Infrastructure Ontario’s April 2021 Update

Infrastructure Ontario issues quarterly updates about the projects it is managing for P3 procurement, and I have been tracking the transportation items on this site. Their April 2021 Market Update came out on April 8, but I have been waiting for clarification of some issues before posting here.

Here is a spreadsheet tracking changes in project status since these updates began.

Items highlighted in yellow have changed since the last update.

Note that this report only covers the procurement portions of Metrolinx projects that are undertaken through Infrastructure Ontario. Contracts that are in construction, or are directly tendered and managed through Metrolinx outside of the P3 model, do not appear here.

Ontario Line, Line 1 North Extension (Richmond Hill Subway), Line 4 Sheppard East Subway

There are no changes to these projects in this update.

Line 2 East Extension (Scarborough Subway)

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. The contract for the remainder of the project (stations etc.) enters the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) stage this spring/summer, but contract execution is not expected until spring 2023.

Note that vehicles for the extension will be procured as part of a TTC order for fleet expansion and renewal that does not show up in the IO updates.

Line 5 Eglinton West Extension

As previously announced, the tunneling contract gets underway this spring. There is no date yet for the remainder of the project to enter the RFQ stage.

GO Expansion Projects

Metrolinx came up with a new term for procurement, the “alliance” model where more responsibility for the project is shifted back onto Metrolinx as owner rather than expecting bidders to take on a substantial project risk. This showed up in the Union Station platform expansion project early in 2020.

In this round of updates, things appear to have gone a step further. Three projects (Lake Shore East and West Corridors, and the Milton Corridor) are reduced in dollar value. I asked Infrastructure Ontario about this, and they replied:

Since the previous Market Update (Dec 2020), there have been some changes in scope of work for these projects. Items which have been descoped may be carried out by Metrolinx in the future under separate, traditionally-procured contracts. The intent is to better manage risks and costs with respect to the GO Expansion program.

As these projects remain in procurement, we will provide further updates this spring/summer.

Email from Ian McConachie, IO Media Relations, April 9, 2021

Specific changes by corridor:

CorridorChange (per Infrastructure Ontario)Previous CostUpdated Cost
Lakeshore WestDescoping of Exhibition Station in-corridor enhancement works and track improvements, Clarkson Station and Bronte Station in-corridor enhancement works.$500M-$1B$200-500M
Lakeshore East-Central Descoping of Scarboro Golf Club Works and 2.5km of grading (previously part of LSE-E) and deferral of Highland Creek Expansion $200-499M$100-200M
Milton Descoping of Station Operations West Facility and replacing the pedestrian tunnel with a pedestrian bridge. $100-199M< $100M

The project formerly called “Milton Corridor” is now called “Milton Station”.

A separate project line, Lakeshore East-West Corridor, dropped off of the IO Update in mid-2020. The project was transferred to Metrolinx for delivery as a non-P3 contract.

The comment about “better manage risks and costs” is telling here, and it implies that the P3 model has not worked out as favourably as hoped for all of Metrolinx’ work. In some cases it is simpler and cheaper to just go out and buy/build something yourself than to set up elaborate machinery for others to do this for you.

Notably the $10B GO “ON-Corr” project which entails a complete restructuring of GO including future operation, maintenance and electrification has not changed status in a year. With GO’s ridership uncertain in the near term, projecting just what Metrolinx might ask a P3 to undertake, let alone contracting for it, is like peering into a very cloudy crystal ball.

TTC Transit Expansion Update

At its February 10, 2021 meeting, the TTC Board receive a long report entitled Transit Network Expansion.

The raison-d’être for the report is to obtain the authorization to increase staffing by 34 positions that would be funded by Metrolinx, but would be part of the TTC’s stucture. Many aspects of projects underway by Metrolinx depend on TTC input and acceptance because they affect lines the TTC will operate and, at least partly, maintain. A new Transit Expansion Assurance Department within Engineering & Construction. The authorization include provision for temporary expansion beyond 34 should this be required.

This move is intriguing because it implies Metrolinx has accepted that it cannot build new lines completely on their own without TTC input, especially when they will operate as part of the TTC network.

The report also requests authorization for:

[…] the Chief Executive Officer, in consultation with the City Manager, City of Toronto where applicable, to negotiate a Master Agreement and/or other applicable Agreements with the Province and/or any other relevant provincial agency for the purposes of the planning, procurement, construction, operations, and maintenance of the Subway Program, in accordance with Board and City Council direction, and to report back to the Board on the results of such negotiations. [pp. 2-3]

There is a great deal more involved in building and operating transit projects than holding a press conference with little more than a nice map. Now comes the hard part of actually doing the work. Whether Metrolinx will negotiate in good faith remains to be seen, but the TTC and Toronto appear to be less willing to hide Metrolinx’ faults in light of the Presto screwups.

Another recommendation has a hint that all is not well with consultations, as that should be any surprise to those who deal regularly with Metrolinx.

Request Metrolinx to conduct meaningful engagement with the TTC’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) as part of the Project Specific Output Specification (PSOS) review and design review for all projects within the provincial programs. [p. 3]

The operative word here is “meaningful”. ACAT has already complained of difficulties with Metrolinx including such basics as poorly designed elevators on the Eglinton Crosstown line that cannot be “fixed” because they have already been ordered.

Right from the outset, the TTC claims to have a significant role, a very different situation from the days when Metrolinx claimed it would be easy for them to take over the subway system.

