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.

Scarborough Subway Ridership and Development Charges

The Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reports that City Council has approved a confidential settlement with BILD, the Building Industry and Land Development Association, to avoid an Ontario Municipal Board hearing that could lead to rejection of the Bylaw implementing the Development Charges intended to pay for the Scarborough Subway. The matter was before Council in confidential session on June 7, 2016.

Staff miscalculations on the ridership of the Scarborough subway will leave taxpayers on the hook for millions more, after city council voted to settle a dispute with developers.

According to a secret report before council on Tuesday, the contents of which were shared with the Star, the city’s lawyers advised councillors to accept a settlement with the group representing developers, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD).

The settlement, which reduces the amount builders will have to pony up to help finance the subway, is expected to cost the city as much as $6 million in lost revenues.

If the settlement is for only $6 million, the City should consider itself lucky because the calculation underlying the DCs is based on flawed ridership estimates and an out of date network design. Moreover, the original authorization appears to double count subway revenue with both a special Scarborough Subway Tax and Development Charges to recover the same costs.

Recent news of a 50% reduction in expected Scarborough Subway ridership from 14,100 to 7,300 passengers in the AM peak hour reignited political debate on the viability of the subway scheme. However, these numbers are not just hypothetical indicators of how the line might perform, they are integral to the calculation of Development Charges (DCs) that would help to fund the City’s share of this project.

See also my previous articles:

The formula to calculate development charges is complex, but at its heart is one key measure: how much of a new transit project will benefit existing properties versus future development. If the primary role of a new subway is to improve the lot of current riders, then only a minority of its cost can be recouped by DCs (and thus from future purchasers of new properties).

Toronto allocates DCs on a city-wide basis rather than assigning each project only to the neighbourhoods it will directly serve. These charges already help pay for many projects as shown in the introduction to the study establishing the level of new charges for the SSE.

The Council of the City of Toronto passed a Development Charges (DC) By-law, By-law 1347-2013 in October 2013, for the recovery of capital costs associated with meeting the increased needs arising from development. The effective date of the Bylaw was November 1, 2013. The recovery of DCs is on a City-wide basis and relates to a wide range of eligible City services:

  • Spadina Subway Extension
  • Transit
  • Roads and Related
  • Water
  • Sanitary Sewer
  • Storm Water Management
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Library
  • Subsidized Housing
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Development-Related Studies
  • Civic Improvements
  • Child Care
  • Health
  • Pedestrian Infrastructure

For commercial property, there is some justification to this because increased mobility makes travel to jobs simpler well beyond the location of any one project. For example, the Scarborough Subway might be held out as a way to stimulate growth at the Town Centre, but it would also reduce commute times to other parts of Toronto, notably downtown.

For residential property, especially for the large proportion of new development downtown, this link is less clear, and DCs on new condos can wind up funding transit projects of little benefit to the new residents.

This split is part of the eternal battle between sharing the cost of public services across the city and charging them locally or by user group.

In the case of the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE), the split between new and existing beneficiaries was determined by the change in ridership projected with the subway project. The benefit was allocated 61% to new development and 39% to existing riders. The ratio is high because, at the time of the calculation, the projected peak hour ridership for the SSE was estimated at 14,100 compared with a base value of 5,500. Both of these numbers are suspect.

The base value was factored up from actual SRT ridership of 4,000 per hour to 5,500 to represent the load the subway would have had were it to exist in 2015. That value of 4,000 is equivalent to a load of about 240 per train when the peak service was 17.14 trains/hour (3’30” headway) as in 2012. However, by 2013 service had been cut to 13.33 trains/hour (4’30” headway) to reduce equipment requirements on the aging line. That is the service operating today, although a further cut to 12 trains/hour (5’00” headway) is planned for June 20, 2016. Some of the demand that would be on the SRT travels via alternate routes, some is packed into fewer trains, and some has probably been lost to the TTC. What the ridership might be today were the RT not capacity constrained is hard to tell, but it should certainly be higher.

The high value for future subway ridership combines with the low value for presumed current demand to load much of the SSE’s cost onto new development.

The situation is complicated by two competing ridership estimates:

The contexts for the three estimates differ, and this goes some way to explaining why the numbers are so far apart:

  • A line to Sheppard will attract more ridership than one ending at the STC.
  • A subway station at Sheppard, in the absence of improvements to the GO corridor such as RER and SmartTrack, will attract ridership from Markham just as Finch Station does from the Yonge corridor north of Steeles.
  • Removal of the station at Lawrence East, coupled with new GO corridor services, will reduce demand on the subway.

