Council Approves Tory Transit Plan, Attempts Pet Project Revivals

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Toronto’s Network Plan 2031: Part VI, Crosstown East LRT Extension

This article deals with the report Eglinton East LRT Preliminary Options Analysis which is before Toronto’s Executive Committee on June 28. It is part of a large package of transit proposals that have been discussed in several previous article in this series.

The Crosstown East, as it is now known, was originally the Transit City Scarborough-Malvern LRT line. It had fallen off of the map as part of the Transit City cutbacks imposed by Queen’s Park, but was resurrected early in 2016 as part of the “optimized” Scarborough network of a one-stop subway to STC from Kennedy, SmartTrack service in the GO Stouffville corridor, and the LRT to University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus (UTSC).

With the recent announcement that the subway proposal will soak up more of the funding already earmarked for Scarborough than originally thought, the LRT line could be in jeopardy again. This would be quite ironic given that it was used as a sweetener to bring some members of Council onside with the one-stop subway plan. Indeed the LRT provides the majority of the benefit in the “optimized” scheme through its many stops close to residents who otherwise would not be on a rapid transit corridor. The package would not look as good for many of Toronto’s planning goals if the LRT line were omitted, but by bundling the stats, subway advocates can make the subway appear better than it would be on its own.

Of the reports before Council, this is the simplest of the proposals in that the options to be reviewed are quite similar differing only in whether the line would end at UTSC or continue north to Sheppard. The latter option dates from a time when it would connect to the Sheppard East LRT and a proposed carhouse at Conlins Road. Such a connection remains possible if Queen’s Park ever overcomes its aversion to LRT on Sheppard (or more accurately, its aversion to telling the Scarborough Liberal Caucus it will never see a subway extension there).

Continue reading

Scarborough Subway Ridership and Development Charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also my previous articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The situation is complicated by two competing ridership estimates:

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Relief Line, SmartTrack, GO/RER, Scarborough Subway Consultations

Toronto City Planning has released a draft list of upcoming public consultations on various transit plans including:

  • The Relief Line
  • The Scarborough Transit Plan (Subway, SmartTrack, Crosstown East LRT)
  • The Western SmartTrack Plan (SmartTrack, Crosstown West LRT)

2016_ConsultationCalendar

Additional meetings and information about Metrolinx plans (GO Regional Express Rail) will be organized by that agency.

Even more information will be available in March 2016 when the City releases a compendium report on all transit initiatives currently under study. These will include items listed above as well as the “Waterfront Reset” study, TTC Fare Integration proposals and a review of how (or if) Tax Increment Financing can contribute to the many transit projects under review. The intent is that this report will form the basis for public consultation and debate leading to recommendations at Council in June 2016. This is a very aggressive schedule, and there is no indication how consensus will actually be achieved in so short a time, especially with the usually-secretive Metrolinx as an essential player. At least the discussion will be at a network level, not ward-by-ward with a “relief” line for every member of Council, and there will be some filtering of various schemes based on engineering and operational realities.

What is sadly missing from all of this is a discussion of day-to-day transit operations and the backlog in the state-of-good-repair budget. We can blithely discuss billions worth of subway building to Scarborough and a Relief line, but Council won’t fund the basics of running a transit system.

The Scarborough-Malvern LRT May Live Again

So much has been going on with the gradual disintegration of the SmartTrack plan and its replacement, at least in part, with elements from the Transit City network that it has been hard to keep up. I will write about this in more detail as reports and other information become available.

Meanwhile, there has been an interest on Twitter in the original EA documents for Scarborough-Malvern which vanished from view years ago in the anti-Transit City years.

I have created a repository for these files on my site.

Happy reading!