The TTC continues to play a key role in the planning, technical review, and implementation of all major transit expansion projects in Toronto and the region. These include the Toronto Light Rail Transit Program and the provincial priority subway projects, referred to collectively as the “Subways Program”: the Ontario Line; the Scarborough Subway Extension; the Yonge North Subway Extension; and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. [p. 1]

In support of the staffing request, the report goes into great detail on many projects:

Two projects are not listed among the group above, but there is a description buried in the section on Bloor-Yonge expansion.

  • Overall subway system capacity and service expansion
  • Any discussion of the Line 2 renewal project

There is no discussion at all about renewal and expansion of surface service. This is just as important as new lines, but it is not seen as “expansion” with the political interest and funding that brings. Yes, this is a “rapid transit” report, but the core network of subway lines dies without the surface feeder routes, and many trips do not lie conveniently along rapid transit corridors.

The map below shows the location of most of the projects, but there are some odd inclusions and omissions.

  • The RapidTO bus corridors are not included.
  • City-funded GO stations at St. Clair/Old Weston, Lansdowne, King/Liberty, East Harbour and Finch/Kennedy are shown.
  • GO funded stations at Woodbine Racetrack, Mount Dennis, Caledonia and Park Lawn are shown.
  • The planned improvement at between TTC’s Dundas West and GO’s Bloor station is not shown, nor is any potential link between Main and Danforth stations.
  • SmartTrack stations are shown, but there is no discussion of how GO or ST service would fit into the overall network.

The following two maps have attracted a lot of attention, although they do not tell the full story. Much as I am a streetcar/LRT advocate, the presence of the entire streetcar network here is misleading, especially in the absence of the RapidTO proposals. Some of the streetcar lines run in reserved lanes, although thanks to overly generous scheduling some of them are no faster than the mixed-traffic operations they replaced (notably St. Clair). However, most of these routes rank equivalently to the bus network in terms of transit priority. If we are going to show the streetcar lines, why not the 10-minute network of key bus route?

The map is also distorted by having different and uneven scales in both directions. The size of downtown is exaggerated while other areas are compressed.

For example, the distance from Queen to Bloor is, in reality, half that of Bloor to Eglinton and one quarter of Eglinton to Finch. It is also one quarter of the distance from Yonge west to Jane or east to Victoria Park. For comparison, the TTC System Map is to scale, and it shows the city in its actual rectangular form.

This map gives an impression of coverage, but masks the size of the gaps between routes as one moves away from the core. Bus riders know all about those gaps.

By 2031, the network is hoped to look something like this. No BRT proposals are shown, but we do see the waterfront extensions west to Dufferin, and east to Broadview (East Harbour). Also missing are the GO corridors which, by 2031, should have frequent service and (maybe) attractive fares. They are (or should be) as much a part of “Future Rapid Transit” as the TTC routes.

This map is trying to do too much and too little at the same time. It also reveals a quite selective view of “regional” transit.

I am not trying to argue for a map that shows every detail, but it should exist (a) in scale and (b) in formats with overlays showing major parts of the network and how they relate to the overall plan. When people concentrate on the pretty coloured lines, they tend to forget the other equally important parts of the network.

Continue reading

Waterfront East LRT Virtual Public Meeting

Updated February 16, 2021 at 10:00 pm: The discussion of the new design for Union Station has been updated with additional info from the Waterfront Transit Team describing the smoke control design of the station as well as a clarifying of the change in elevation of the tracks. Thanks to them for these details.

Updated February 18, 2021 at 6:00 pm: Additional and revised drawings from the public presentation on February 17 have been added to this article.

Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto and the TTC will hold an online public meeting on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm with updates on design work for the eastern leg of the Waterfront LRT to Cherry Street and associated changes to Queens Quay East.

The presentation deck for this meeting is online, and there are introductory videos by Nigel Tahair, the program manager in City Planning, available from the project’s website. All drawings in this article are taken from that presentation, or from the condensed version used at the public meeting.

[Full disclosure: I have participated in Advisory Committee meetings for this project, but have not published info from these discussions as they were works in progress.]

This project has been in the works for a very long time. When the Cherry Street service began in June 2016 (itself the subject of a long design process for the West Don Lands), the intent was always to continue south and link up with a line on Queens Quay East. Design work for that branch of the LRT is finally underway. Along the way it has been diverted by issues such as appropriate method of linking Union Station to the waterfront, development options in the Cherry/Queens Quay neighbourhood and the role of the proposed Ontario Line.

The current work arises from a motion at Executive Committee on December 10, 2020:

City Council direct the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning and the Executive Director, Transit Expansion Office to report back on the recommended schedule and funding requirements for the Union Station to Queens Quay Link and the East Bayfront Light Rail Transit section of the Waterfront Transit Network, including phasing options and an updated business case, as part of an update on Waterfront Transit Network priorities prior to the 2022 Budget process.”

Project Scope

The study covers three segments of the line:

  • Area 1: The existing Bay Street tunnel and the future junction at Bay & Queens Quay.
  • Area 2A: The original scope of the surface section extending to just east of Parliament Street.
  • Area 2B: The extended surface section from east of Parliament and north to Distillery Loop on Cherry Street.

Note that in the map below, the alignment of Cherry Street is the “new” street that will be built as part of new Port Lands across what will become Villiers Island. The new street jogs west south of the Gardiner Expressway rather than east.

Because expertise in underground construction lies with the TTC, they are designing Area 1. Waterfront Toronto is responsible for Area 2.

