SmartTrack’s Next Steps

After a day-long debate, Toronto Council has approved continuing along the path set by Mayor John Tory to study and possibly to build the transit lines branded as “SmartTrack”. Although this proposal is now much different from the scheme that was Tory’s campaign centrepiece, the idea of SmartTrack continues to receive broad support among Councillors.

The debate covered a lot of ground with two related threads: how would Toronto actually pay for SmartTrack, and how much of the larger transit network many hope to see will actually be built.

Council has yet to consider a long-term financing strategy and possible “revenue tools” (new taxes in plain English) to deal with the combined capital and operating budget demands of the would-be network. Although there was much talk of the lost decades of underinvestment in transit, Council has yet to show that it really is ready to spend Toronto dollars (as opposed to  money from any other source) at the level that will be needed. City staff will present a report on financing options in a few weeks, and the reaction to this will be telling.

What Did Council Approve?

Below is a consolidation of the staff recommendations and amendments adopted by Council arranged to keep related issues together. For full information, please refer to the detailed record of the item.

Note that in all cases where approvals relate to “SmartTrack” this includes both the six new GO stations and the Eglinton West LRT extension unless otherwise noted.

Process:

  • (1) Adopt the “Summary Term Sheet and Stage Gate Process” which includes details of the many parts of the proposed agreements and (2) authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute agreements with the province to implement this.
  • (3) Request staff to report at Stage Gate 5 for final approval of full funding for SmartTrack. A report on more definitive costing and the financing funding strategy has been requested for an earlier step in this process. See (18) below.
  • (4) Approve the confidential staff recommendation regarding settlement of the Georgetown corridor funding issue. See also recommendation 15.

Technical and Planning:

  • (5) Proceed with planning and design for the six SmartTrack GO stations, report back to Council, and launch the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP). This was amended by two further requests that the work include improvement of:
    • the placement and access points of the Liberty Village Smart Track Station to maximize connectivity, and
    • pedestrian connections to the existing Exhibition Place Station for both Liberty Village and Exhibition Place.
  • (6) Confirmation of city support for transit supportive land use plans for areas around the SmartTrack and GO RER stations. Amendments related to this included:
    • Amending the development strategy for public lands at stations, including air rights, to create ongoing operating revenue streams from development resulting from that strategy.
    • Directing the Chief Planner to report in January 2017 with options to develop a comprehensive plan for managing development and growth related to transit expansion.
    • Confirming that the Official Plan as well as other plans, bylaws and policies, are not changed by this decision on this item. The intent of this is to forestall any claim for additional density by would-be developers in advance of the passing of updated plans for area affected by transit projects.
  • (7) Proceed with planning and analysis of the Eglinton West LRT extension up to Stage Gate 3 including finalization of stops and grade separations, provide a scope for this project up to the Renforth Gateway, and provide a class 4/5 estimate of the project’s cost, and conduct the TPAP. Note that this is a more restrictive approval seeking more detail than in the case of the ST/GO stations in (5) above.
  • (8) Request a financial contribution from Mississauga and Pearson Airport to the outside-416 portion of the Eglinton West extension.
  • (9) Ensure that the proposed new station design at St. Clair and Keele includes improved road operations and is co-ordinated with the St. Clair West Transportation Master Plan. A significant part of this would be the widening of the underpass east of Keele Street to remove the existing choke point.
  • (10) Request Metrolinx to consider grade separations at Progress and at Danforth on the Stouffville corridor, with the proviso that any option closing existing roads would not be considered. This was amended at Council to add requests for grade separations at Passmore, McNicoll, Huntingwood and Havendale.

At Council, there was an attempt to have items (7) and (8) deferred until after the Waterfront Transit Reset report is considered by Council in 2Q17, effectively putting both of the proposed Etobicoke LRT proposals on the same approval timeframe. The deferral motions did not pass.

