Feeling Congested Part 2: Setting Priorities

The City of Toronto’s Planning Department is consulting with the public for the development of an updated Official Plan.  The plan’s transportation component falls under the rubric of “Feeling Congested” with a website devoted mainly to transit issues.  In the first round of meetings, the focus was on “what is important”, what goals should the new plan try to achieve.  In the second round, the topic is the prioritization of goals and how these might drive out different choices in a future network.

This parallels work that Metrolinx is doing on their Big Move plan, but it includes additional options for study that are city initiatives such as transit to serve the waterfront.

A survey now in progress (until June 30) seeks feedback on the evaluation criteria for transit projects, and also for the goals of the cycling plans.  Some of this makes more sense if one first reads the toolkit, but even then the presentation will leave skeptics unhappy because there is no link to the detailed study explaining how the proposed criteria have been measured for each of proposals.  (A summary chart on page 14 does not include the subcategories within each of the eight criteria that generated the total scores .)

Even with this background, an exercise asking whether the methodology is sound seems to be an odd way to survey public attitudes without a stronger discussion of the implications for a preferred network.  This is rather like discussing the colour of a magician’s hat rather than the effect this might have on the rabbit he pulls out of it (or if there’s even a rabbit at all).

Continue reading

Kingston Road Construction News

The City of Toronto has issued a preliminary notice of the reconstruction of Kingston Road from Queen Street to Victoria Park Avenue.  This work will take place starting in June 2013 through to December and will include replacement of all the streetcar track.

This is the last major piece of track in regular service to be rebuilt to new standards introduced almost 20 years ago.  (Downtown tracks on Victoria, York, Richmond and Wellington will be replaced over the 2013 and 2014 construction seasons.)

Past and Future Streetcar Service Capacity

Now that the first Low Floor Light Rail Vehicle (LFLRV) is rolling through Toronto streets on test runs, the question of service quality and capacity for streetcar routes is once again an issue.

The most recent TTC document setting out their intended use of the new fleet appeared in the 2013 Capital Budget Blue Books.  These are not available online, but I presented the TTC’s fleet plan in an article last fall.  From the numbers of vehicles to be assigned to each route, one can work back to the service frequency and capacity numbers.  In general, peak period headways get a bit wider, but the capacity goes up, in some cases dramatically.

The TTC faces two challenges: one on the budget, and one in operations.

Toronto Council has been extremely stingy with operating subsidies and “flat lined” the TTC over the past two budget cycles.  Hard liners will want the TTC to simply replace service on an equivalent capacity basis and maximize the savings in operator costs.  This would be a disaster for service quality even if the TTC actually ran cars on the headways they advertise.

On the operational side, any increase in headways brings even wider gaps when the service is upset by weather, random delays and short turns.  It is already a matter of record that the largest drop in riding over the past two decades came on the lines where 50-foot long CLRVs (the standard Toronto cars) were replaced by 75-foot long ALRVs (the articulated version) on an equivalent capacity basis.  Falling riding led to reduced service and the familiar downward spiral.  This must not happen when the new fleet rolls out across the system.

Since at least the mid-1990s, the TTC has told us that they cannot improve streetcar service because they have no spare cars.  In part, they are the victims of their own fleet planning.  The TTC originally rebuilt some of its old PCC cars (the fleet preceding the current one) in order to have enough to expand operations on the Harbourfront and Spadina lines.  However, by the mid-1990s, service cuts on many routes thanks to the economic downturn in that decade and the subsidy cuts by the Harris government, reduced the fleet requirements to the point where the PCCs could be retired and the Spadina line opened without buying any new cars.  When riding started to grow again, the TTC had no spare vehicles to improve service, and to make matters worse, the fleet was entering a period of lower reliability thanks, in part, to poor design.

Toronto waited a long time for new cars to be ordered, and this process was delayed both by the decision to go with all low-floor cars, and by political meddling at City Hall.  New residential construction along the streetcar lines pushes up demand, but the TTC cannot respond with better service until they have more cars.

Recent discussions about the new cars have included comments about how we cannot possibly have more streetcars on the road.  What many people forget is that the streetcar services were once much better than today.  In this article, I will look back at service levels once operated in Toronto, and at the service that we might see if the TTC actually operates the new fleet in the manner their Fleet Plan claims.

Continue reading

OneCity Plan Reviewed

The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.

The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme.  Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling.  A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.

On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built.  Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled.  Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance.  Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.

Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic).  Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion.  If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto.  Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.

On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project.  Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.

Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power.  Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight.  A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.

Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy.  Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not.  Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.

In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3.  If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.

The briefing package for OneCity is available online.

My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.

To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.