The study is also looking at staging options that could extend the scope south and east into the Port Lands.

Continue reading

Eglinton East & Waterfront LRT Updates

Toronto’s Executive Committee considered a report on the current status of the Eglinton East LRT and Waterfront East LRT projects at its meeting on December 10, 2020.

The primary function of this report is to authorize continued study, not to set priorities nor to discuss funding schemes. As such, its recommendations passed easily because it preserves the convenient fiction of progress without actual commitment. The real battles come when there are $30 billion worth of transit projects and less than $10 billion to pay for them.

In a beautifully ironic touch, the same morning brought news from the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro that the Scarborough RT would not last long enough to avoid a shutdown well before the Scarborough Subway could be completed. That announcement raises a raft of questions about Toronto’s transit future that go well beyond Scarborough itself, and I will turn to those issues in a separate article.

Continue reading

Eglinton Crosstown Delayed Again (Updated)

This article was updated at 2:00 pm on October 2, 2020 to include remarks from Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. Scroll down the end of the article to see the update.

In the Toronto Star, Ben Spurr reports that the opening date for the Crosstown line has been delayed five months to 2022, and even then it will open in stages.

New report says the Eglinton Crosstown LRT could open five months late — and without its Eglinton stop

Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency overseeing the project, conceded earlier this year that the $5.3-billion, 19-kilometre LRT across midtown won’t be finished by the previously announced deadline of September 2021. Metrolinx says it now expects the line to open sometime in 2022, but a firm date hasn’t been set.

But according to a new report, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the private group contracted by the province to build the line, has floated a plan for a phased opening. It would see most of the LRT in service by Feb. 28, 2022, with the exception of Eglinton station, which wouldn’t be fully complete until September 2022.

Source: Toronto Star

Construction watchers might see this as a confirmation of what they see looking at slow progress at key sites, but there are more important issues at work here.

The news came not from Metrolinx itself, but from a notice from Moody’s Canada that it was downgrading its rating outlook for Crosslink Transit Solutions “to negative from stable owing to the likely delay in the completion of the Eglinton LRT Project”. The rating of CTS debt is not changed, only the outlook for potential updates.

At issue is the question of how much of this delay’s cost will fall to the P3 partner CTS and how much to Metrolinx and the Government of Ontario. To the degree that CTS must absorb this, their financial situation would be weakened.

An intriguing point in this announcement is that the value of affected debt is cited as $731.9-million (Canadian), a relatively small part of the total project cost. The entire P3 concept was sold on the basis that financial risk would be transferred from the Province to its partners.

According to the Star, CTS has claimed extra costs for a variety of delays such as unexpected conditions at Eglinton Station and labour constraints due to the pandemic. Metrolinx denies these claims, but if they eventually do pay out, it would not be the first time.

Various dates are cited by the Star for the line’s opening:

  • February 28, 2022: The date for opening most of the line, except Eglinton Station, according to Moody’s report
  • May 2022: Completion of most of Eglinton Station
  • Fall 2022: Direct connection to the existing subway station opens

What is not clear is whether the February date includes provision for testing and acceptance of the nearly-completed line by Metrolinx.

Between May 2022 and opening of the subway link, passengers would have to transfer by walking on Eglinton between the existing subway entrance and a new entrance building to the LRT station.

For some time, the Metrolinx page for the Crosstown project cited an expected completion of 2021, but in March 2020 this was changed to 2022. This problem has been brewing for some time. Spurr reported the delay in February 2020 (see Eglinton Crosstown faces another setback, delayed until 2022).

The original target for substantial completion of the contract was September 2021, but there is an 18-month window to the “long stop date” when the agreement could be terminated. Now, only six months remain in that window. What exactly Metrolinx would face if they pulled the plug is unknown, but this would leave a nearly complete line tangled in legal problems.

The TTC and City of Toronto face ongoing costs for the service implications of the construction project, but this would be offset by a delay in the point where Metrolinx would begin billing the City for the line’s operation and maintenance (the TTC will only be directly responsible for part of this work).

“Metrolinx is focused on ensuring that (Crosslinx) fully meets its obligations to deliver a system as soon as possible — a system that is complete, fully tested and ready to provide high quality, safe and reliable service to our customers,” said Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster in a stern statement.

He said Crosslinx “has not achieved necessary production rates to achieve the original project schedule” and Metrolinx “will continue to hold (the consortium) accountable for these delays.”

Source: Toronto Star

Metrolinx may take a hard line attitude to non-performance by CTS, but more than bluster will be needed to achieve project completion. The expected June 2022 provincial election will bring considerable pressure to provide a ribbon cutting for Premier Ford at whatever cost is necessary.

Updated October 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Metrolinx has issued a statement from CEO Phil Verster through the Metrolinx Blog.

This includes the following comments:

Transit projects are delivered on-time when the contractor achieves the production rates they committed to and only through the proper management of their own logistics and operations. In the case of Eglinton Crosstown, our building partner, Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS), has not achieved necessary production rates to maintain the original project schedule that they committed to in their bid.

Any suggestion, like the one made in the Moody’s Credit Opinion, that the line could be considered ready to open without the ability for passengers to get on or off at the flagship station at Yonge and Eglinton, where tens of thousands of passengers will transfer on a daily basis between the Eglinton Crosstown and the TTC Line 1 Subway, is completely a distraction and is not in line with the obligations CTS took on when it signed the contract.

It is imperative that CTS now focuses on getting the project completed, including Eglinton Station, to the highest quality standards.