Finance:

  • (13) Approve $71m for preliminary planning and design on SmartTrack (the 6 new stations plus the Eglinton West LRT)
  • (14) Include $2b in net capital requirements for SmartTrack (stations plus LRT) in the city’s 10 year capital projections.
  • (15) Approve $95m for settlement of the Georgetown South issue with the province.
  • (16) Approve $62m for Toronto’s share of 5 grade separation projects.
  • (17) Approve $60m for GO capital expansion (2 stations at Bloor/Lansdowne and at Spadina on the Barrie corridor). This was amended to ask that staff work with Metrolinx on including the study and design of the Railpath along the Barrie line between Bloor and Dundas West.
  • (18) Request staff to develop the financing and funding strategy, and report back when a class 3 cost estimate is available for a definitive Council commitment to the SmartTrack project.

Two additional amendments ask for:

  • strong TTC in developing procurement options, and
  • negotiations with the province for resumption of operating subsidies.

Commitment to the full cost of the new stations and the Eglinton West LRT will not occur until much more detailed cost estimates come back to Council over the next year (or possibly more). In the event that Council opts not to proceed with any component for which Metrolinx has spent money on development prior to the point of final approval, Council will be responsible to reimburse Metrolinx for its costs.

With respect to the additional grade separation studies requested for the Stouffville line, it is unclear how work on this would be funded, although one might expect Metrolinx to respond with a request for some up-front payment and guaranteed participation in funding if any of these goes ahead.

The Status of Other Major Transit Proposals and Projects

Planning and building any part of SmartTrack should be seen in the wider context of other transit needs and schemes, let alone wider demands on the city’s operating and capital budgets.