Continue reading

“One City” To Serve Them All

Updated June 27 at 5:20pm:  I have written a political analysis of today’s announcement for the Torontoist website that will probably go live tomorrow morning.  A line-by-line review of the plan will go up here later the same day.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Vice-Chair Glen De Baeremaeker will formally announce a new plan called “One City” on June 27 at 10:30.

The plan already has coverage on the Star and Globe websites.  Maps:  Globe Star

I will comment in more detail after their press conference, but two points leap off the page at me:

  • The proposed funding scheme for the $30-billion plan presumes 1/3 shares from each of the Provincial and Federal governments.  This money is extremely unlikely to show up, especially Ottawa’s share.  From Queen’s Park, some of the funding is from presumed “commitments” to current projects such as the Scarborough RT/LRT conversion which would be replaced by a subway extension.  The rest is uncertain.
  • The “plan” is little more than a compendium of every scheme for transit within the 416 that has been floated recently in various quarters (including this blog).  What is notable is the fact that glitches in some of the existing ideas (notably the fact that the Waterfront East line ends at Parliament) are not addressed.  The whole package definitely needs some fine tuning lest it fall victim to the dreaded problem of all maps — once you draw them, it’s almost impossible to change them.

For those who keep an eye on political evolution, the brand “One City” surfaced in April 2012 in a speech made by Karen Stintz at the Economic Club of Canada.  This idea of a new, unifying transit brand appears to have been cooking for some time.

Buses vs LRT: “And”, Not “Or” (Updated)

Updated September 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm:

Anna Mehler Paperny of the Globe and Mail writes about the difficulties of getting around on a bus network where service leaves much to be desired.

The better way? Don’t get Janet Fitzimmons started.

The East Scarborough resident lives less than five kilometres from her work in the Kingston Road-Galloway Road area. But the bus ride takes a good 40 minutes – once the Lawrence Avenue bus comes, if it isn’t full. If the weather’s nice, her commute is faster by foot.

“But I’m lucky: I’m able-bodied and healthy.” And, she adds, “my commute isn’t bad for Scarborough.” A colleague of hers takes three buses to traverse what’s barely a seven-kilometre direct trek.

Meanwhile, Tyler Hamilton of The Star tells of the travails of attempting to use service on Kingston Road in The Beach.

Last Tuesday I needed to head downtown – Bay St. and King St. – for an event. […] It was rush hour. I seemed to have plenty of time, so I decided to take the 503 Kingston Rd. streetcar route. Checked the schedule. Walked to my stop and arrived what I thought was 10 minutes early.

No streetcar. Twenty minutes later, no streetcar.

This is rush hour, remember. Finally a bus that would take me along Queen St. arrived and the driver encouraged me to get on. “The 503 won’t be coming. Take Queen St.,” he says. “It will get you close. Hop on.”

I hop on. A man sitting across from me leans over and says, “TTC, eh… it means take the car.” I offer a forced chuckle. The bus drives along Kingston Rd. for five minutes and then reaches Queen St. “Time to get off,” the driver says. Huh? I join a herd of passengers exiting the bus. Apparently I should have known about transferring onto a Queen St. streetcar.

Confused, I wait. I wait. I don’t see a streetcar. I see a cab. Hail it. It will be worth the $20 at this point – enough money, mind you, to drive half a month in my Honda Civic.

I share my frustration with the cab driver. “The TTC is good for the cab business,” he replies with a smile.

Of course, a regular rider would know that there is no such thing as a 503 car, at least not until September 7 when streetcar service returns to Kingston Road.  The scheduled bus service is every 12 minutes on the 502 and 503 providing a supposedly blended 6 minute headway.  Take the first thing that comes along if you’re going downtown.  If it’s a 502, change to the King car at Broadview if you want King rather than Queen Street.  This is the sort of survival tip a regular will know, but a novice won’t.

By the way, the streetcar services will run every 15 minutes, with an allegedly combined service of 7’30”.  Don’t hold your breath.  A big problem with both of these routes is that they are short-turned and wind up missing the very customers they are intended to serve.

Add to this the appalling off-peak service and you have a recipe for driving away customers.  The 502 bus or streetcar is scheduled every 20 minutes, but only a few days ago I waited 36 minutes for one to show up.  I had not just missed one, and so the gap was easily over 40 minutes.  By the time we reached Queen Street westbound, we had a light standing load even on that wide headway, and we had also passed two eastbound 502s.  That’s right:  3 of the 4 buses on the route were east of Coxwell.  This is called “line management”.

The real irony is that the 12 Kingston Road bus comes and goes at Bingham Loop every 10 minutes.  There is better service east of Victoria Park than west of it on weekdays.  Evening and weekend service on the 22A Coxwell is better than on the 502.  This is one of the few places in the TTC where weekday service is worse than at any other time, and that’s assuming the weekday service is vaguely on schedule.

An important part of improving bus services generally is that the TTC must stop thinking of the outer parts of lines as places where short turns and unpredictable, infrequent service are acceptable.