Source: Metrolinx Blog

It is clear from this statement that Metrolinx is taking a hard-line attitude to the current state of the project. Whether this will provoke improved performance by the CTS consortium, or create a logjam in negotiations remains to be seen.

This is among Metrolinx’ largest projects, and if the P3 is unable to deliver as promised, this will undermine the credibility of this method of project delivery. However, what could also happen is that industry’s appetite for such undertakings and especially for assumption of risk may be reduced threatening the bidding process for other projects including rapid transit lines and GO expansion.

Drifting Timelines on Metrolinx Projects (Updated)

Updated June 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm: The table of projects has been updated to include anticipated events, notably “financial close” dates, that were included in various project announcements by Infrastructure Ontario. Also Union Station Platform Expansion was described in the original version of this article as closing sooner than originally projected. This has been corrected to show a delay of roughly nine months.

Infrastructure Ontario recently released its Spring 2020 Update for P3 projects under its control including several Metrolinx projects. To date there have been three of these updates:

These updates include information on the project status, the type of procurement model, and the expected progress of each project through the procurement process. This provides “one stop shopping” compared to Metrolinx’ own site. As a convenience to readers, I have consolidated the three updates as they relate to transit projects to allow easy comparison between versions.

Some projects have evolved since the first version, and in particular the delivery dates for a few projects have moved further into the future. The “financial close” dates for some projects, in effect the point at which a contract is signed and real work can begin, has moved beyond the date of the next Provincial election. Whatever government is in power after summer 2022 will have a final say on whether these projects go ahead.

Subway Projects

Ontario Line

The Ontario Line was previously reported as a single project with a price tag of over $10 billion. In the Fall 2019 update, the intent was to have the financial close in Winter/Spring 2022 ahead of the election. In the Winter 2020 update, this changed to Spring 2022.

In the Spring 2020 update, the project has been split into separate parts to reflect industry feedback about the original scope.

  1. GO Corridor from Don River to Gerrard
  2. South Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations CNE to Don River
  3. Rolling Stock, System Operations & Maintenance
  4. North Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations

The GO corridor work will be done as a conventional procurement by Metrolinx and will be bundled with upgrades to GO Transit trackage.

The financial close for items 2 and 3 above is now Fall 2022, and for item 4 it is Fall 2023.

This means that an actual sign-on-the-dotted-line commitment to the project will not be within the current government’s mandate. Even the so-called “early works” comprising the southern portion of the route from Exhibition to the Don River is not scheduled to close until Fall 2022. The northern portion, from Gerrard to Eglinton will close in Fall 2023. This contract is being held back pending results for the south contract to determine the industry’s appetite for the work.

The southern portion, with a long tunnel through downtown and stations in congested street locations would start first. However, the line cannot actually open without the northern portion because this provides the link to the maintenance facility which is included as part of item 3 above although the actual access connection would be built as part of item 4.

An issue linking all of these projects is the choice of technology which, in turn drives decisions such as tunnel and station sizes, power supply, signalling and maintenance facility design. When the Ontario Line was a single project, Metrolinx could say that this choice was up to the bidders, but now there must be some co-ordination to ensure that what is built can actually be used to operate the selected technology. It is hardly a secret that Metrolinx is promoting a SkyTrain like technology, although which propulsion scheme (LIM vs rotary motors) is not clear. There are well-known problems with LIMs and the power pickup technology used on the SRT, and this would also be a consideration for the outdoor portions of the Ontario Line.

Scarborough Subway Extension

Like the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Extension has been split into two pieces. The first will be the tunnel contract from Kennedy Station to McCowan. This is now in the  procurement phase, and financial close is projected for Spring 2021.

The remainder of the project previously had a projected closing date of “Winter/Spring 2023”, but this is now just “2023”. With the tunnel hived off into a separate contract, it is reasonable that the remainder would have a later start date because the tunnel is a key component that must be in place first.

Metrolinx recently published a Preliminary Business Case for this extension. It includes the following text:

Kennedy Station Pocket Track/Transition Section

The Kennedy transition section extends roughly 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue and will include special track work and a pocket track to enable every second subway train to short turn to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs. [p 24]

This turnback has been an on-again, off-again part of the project but it is now clearly included as a cost saving measure. With only every second train running to Sheppard/McCowan, the fleet required (as well as storage) would be within the system’s current capacity. This ties in with the timing of the T1 fleet replacement on Line 2 as there are enough T1s to run alternate, but not full service to Sheppard. This would be similar to the arrangement now used on the TYSSE where only half of the AM peak service runs north of Glencairn Station to Vaughan.

Richmond Hill Subway Extension

The Ontario government recently signed an agreement with York Region for the extension of the Yonge line from Finch to Richmond Hill. The status of this project is unchanged with an RFQ to be issued in Fall 2021, an RFP in Spring 2022 and financial close in Fall 2023.

Sheppard East Subway Extension

This project remains in the planning phase.

Continue reading

TTC Board Meeting June 17, 2020

The TTC Board met on June 17, 2020 with several items on their agenda. Chief among these was recovery plan for the transit system as the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown recede and transit demand builds.

Updated June 18, 2020 at 1:30 pm: Charts from the service recovery presentation that were originally taken as screen captures from the meeting video have been replaced with higher resolution versions.

CEO’s Report

Many of the usual metrics for system performance are meaningless in the Covid-19 era because service and ridership are completely different from original budget forecasts. Even the “on time” statistics fail because the TTC reports this relative to scheduled times, not as a measure of service reliability. Detailed ridership tracking was reported separately under the Covid recovery report (below).