There is no guarantee that the land use, job and population assumptions underlying the three estimates are the same, especially when the highest number was produced in the context of boosting the importance of STC as a growth centre.

What we are left with, however, is the likelihood that the level of DCs allocated for the Scarborough Subway project were based on the most optimistic scenario for new ridership, and a network configuration quite different from what will actually be built. If the calculation had been done on the basis of lower ridership numbers, the DC revenue available to fund the Scarborough Subway would have been considerably lower.

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A Cat’s Cradle of Transit Plans (Updated)

Updated June 6, 2016 at 11:30 pm: The chart of the demand profile for the Eglinton East LRT has been updated by City Planning to correct an error in labelling where inbound and outblound values were reversed. The new chart has been placed into this post, and the link to the source pdf has been updated below.

Public consultation sessions are coming to an end on the “motherlode” of transit projects (as they were described earlier this year by Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat). This process will soon bring a consolidated set of reports and recommendations for Council. So far, the presentations have been subdivided between various projects.

A major challenge for politicians, the media and the general public is to sort out all of these schemes and to understand how they all fit together. This is not just a question of how we will finance all of the projects, but of how each project and the choices made for it will affect everything else. Where typical studies in Toronto might have wrestled with whether a new line should go under street “A” or “B”, and where the stations might be located, today’s work requires understanding of how the network will evolve over time and how it will work as a whole in a few decades.

The process is complicated further by having municipal (City Planning & TTC) and provincial (Metrolinx) components, and the secretive nature of Metrolinx studies means that some vital information about its projects is not yet public. The Metrolinx reports are expected to appear on their Board’s agenda for June 28, and this implies public availability sometime in the preceding week.

The consolidated City reports should be available on June 21 when a briefing session is to occur at City Hall a week before the June 28 Executive Committee meeting.

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Toronto Council Endorses Transit Plan, Seeks Background Details

At its meeting of March 31, 2016, Toronto Council passed several motions relating to the proposed rapid transit plan for the city.These evolved first as a set of staff recommendations, then amendments at the Executive Committee and finally amendments at Council. The changes along the way give a sense of how the attempt at a general approach taken in the new transit plan by staff can be warped into an emphasis on individual projects while losing sight of the overall purpose. This is not new in Toronto’s political theatre, but the city and region are at a crucial time when the “big picture” of the transportation network is essential. The challenge for those who would lead this process is to find a responsible balance between wider priorities and local concerns without making every decision only on political merits.

Many of these motions involve requests for additional reports, and at one point there was some concern about whether city staff could actually handle the workload. One might ask whether the city should be making such important decisions if staff are unable to produce sufficient background material and simply want approval trusting their recommendations. While studying issues to death is a well-known delay tactic, rushing decisions without all the details is a classic method of railroading through decisions the city might regret later. There is certainly nothing wrong with asking for a more thorough study of items that have been omitted, provided that the same requests do not surface over and over again.

If anything, Council has been woefully underinformed on transit options, priorities and tradeoffs, and such an environment “debate” often has little to do with the real world. Will every Councillor read every page of every study? No, but at least the material will be there to answer questions, support the good ideas and counter the dubious schemes. We hear a lot about “evidence based planning”, but this can be a double-edged sword where “evidence” might not support fondly-held proposals.

This article groups Council’s motions by topic so that readers do not have to sort through the relationship of recommendations and amendments.

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TTC Board Meeting Follow-Up: March 23, 2016

The TTC Board met on March 23. In earlier articles, I have already reviewed the agenda, and discussed ridership statistics.

Arising from the debate on ridership, the Board passed a motion to revisit the whole issue of actively pursuing ridership growth. The motion by Commissioner Shelley Carroll reads:

That TTC staff report back to the Commission by the third quarter of 2016 with a development plan for a comprehensive multi-year strategy to address current ridership stagnation and to achieve a steady rate of ridership growth annually thereafter.

This is particularly important going into the 2017 budget year when there will be pressure to accommodate both the start of new expenses for the Spadina subway extension (TYSSE) and strong growth in the Wheel-Trans budget. Debates and decisions about which options might be pursued to improve transit and attract riders need to have more background than the annual need for politicians to have something to announce. At the very least, changes should be thought out with specific benefits beyond the photo ops.

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