Continue reading

Service Changes Effective May 9, 2010

Construction diversions on several routes will begin or continue in May.

504 King and 508 Lake Shore: 

King cars will continue turning back at Roncesvalles and Queen, but will reach there via Shaw and Queen Streets.  Watermain construction which last year caused Roncesvalles to be torn up last year moves to King between Ronces and Jameson.

The 504 shuttle bus will be rerouted and extended to run between Shaw and Dundas West Station bothways via Roncesvalles looping via Strachan, Douro and Shaw.

No date has been set yet for resumption of streetcar service on Roncesvalles, but this is expected to be in the late fall.  The diversion via Queen and Shaw is expected to last to the end of August 2010.

502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper

The reconstruction of Bingham Loop, deferred from 2009, will occur this summer.  Buses will replace streetcars over both routes until mid-August.

Replacement bus services will loop via Victoria Park, Meadow and Blantyre to Kingston Road.  The peak service on both routes will be improved from 7’30” to 6’00”, but offpeak service on the 502 will remain at 20′.

22 Coxwell and 70 O’Connor

Reconstruction of the bus loop at Coxwell station requires the removal of all bus service.  Routes 22 and 70 will interline, and all of the “O’Connor” service will run through to Queen or to Victoria Park depending on the time of day.

Existing interlines between the O’Connor, Gerrard and McCowan routes will be discontinued during this period.

72 Pape

Construction at Pape Station requires that the Pape bus be rerouted to loop at Donlands Station.  Passengers transferring to this route from the subway at Pape will do so using on street stops.  This diversion will last until the end of 2010.

The seasonal extension to Cherry Beach will operate during the evenings Monday to Friday, and all day on weekends and holidays.  This will run until Labour Day.

512 St. Clair

The mixed streetcar and bus operation on St. Clair is expected to last until the latter part of June 2010 at which point the TTC hopes to restore streetcar service to Gunn’s Loop.

509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina

The seasonal fare collection scheme on Queen’s Quay will be in effect until Labour Day.  No fares will be collected eastbound on Queen’s Quay between Bathurst and Union Station on weekends after 3 pm, and there will be collectors stationed in the tunnel linking the Union Station Loop to the subway.

One PCC car will operate on the Harbourfront route on Sundays until September 5, 2010 between 1130 and 1930.  This will run as an extra, and will be subject to availability of both a car and an operator.

Seasonal Route Extensions

  • 72 Pape to Cherry Beach (see above)
  • 28 Davisville to the Brick Works
  • 29 Dufferin to Ontario Place (service south of Dufferin Loop will be split between the 29B Ontario Place and 29D Princes Gate branches)
  • 86 Scarborough to the Zoo
  • 85 Sheppard East to the Zoo
  • 510 Spadina King short turn extended to Queen’s Quay on weekends
  • 165 Weston Road North to Wonderland

Other Route Changes

  • 25 Don Mills service north of Steeles removed (York Region request)
  • 29 Dufferin trial service in Exhibition Place rerouted to operate via Manitoba Drive, Canada Drive, Princes’ Blvd., Nunavut Rd., and Nova Scotia Ave to Manitoba Drive.
  • 224 Victoria Park North service extended to Elgin Mills (York Region request)
  • 96B Wilson route changed via Claireville Drive
  • 96C Wilson service removed from Thistledown Blvd. early mornings and late evenings

Service Level Changes

Many route have new schedules starting on May 9 primarily for seasonal changes in demand.  The details are in a spreadsheet linked below.

2010.05 Service Changes

Transit City Revisited (Part III, Updated)

(Updated at 3:00 pm, February 1.  I omitted a section on the proposed Sheppard subway extensions to Downsview and to Scarborough Town Centre.  This has been added.)

In this, the final installment of my review of Transit City, I will look at the unfunded (or underfunded) TTC transit projects.  Some of these spur passionate debates and the occasional pitched battle between advocates of various alternatives.  There are two vital points to remember through all of this:

  • Having alternatives on the table for discussion is better than having nothing at all.  It’s very easy to spend nothing and pass the day on comparatively cheap debates.  The current environment sees many competing visions, but most of them are transit visions.  The greatest barrier lies in funding.  Governments love endless debate because they don’t have to spend anything on actual construction or operations.  Meanwhile, auto users point to the lack of transit progress and demand more and wider roads.
  • Transit networks contain a range of options.  They are not all subways or all buses or all LRT.  Some are regional express routes while others address local trips.  Most riders will have to transfer somewhere, even if it is from their car in a parking lot to a GO train.  The challenge is not to eliminate transfers, but to make them as simple and speedy as possible.

I will start with the unfunded Transit City lines, and then turn to a range of other schemes and related capital projects. Continue reading