CEO Rick Leary reported that modifications to the operator’s area on buses are in development including extension of the plastic barrier forward to the windshield and altering airflow within the cab to be a “positive pressure” area where air is always pushing out rather than being drawn in from the main passenger area.

As reported elsewhere, the TTC is taking advantage of lower demand to accelerate capital and maintenance programs. The northern part of the Yonge subway (Line 1) will be closed for various periods during coming weeks including:

  • Sat/Sun June 20/21 all day: Sheppard-Yonge to St. Clair for Metrolinx construction at Eglinton and track repairs elsewhere.
  • Thu/Fri June 25/26 all day: Finch to Sheppard-Yonge for maintenance including ATC installation.
  • Sat/Sun June 27/28 all day: Finch to Lawrence for maintenance including asbestos removal and ATC installation.

The TTC has not announced whether completion dates for the ATC project will be moved forward thanks to the extra work.

The rebuild of streetcars to correct welding problems and other retrofits will also be accelerated with 19 more streetcars available for maintenance. This will allow the entire fleet to come up to standard 18 months sooner than originally planned.

Reliability of the streetcar fleet continues to improve. There are two measures of this with one based on contractual requirements (failures due to manufacturing issues) and one based on operational behaviour (including all failures). The contractual measure is running at over 70,000 km mean distance to failure on a monthly basis with the 12-month average sitting just over 40,000 and growing. The operational measure is running just under the 35,000 km target.

In the subway, vehicle reliability is mixed. On Line 2 BD, the T1 fleet is running far above the target level with MDBF values in the millions of vehicle kilometres compared to a target of 300,000. On Lines 1 and 4, the TR fleet is not faring as well. The 12-month rolling average is above the 600,000 target for this fleet (which is younger and therefore is expected to perform better), but numbers for both February and April 2020 were below the target, particularly in April.

The reliability of the electric bus fleet is improving although it is not yet at the 24,000 km MDBF target. The BYD fleet was still not in revenue service within the period of the report, and so no reliability stats for these vehicles are available.

The hybrid bus fleet is running at or above 30,000 km MDBF while the diesel bus fleet is at or above 20,000. It is not clear how much of the improvement is due to inherent reliability as opposed to the sidelining of problem vehicles in the fleet.

Covid Recovery / Bus Priority Lanes

Please see my previous article TTC Preps For Covid Recovery for a review of the main part of this report.

The Board considered this report together with a notice of motion regarding proposals for five bus transit priority corridors. Please see my article Transit Priority Lanes Can Help, But They Are No Panacea and other related articles for background analyses of the potential benefits and limitations of priority lanes as a way to improve bus service.

Covid Recovery

New information was added to the original report showing how demand is building across the TTC network.

Bus riding has been growing from its nadir in mid-April. Although 70,000 more boardings per day may not be much on the usual scale of TTC operations, it is a very large growth on a base of 288,000 (blue line in the chart below). Across the bus network, the TTC is now carrying on average 30% of its former load, a key point in the recovery where capacity and distancing requirements vie with each other. There is a growing problem with overcrowding relative to the current standard with 12% of trips now running about 15 passengers per standard sized bus, and 1.5% above 25 per bus. The system cannot handle more growth without a combination of additional service and social practices, mainly masking, that will improve safety on more crowded vehicles.

More service on Jane today than in Feb

The map below shows where the “hot spots” were in the bus network in mid-May when total boardings were at 25% of normal, and 7.6% of trips exceeded the 15/bus loading standard.

By June, this had evolved with over capacity conditions on several major routes. Many extra buses built into the May schedules were dispatched to supplement regular service, and on the key routes shown below, the scheduled service will be improved effective June 22. The TTC plans to have more service on 35 Jane in late June than it did in February, although this claim does not take into account the 935 Jane Express buses in the “before” service.

Eventually, the TTC will return to “100% service”, but this will be based on the count of vehicles, not simply a return to original schedules. Some routes still have weaker demand, and buses formerly assigned to them will be used to add service on the busy lines. The express bus routes serving the core where demand is weakest will remain suspended.

The TTC’s plan does not address the issue of using its considerable pool of spare buses to push service beyond the 100% level, nor of the degree to which the streetcar network can be fully operated with that mode once various construction projects are out of the way.

Although TTC management did not say this explicitly in the discussion, the move back to 100% service appears to be contingent on funding from the provincial or federal government that will insulate the City from the extra cost.

Bus Priority Lanes

According to TTC management, “significant” work has already been done with their City colleagues on the bus lanes which were proposed in the Five Year Service Plan last December. Eglinton East is the top priority, and there will be a report on it in July 2020. It is unclear just how quickly we will see detailed proposals for other corridors, especially with a desire by some affected Councillors to have public consultation, and the very real possibility that opposition to these lanes will block their implementation.

The TTC does not help its own argument on this point.

Staff advised that the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside lane would save 7 buses overall for the routes operating in this corridor, and spoke first of this as a budgetary saving, not as an opportunity for improved service. This is exactly the same position staff took in the early days of the St. Clair proposal where residents and riders were dismayed that after so much upheaval there would be no improvement in service.

This position does not align with the statements by Commissioner Brad Bradford who spoke of “flooding the street” with buses taking advantage of the new transit priority, and while that may be a great sound bite, it does not reflect what the TTC is likely to do, or can do with limits on its fleet and staff constraining bus network growth. Moreover, a 7 bus saving is not a huge change at the scale of the full network. This is unsurprising given that the likely change in travel time is not going to bring as much saving as many think.