  • The Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan (TYSSE) is scheduled to open at the end of 2017, although startup costs will affect the TTC’s operating budget before any passengers are carried. For 2018, the current estimate of the annual operating cost to Toronto is $30 million including whatever marginal fare revenue the extension will bring in. This line’s capital was covered roughly one third by each level of government, with about 60% of the municipal share falling to Toronto based on the proportion of the route within its boundaries.
  • The Scarborough Subway from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre remains the subject of much debate. Although its capital cost is already covered by money from all three levels of government, the proportions are unequal, and any increase to the overall Scarborough transit scheme will be on the city’s tab. The extension will be part of the TTC’s operation along with the net new operating cost, an unknown amount at this time. A critical issue will be whether the cost estimate overall will hold or increase before final project approval, and how this will affect what actually gets built.
  • The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is now under construction by Metrolinx between Kennedy Station and Mount Dennis (at Weston Road) with a planned 2021 opening, subject to issues about vehicle delivery. This project’s capital cost is funded totally by Ontario, but operating costs will be billed back to Toronto at an anticipated annual net amount of about $40 million in then-current dollars.
  • The Eglinton East LRT extension from Kennedy Station to University of Toronto Scarborough College is part of the Scarborough package approved with much fanfare earlier in 2016. The capital cost is part of the same “pot” as the Scarborough Subway extension, but how much will actually be available after that extension’s scope and price are firmed up remains to be seen. This will be an early test for Council. Does it really believe in a “network”, are councillors willing to accept the extra cost as part of building our city, or is the argument still dominated by an outlook claiming that tax restraint must take precedence. An updated Scarborough report is expected in coming months.
  • The Eglinton West LRT extension from Mount Dennis to the Renforth Gateway (at the western city boundary) and then north to Pearson Airport is part of the SmartTrack package. Funding for the line is still uncertain because city plans depend on contributions from Ottawa (likely as part of the Liberal’s infrastructure program), from Mississauga and the airport authority (GTAA) for the portion outside of Toronto. This extension is now the more expensive portion of “SmartTrack”, and ironically appears to survive mainly because of that branding despite opposition from some Etobicoke councillors.
  • Like the central part of the Crosstown, the two extensions would be operated at the city’s expense even though the lines would be owned by Metrolinx.
  • The Metrolinx GO RER program is provincially funded, although the matter of the municipal contribution to GO’s capital remains a sore point between Queen’s Park and the GTHA. Toronto will pay for six new stations as part of SmartTrack and will also contribute to two stations on the Barrie corridor (Bloor/Lansdowne and Spadina). GO RER’s net operating costs will all be a provincial responsibility, and the amount of service that will actually operate depends on future subsidy levels for Metrolinx. Similarly, the full build-out of RER fleets, electrification and service levels will depend on future provincial budget decisions.
  • The Relief Line remains under study thanks to a provincial infusion of $150 million, and both city and TTC staff emphasize that it is a necessary part of Toronto’s future network. While some relief to Yonge line crowding will come from GO RER and the new SmartTrack stations, this will only blunt but not stop the growth in subway demand. A big problem, as readers have discussed here at length, is the project’s scope and the perception that it is intended for a comparatively small part of the system’s ridership, downtowners. The further north the eastern RL branch goes beyond Danforth (to Eglinton or even to Sheppard), the more it performs a service for the city as a whole, but this benefit is routinely underplayed relative to the cost of a new north-south subway. Major capital spending for the Relief Line would not begin until the mid 2020s, but this will still compete with other city priorities.
  • Waterfront LRT to the west is popular with councillors from southern Etobicoke and has begun to overshadow the shorter eastern LRT line in debates. Both parts of a future waterfront network are under review with the “Reset” study now in progress that has only progressed to the point of developing a moderately long list of options. The strategy appears to be to keep this list as open as possible as long as possible so that political fights over the details are held off at least until there is a better understanding of what will work and what the options might cost. Like the RL, waterfront transit has suffered from being perceived as a “downtown” project despite the scale of development it will have to serve.
  • The Finch West LRT is still on the books, and Metrolinx hopes to begin work in this in 2017. There remains some opposition to the line, and it will be a test of the Wynne government’s resolve to see whether actual work is pushed back beyond the 2018 election.
  • The Sheppard East LRT is also still on the books, although it is no secret that many politicians at City Hall and Queen’s Park would love to see this sacrificed for a Sheppard Subway extension. The LRT would be a provincial project with some federal money. There has not yet been any cost sharing commitment to a subway replacement from any government in part because the cost is unknown. It will almost certainly be greater than the LRT line, and like the extension north from Kennedy, will serve a considerably smaller part of Scarborough than the LRT would have. Any decision on this point is likely to fall to the next provincial government, although it will likely be part of the electioneering to reinforce the “subway champion” brand by all parties if this scheme gains traction at Council.
  • The Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge Subway is a project long-sought by York Region, but the idea is tangled up with network relief from GO RER, the Relief Line and other capacity improvements still pending for the existing subway. Some of these, such as added operating cost for more trains on Line 1 YUS, and capital cost for station capacity impeovements, will fall to Toronto. Whether any of the funding pools now thought to be available for transit projects generally will still be available by the time a decision on Richmond Hill faces council, indeed whether this decision will even be in Toronto Council’s hands, are questions for a future beyond any of the existing governments.
  • Not to be forgotten for its demand on city funding is the surface transit system including the bus and streetcar network. While billions in new projects preoccupy debates, a long-standing problem faces Toronto with population growth, much of it “downtown”, that has not been matched by additional transit. Indeed, transit service today is little changed from twenty years ago largely because the TTC streetcar fleet sits roughly at late 1990s levels, and traffic congestion has been responsible for service cuts to stretch the available fleet. Current operating budget plans at the TTC foresee a major shortfall in 2017 that appears unlikely to be addressed by a supposedly pro-transit council and mayor, and this will almost certainly continue into the 2018 election year. On the capital side, the TTC requires an additional batch of streetcars beyond the 204 now on order from Bombardier. Both the financing and supply of this fleet expansion are on shaky ground. As for the bus fleet, TTC management seems more preoccupied with simply replacing its existing fleet of hybrid buses with diesels rather than actually expanding the level of bus service to Toronto.

In this context, the SmartTrack decision is only a small part, and Council has yet to be presented with a comprehensive view of the effect building a real transit network, rather than a few lines, will have on its budget and future financing requirements.

 

About That Metrolinx Generator in Mount Dennis (Update 2)

Over some time there have been conflicting stories about the purpose of a backup power generation unit at the Mount Dennis maintenance facility on the Crosstown project. I have heard some rather wild statements from folks at Metrolinx that suggests they might be making things up based overheard water cooler chatter (not that offices tend to have water coolers these days, but it’s the idea that counts).

