TTC has yet to incorporate these projects fully in its capital budget “above the line” (ie: as funded projects). It is not clear whether the TTC Board or members of Council are aware in detail of these issues either, or how much they might contribute to the added cost for the extension.

As an historical note, in the days before the TTC contemplated a move to ATC, fleet planning was based on the premise that all cars for both lines were interchangeable. The result has been that because the YUS is now fully operated with TR trains and Sheppard is being converted, there is a surplus of the older T1 equipment whose only remaining use is on the BD line. With conventional signalling, the SSE could have opened using this equipment, but that’s not how it will be built, and the fleet plans are in disarray as a result.

Why the LRT line has grown in cost is a mystery. It is unclear whether this arises from design changes or estimating errors, although the scope for such error is much less with a surface route. Either way, the magnitude of the change is substantial, and as with the subway, threatens the credibility of a plan that was sold to Council only months ago. By extension, any other plan the City might put forward is also suspect.

Through all of the consultation, we have heard very little about SmartTrack beyond the probable location of its stations and the likely service level. What we do not know is how much it will cost to build the surviving chunk of the route from Mount Dennis to Unionville. Indeed, there is reason to question going beyond the Toronto border considering that the GO/RER plan will itself bring frequent service to the same area. What we do know about ST is that it will poach riders from parallel routes, and that service expansion beyond a basic 15-minute level involves expensive reconstruction of the rail corridor to provide more capacity. Contary to what Tory’s “experts” told us, the track is not just sitting there for the taking by his signature service.

Of the original $8-billion, some has been saved by discarding the Eglinton West segment, now proposed to be part of the Crosstown project, but we really do not know how much Toronto will have to pony up to implement the ST service.

If nothing else, this whole fiasco should be an object lesson to professional staff who tailor their plans and professional advice too closely to a political agenda. When that agenda is ill-advised, but pushed forward through sheer pig-headedness, the quality of planning cannot help but be tainted along with the credibility of the planner. This is a dangerous game.

Toronto, somehow, survived the Rob Ford era and there was some hope that a credible transit plan might be cobbled together under the new Tory regime. However, Mayor Tory has proved as intransigent about acknowledging he is wrong, that circumstances do not support his plan, as his predecessor. If Toronto had time and money to spare, we might say “this too shall pass”, but we have neither.

Propping up the egos of various politicians, including the notorious Scarborough crew at Council and Queen’s Park, is getting expensive. This is complicated by the fervour with which they exhort subway supporters to demand what Scarborough “deserves”. That too is a dangerous game as there are crazies out there with less than healthy wishes for those who advocate something other than a subway. It’s Trumpism on a local scale – giving license to treat subway critics as people who don’t matter.

During his election campaign, John Tory dismissed SmartTrack critics as naysayers who simply wanted to oppose things for the sake of it. That was bullshit then, and it is today with his comments about those who question his continued support for the subway plan.

On a personal note, I have been fighting for better rapid transit in Toronto suburbs, yes, with an LRT network, something all of the planners once supported, for over forty years. A lot got in the way including provincial interference in technology choice, and economic or political downturns that snuffed out hopes for good transit funding. A lot of Scarborough was farmland when this process started. They are still waiting.