Bradford asked how the transit priority scheme would help in the Covid fight, and again staff’s response was lacklustre claiming that shorter travel times would reduce the time spent on board, rather than speaking to improved crowding conditions through additional service.

There is a stark disconnect between the hoped-for benefits of transit priority for riders and the manner in which the TTC appears poised to scoop any savings in the budget, not for better service.

Bradford spoke of the importance of the bus  network and the “underserved” neighbourhoods where bus lines run. It is odd for a TTC Commissioner to openly talk of “underserved” areas while the very Board and Council he sits on refuses to address the problem of bus route capacity.

The hoped-for September 1 implementation will be a stretch for anything beyond one corridor, and that with little more than paint and signs.

Commissioner/Councillor McKelvie proposed an amendment that the study of future corridors also include Lawrence East from Victoria Park to Rouge Hill. The report with this amendment passed unanimously.

Rider Attitude Survey

The Covid recovery report includes an extensive section on rider attitudes and the potential recovery of transit demand. I will deal with this in a separate article.

Streetcar Track Noise at King and Sumach

An ongoing issue at the intersection of King and Sumach has been streetcar noise and vibration ever since the Cherry Street branch began operation. Several issues contributed to this problem including wheel squeal on curves and noise from track switches tongues “slapping” in their castings as cars passed over them.

Various changes have been made to address components of the problem, but more work is pending.

  • With the removal of CLRVs from Cherry Street service, the noisiest cars were no longer making turns at King and Sumach.
  • A wheel lubricator was installed at Distillery Loop, although this is of no benefit for cars turning east to south off of King.
  • Wheel vibration dampening rings have been installed on 10 streetcars and these reduced noise on curves by 5-7 dBA. A further 60 cars will receive dampeners over 2020, and the rest of the fleet will be completed in 2021. Cars with these devices will be assigned to the 504A King route to the Distillery.
  • On board wheel lubricators are already installed on the first half of the fleet, and the TTC plans to add them to the remainder.
  • Curve track geometry has been adjusted, and will be further refined as part of the 2021 Capital Budget plan for track repairs.
  • Switch tongues that did not sit flush have been ground to reduce the slapping effect as cars pass over them.
  • A new design for flexible switch tongues is under review with plans to install one on the trailing eastbound switch where noise has been a problem. A trial installation is already in place at College & Lansdowne eastbound.

Although King & Sumach has been the focus of complaints and testing, many of these changes will benefit the streetcar system as a whole.

Waterfront LRT Design

The TTC Board approved a contract for $15 million for design work on the underground portion of the proposed Waterfront East LRT/streetcar extension. This work is being done jointly with Waterfront Toronto who are responsible for the surface portion of the route from a portal near Yonge Street to Cherry Street including a connection to the existing Distillery Loop.

This contract will take the design of the underground portion to 30% with a project cost estimate leading to a request for Council approval in the second quarter of 2022. Whether this project will actually proceed remains to be seen.

Part of the work will involve staging plans to determine whether and how the project can be built to stretch out spending based on the rate of growth of demand in the eastern waterfront. This statement was a bit puzzling considering the scale of changes required at Union and Queens Quay Stations including lowering the track elevation to provide more space for air circulation to meet modern fire code.

Eglinton West: An LRT Subway for Etobicoke?

On February 28, 2020, Metrolinx release a Preliminary Business Case for the Scarborough Subway Extension, and an Initial Business Case for the western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport.

The Eglinton West Extension IBC is not as blatantly skewed as the Scarborough study in that it acknowledges the LRT plans and uses these as a starting point. The SSE study simply pretends that LRT does not exist and touts “benefits” of the subway versus a bus network.

The idea of a line along Eglinton West has been around for a long time.

  • 1972 ‘GO Urban’ and Rapid Transit Plan on Eglinton: Eglinton corridor was part of Province’s and TTC’s ‘Intermediate Capacity Transit System’ (ICTS) Network Plan (in which the present Scarborough RT was a part of)

  • 1985: ‘Network 2011’ and Eglinton West Plan: TTC Report identified Eglinton West as busway corridor as part of Metro Toronto’s rapid transit network plan (in which the present Sheppard subway was a part of)

  • 2007: ‘Transit City’ and Eglinton Crosstown Plan: Eglinton Crosstown LRT (spanning from Pearson in the west to Kennedy in the east) was part of the City of Toronto’s surface rapid transit expansion proposal

  • 2010: Crosstown LRT Project Approval: City of Toronto sought EA approval for surface LRT alignment from Kennedy to Pearson Airport Area boundary, one year after the City approved the full-length Eglinton Crosstown alignment

  • 2012: Eglinton West Segment Deferment: Metrolinx undertook Crosstown LRT construction, with Mount Dennis-Pearson Airport segment deferred due to funding constraint

  • 2016: Eglinton West LRT IBC: City of Toronto and Metrolinx co-published Eglinton West LRT’s first IBC and recommended surface LRT option, and the City approved funding for preliminary planning and design works

  • 2017: Grade Separation Review: City of Toronto approved arterial and midblock stops along Eglinton West and conducted grade separation study to address community concerns

  • 2019: Surface Option’s Affirmation: City of Toronto in its report maintained its preference for surface LRT based on fine-tuned benefit-cost analysis. [p 9]

As an historical note, a mid-1960s TTC plan to serve the airport with LRT linking southeast to the Bloor Subway and northeast to the Finch corridor was stillborn thanks to the 1972 GO Urban scheme.