After the media scrum at last week’s board meeting produced more confusion, I sent in a set of questions for clarification. The boffins at Metrolinx are supposedly working on it. Yes, you. I know you read this site, so in case the memo hasn’t reached your desk, you might want to answer the following:

Regarding the backup generator at Mount Dennis:

I have heard stories both that its purpose is for on site emergency power and for traction power to the main line.

Another variant is that less than full power would be provided in an emergency at least to clear trains from tunnels.

It does not make sense to have one huge generator capable of providing traction power to the entire route. At a minimum, a parallel distribution system would be needed to connect to the standard substation-based feeds along the line.

Also, emergency power requirements are different for traction (750 VDC) and station power (110/220 VAC). Do you really expect me to believe you plan a totally independent power distribution network from Hydro?

Another cockeyed variant is to use the generator to offset peak power demands.

Please provide a detailed technical description of what this generator is expected to power and under what circumstances so that there is a single explanation of this project from Metrolinx.

I await a reply from Metrolinx that is coherent and credible.

Updated September 20, 2016 at 10:40 pm:

Metrolinx has provided the following information about their power generation proposal for Mount Dennis:

Metrolinx is working with Toronto Hydro to explore an alternative to the proposed natural gas powered back up facility near Mount Dennis Station.   An alternative would have to provide the same basic functional requirements as the proposed natural gas powered facility.  It would also be subject to any necessary approvals from the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. More info is coming in the near future I understand.

The gas-powered facility was proposed in order to provide the ability to maintain service when the power goes out and improve transit resilience, lower the cost of power by eliminating any contribution to peak power demand from the new system, and ensuring it does not contribute to the need for more transmission or generation infrastructure.

The proposal included:

  • a traditional Toronto Hydro electrical grid connection at two locations; and,
  • building an 18 Megawatt backup power facility – six generators – (with capacity to heat the MSF office spaces) in the northwest corner of the MSF site, known as the backup power facility.

CTS [the consortium building the Crosstown line] developed this proposal based on our RFP requirements whereby proponents were asked to design a system to achieve the power needs of the project, which included redundancy. The Energy Matters regime of the Project Agreement drove proponents to make the system as energy efficient as possible and to the extent possible limit peaks during the key hours of peak that challenge the grid. CTS is asked to forecast the following power supply needs for the system and commit to them for the 30-year Maintenance Period,

  • a) Discrete Power Use: the total amount of power needed;
  • b) Transmission Peak Use: the peak amount of power needed at any point in time (i.e. during rush hour); and
  • c) Global Adjustment Peak Use: the peak amount of power needed during the time when Toronto Hydro’s network is a peak capacity.

Each of the above peaks were assigned a $/MW or $/MW-h to determine the overall power costs of the project (that was unique to that proponent’s proposal). This cost was part of the proponents’ bid for the purposes of the financial evaluation. This regime exists to make bidders responsible for energy efficiency of their LRT system because Metrolinx will pay the energy bills for the 30 year Maintenance Period.

The proposal from CTS to responded with a fully capable 18MW power facility with the ability to completely eliminate contribution to peak period on the grid. As a result of the proposal, CTS was able to reduce their evaluation costs for the Global Adjustment Peak Use and their Transmission Peak Use.

The final power supply scenario provided for both a traditional connection to the Toronto Hydro network as well as the self-generating power facility. CTS’ obligations were to provide the power supply and HMQE’s obligations were to determine which power supply to use, i.e., either the backup power facility or the connection to the Toronto Hydro network. There are rules associated with changing of the power supply. CTS also committed to making one of the power generation units a co-generating unit (produces power and captures heat by-product). [Email from Anne Marie Aikins, Senior Manager, Media Relations, Communications & Public Affairs, Metrolinx]

This description begs a few questions:

  • If Toronto Hydro’s capacity is strained, how are we powering new facilities such as the TYSSE and proposed SSE? Does the TTC have to design for an alternative, power self-generation and transmission capability?
  • How does this claim square with statements made during the GO Transit electrification study that at the provincial level, spare power for RER was not an issue at all?
  • What additional capacity will be required to power the extensions to Pearson Airport and UTSC, and can this reasonably be sited at one location, Mount Dennis?