We have arrived at a preferred subway option by provincial fiat:

In December 2017, the City of Toronto conducted further studies on additional grade-separated options based on inputs from the local community who are concerned with the at-grade LRT’s traffic impact. The number of options for the Toronto Segment were revised to four (featuring at-grade and below-grade alignments with frequent arterial and midblock stops, and a mostly below-grade alignment with either a single stop or multiple arterial stops) and re-evaluated using traffic model updates and additional metrics recommended by community representatives.

Nonetheless, the City of Toronto in early 2019 released a report re-confirming their preference for an at-grade LRT due to its cost-effectiveness in meeting all of the city’s project and policy objectives.

Subsequently, the Province’s 2019 Budget announcement included the extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to Mississauga as one of the four budgeted rapid transit projects with an underground alignment. [p 27]

This is a second “Initial” study, but it is in the context of Premier Ford’s strong preference for subways. The usual caveats apply about the rough level of cost estimates and comparisons between options.

There is a fundamental conflict in the analysis in this study triggered both by the Premier’s distaste for “streetcars” and by Metrolinx methodology.

The surface option carries the greatest number of weekday riders, but one of the subway options carries the most “new” riders. In other words, the surface option does a better job of serving existing demand while not drawing as much new demand, while the subway option leaves some existing demand quite literally “out in the cold”, but (according to the modelling) shifts more people to transit from autos. The machinery of value assignment rewards the new riders more because they allegedly represent less auto use, and they tend to be longer-distance riders who save more travel time.

At no point does the study explain why carrying fewer total riders at much greater expense constitutes a valid planning outcome.

Continue reading

Eglinton Crosstown LRT Chronology (Updated)

Updated February 21, 2020 at 11:00 am:

This update includes a reply from Metrolinx detailing the nine-month contractor delay he cited in his announcement of the 2022 opening for the Crosstown, as well as additional information on delays to the project.

Metrolinx Metrolinx Media Relations provided additional information on the status of work at this point in an email on February 20, 2020.

Based on CTS’s original schedule, 30% design packages for the majority of stations (the first step in the final design process) were to have been completed and approved by December 2015/January 2016.

With the exception of Keelesdale station, none of that work was completed until March 2016 or later, and in the case of Eglinton station the 30% design was rejected due to design deficiencies.

It’s also important to note, that other key aspects of design, such systems design components, were also delayed significantly.

Despite the known delay at this point, this was not mentioned in public reports in following months.

While the update explains some of the issues CEO Phil Verster referenced in his announcement, it does not explain the reason why the in service date continued to be cited as September 2021 well after Metrolinx knew that this was not likely or possible. The opening date has been cited publicly and is included in TTC’s 2021 budget and bus fleet plan.

Internal Metrolinx status reports from September 2019 show that the problem at Eglinton Station was already a known issue as were problems with ground water at Avenue Station and a conflict with CPR at Mount Dennis, among other construction-related delays. The estimated substantial completion date was already in 2022, and it continued to move later in the year to at least May 2022. It is not clear whether “substantial completion” coincides with opening, or merely with the point where commissioning of the line can begin, a process that is several months long and during which other problems that could delay revenue service might arise.

Moreover, the claim by Minister Mulroney that proposed legislation would have accelerated this project by three years remains completely unsupported by the actual project chronology.

Updated February 21, 2020 at 7:00 pm: Metrolinx has confirmed that “substantial completion” includes commissioning so that revenue service can begin.

Original article:

On February 18, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney introduced the Building Transit Faster Act which is intended to speed up progress on the four key Ontario transit projects in the Toronto area: The Ontario Line, the Eglinton West LRT extension, the North Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill, and the Scarborough Subway extension to Sheppard.

The day before, February 17, the Star’s Ben Spurr reported that the Crosstown line’s opening would be delayed until “well into 2022” according to Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. This delay had been rumoured for some time, but was denied by Metrolinx until now.

Metrolinx published a statement on their website including photos showing unexpected conditions discovered on the Yonge Subway tunnel structure at Eglinton Station that were responsible for part of the delay.

The statement also includes a claim that the consortium building the project, Crosslinx Transit Solutions started work “nine months later than planned after contract award in July 2015”. This does not align with actual events as shown later in this article. I expect to receive a clarification from Metrolinx on this matter soon.

During her press conference, Minister Mulroney claimed that the Eglinton Crosstown project would have opened three years sooner had the provisions of the Act been in place. This claim is hard to believe considering the nature of the delays we know about, the types of delay addressed by the legislation, and the actual chronology of the project.

Eglinton and other projects have faced numerous hurdles, but these have overwhelmingly been political and financial.

To sort this out, I have assembled a history of the Eglinton Crosstown.

Continue reading

The Ford/Tory Subway Plan: Part II – Technical Appendices

In the first of two articles, A Big Announcement, or a Transit Three Card Monte?, I reviewed the proposed agreement between Ontario and Toronto whereby the Province would build four lines or extensions at no capital cost to the City, and ownership of the existing system would remain in City hands. This has been hailed as something of a “peace in our time” solution to the contentious relationship between Premier Ford and the City, but there are many outstanding issues that will not be resolved before the City signs on to the new deal.

In this article, I turn to three appendices to the City report, specifically:

Citations in this article are in the format [A3, p5] where “A3” is the attachment number and “p5” is the page number.

Reading through these documents, I was struck by how an essential section is buried right at the end of Attachment 4: the City/TTC evaluation of the Metrolinx Initial Business Case for the Ontario Line.

The main report is enthusiastic about the viability of the proposals and the contributions they will make to the City of Toronto. However, the attachments reveal the degree to which the scheme is far from complete or settled. There is a caveat that if the proposals change significantly, then the gushing support for the new plans could become only a trickle. But the political pressure is for the City to commit to the scheme, whatever it may become, in the rush to “get shovels in the ground”.

This is a long article intended to pull key points out of the technical discussion of proposed new lines in an attempt to highlight the major chunks without requiring readers to wade through every page (although the keen ones among you certainly will, I’m sure).

Timing of Market Calls for Procurement / Public Participation

The City/TTC have not received a detailed schedule from Metrolinx, however the Infrastructure Ontario Fall update includes the following timelines:

  • Ontario Line: RFQ Spring 2020, RFP Summer/Fall 2020
  • L2EE: RFQ Winter/Spring 2021, RFP Summer/Fall 2021
  • YSE: RFQ Fall 2021, RFP Spring 2022
  • EWLRT: To be determined [A3, p12]

This is aggressive for the OL and gives very little chance for substantive change before the RFP goes out. “Public participation” will be minimal in the best Metrolinx tradition.

The opportunity for feedback and input throughout a project’s development may differ given the anticipated P3 delivery model. Details regarding the Province’s proposed approach are provided as Attachment 11 to this report. City and TTC will continue to advocate for meaningful public consultation on provincial transit projects. [A3 p11]

There are conflicting priorities in completing work regarding the new design and changes to the Assessment with the desire for an expedited delivery process.

Q22: Has an assessment of construction-related impacts been undertaken as part of the preliminary planning and design? What about impacts on community, businesses, traffic congestion, noise, etc.? If not, when will this occur and be factored into decisions on build methodology, procurement, and a program for business and community supports?

A: The City/TTC expect that this will be undertaken as part of the updated environmental work for the TPAP(s).

Q23 Will the Province adhere to City permits and approvals, per the practice under the LRT Master Agreement?

A: The applicable Master agreement(s) for these projects are to be developed, and it will be the expectation that agreed upon service standards and timelines for applications, permits and approvals will be adhered to. The Province is seeking city commitment to explore opportunities to accelerate and expedite delivery including review of processes, and leveraging powers and authorities. [A3 p13]

Q29: Are you building the [Ontario] line to a budget of $10.9 B or are you building a line with a defined scope of work?

A: The project cost estimate is preliminary based on the current state of development. The scope in so far as length and areas served have been consistently stated. Future adjustments to scope, budget and schedule will be identified as part of subsequent phases of work. [A3 p15]

“Future adjustment” is a term that implies potential change, but how would this be handled with a P3 contract already in place? When do the requirements to deliver on time, on budget, supersede whatever objections or improvements might emerge from a review process?

Transit Oriented Development

One of the Province’s favourite terms now is “Transit Oriented Development” and the supposed ability to pay for transit with development charges and fares from new riders. There is a question, however, of whether the Province will seek higher density around stations to pay for its rapid transit plan even if this requires development at a scale beyond what the City has planned or the neighbourhood is expecting. What other costs will TOD bring for infrastructure, services, schools? The overdevelopment of Yonge & Eglinton, where the Province wants to see even more density, is a prime example.

Q13: With respect to “transit-oriented development” and seeking private sector investment, what assumptions are being made with respect to compliance with the City’s Official Plan policies and guidelines?

A: The Province has committed to work with the City to ensure that transit oriented developments advance a shared understanding for effective growth and high quality development of Toronto. The City and the Province are working through the details of an agreement on how they will work together to advance TOD opportunities. [A3, p10]

That is not the most reassuring of comments given the bull-headed nature of Provincial policy development. Doug Ford (and his brother before him) believes in the magic of the private sector somehow covering the cost of his dreams. This could have severe consequences for both the City and for the transit system if that dream is exploited to remove controls on high density development.

Getting There From Here

There is a problem throughout much rapid transit planning in Toronto that agencies only consider the end state after many projects have been built, new jobs and residences have been created, and magically we are transported to a future date and city where the models run.

Unfortunately, we have to get from 2019 to 2041, the year for all of the modelling cited in these reports, and there is no guarantee that the system can handle either the intermediate stages nor the “end state” if things do not occur as quickly as we hope.

Although GO expansion is part of the next decade’s work, there is nothing published to show how it will affect the TTC network for good or ill. Indeed, a major role for the Ontario Line now appears to be “relief” for congestion at Union Station almost to the point that relief of subway congestion is a secondary matter.

SmartTrack is a mythical “service” whose final configuration is still not known. Metrolinx has been quite evasive on this point, and the best we can hope for is a train every 15 minutes at “SmartTrack” stations along the Weston and Stouffville corridors. Two of the six ST stations may never be built because they physically conflict with, or lose projected ridership to, other services.

It may suit planners and politicians to talk of demand models for 2041, but what will the 2020s and 2030s look like on Toronto’s and the wider region’s transit system as we await the arrival of new services? This is a major shortfall in the City reports because they do not address the “how do we get from here to there” problem complete with associated operational and financial headaches. A scheme for the province to pay the entire cost of four new lines is wonderful, but there is much more to the transit system’s future than Premier Doug Ford’s map.

Continue reading