Updated September 22, 2016 at 8:20 am:

The acronym used above “HMQE” refers to “Her Majesty the Queen’s Entity”, a short form for the combined Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario Entity.

The primary purpose of the generator is supposedly for “Bulk Power Disruptions”, that is to say an outage from the provincial supplier, Hydro One. There have only been three such outages since (and including) the major blackout of August 2003. However, other explanations for the generation capacity emerge from time to time.

Crosslinx Transit Solutions (Crosslinks), the winning proponent, proposed an 18MW (six 3 MW engines) natural gas fired power plant to achieve 40% reduction in life-cycle electricity costs, as well as, provide backup power to protect against Hydro One electricity transmission failure (e.g. June 2013 flood at Hydro One Manby Station left 300,000 people without power for days in west Toronto and east Mississauga). Back-up power is required to ensure that LRT trains can be removed from tunnels, and provide emergency ventilation in the event of a power failure. [From the city’s report Update on Metrolinx Proposed Power Plant for Eglinton LRT, p. 3]

In other words the primary function is to reduce electricity costs rather than simply having backup power. There is no business case to show how generating their own electricity would be cheaper for this line than direct purchase from a utility.

Toronto Hydro requires additional distribution capacity for the Crosstown line and will have implemented this by the time it opens. However, this will not, according to Metrolinx, be in place soon enough to allow early testing. That statement does not explain just how much power testing would require as opposed to full operation of the line, nor whether Toronto Hydro is already capable of providing power for the testing phase.

The City’s report also speaks of heat recovery for use on site and by nearby developments. This would only make sense if the generators were operating fairly regularly, not as occasional backup units.

GO Transit’s RER power feeds will come directly from Hydro One and they will not be constrained by local transmission capacity.

Metrolinx has yet to comment on power for the Crosstown extensions, but they have confirmed that the Finch LRT will not include a comparable power facility in its design.

This entire scheme is looking more and more like a noble idea gone wrong. The specifications for this facility are in a section of the Crosslink project contract (“Output Specifications”, Schedule 15) that is completely redacted from the public version. It is intriguing that the contract contemplates the possibility that the cogeneration facility might be dropped from the project (section 20.18).

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

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

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

2016.09.04 Service Changes

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Toronto’s Network Plan 2031: Part V, Crosstown West LRT Extension

This article continues my review of the reports going to Toronto Executive on June 28. I will pick up the thread again just before the whole things winds up at Council in July.

Previous articles in this series are:

The report discussed here is

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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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TTC Board Meeting Review: February 25, 2016

The TTC Board met on February 25, 2016. This article is a review of some of the reports and discussions at that meeting. For the full list, please refer to the agenda.

In this article:

As part of an update on cycling initiatives, the Board passed a motion asking staff to work together with the City on improved parking facilities for bicycles at subway stations. An article on this appeared on Torontoist’s website.

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A Rainbow of Rapid Transit

In Toronto’s never-ending fascination with new transit maps, the City Planning department has released a vision for our rapid transit network as it will be in 15 years.

201602_15YrPlan

Despite much talk of “evidence-based” planning, this is a very political map, and I cannot help remembering then-Premier David Peterson’s announcement of 1990 (not long before he lost an election and Bob Rae wound up as his much-surprised replacement) that amounted to a chicken-in-every-pot map.

There is nothing wrong with network-based planning, and indeed I have been beating a well-worn drum on that subject for years. But let us also remember that the Scarborough Subway exists because of the political clout of Brad Duguid, a former City Councillor, now Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development. Mayor John Tory, in Toronto Life, cites Duguid as saying that “if anyone tries to cancel the [Scarborough] subway, they’ll do it over his dead body”. “Evidence” apparently includes having a large cudgel to keep wandering pols in line.

The map also includes the Mayor’s pet project, SmartTrack, and it’s no wonder that he steers clear of the Minister’s position given the need for a provincial agency, Metrolinx, to accommodate SmartTrack on their network.

All of this is part of the “Motherlode” of public consultation sessions now running in various places around the City, and through Metrolinx in the wider GTHA. Background information and links to related material are available at Toronto’s TransitTO web site.

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