TTC Preps For Covid Recovery

Toronto and its transit system face a long climb back to conditions before the Covid-19 pandemic and the shutdown of much activity across the city. On June 17, the TTC Board will act on a report with several recommendation for the recovery path. Like so much in Toronto, the future is uncertain, but the TTC has a range of options on the table.

Compulsory Masking and Safety on Board

Anyone within the TTC system will be required to wear a mask or facial covering effective July 2 with only a few exceptions:

  • Children under two
  • People with an underlying condition that prevents wearing of a mask
  • People who are unable to put on or take off a mask without assistance
  • TTC employees working in non-public areas, or behind a physical barrier or shield such as in a  collector’s booth
  • People who must be accommodated under the Ontario Human Rights Code

The TTC will have a supply of one million masks to be distributed free of charge. This will be concentrated in lower-income areas of the city. The TTC will not bar access to those without masks, although social pressure from other riders may have an effect.

All vehicles are cleaned and disinfected overnight. Surface vehicles are disinfected at mid-day, and Wheel-Trans buses have added cleanings after carrying Covid-19 positive riders. Stations are cleaned and disinfected, especially commonly touched surfaces, two to four times daily depending on usage.

Vehicle updates under consideration include hand sanitizers for passengers, as well as ultra-violet disinfection and improved air filters in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Effective July 2, front door boarding on buses will resume including payment by cash, token or ticket. Riders will still have the option of using rear doors, although this practice may be discontinued eventually. Such a move has a “catch-22” because stop service times will increase if all riders are forced to load through one door.

The TTC will distribute free Presto cards in areas where usage to date has been low, although this does not address the problem of how riders will load their cards given the scarcity of suburban locations to do so.

Presto Credits for Monthly Passes

For those who bought a March or April 2020 monthly pass, there will be a refund based on actual usage between March 18 and April 30. This will be applied as a credit on the Presto account by August 21 where it can be used either toward the purchase of a September pass, or for pay-as-you-go rides. This option allows for riders who will not, by September, be using the TTC enough to justify buying a pass.

It is recommended that a pro-rated PRESTO credit be provided to March and April pass holders based on their daily usage from March 18-31 and April 1-30, 2020. The pro-rated credit for March and April will calculate the daily rate based on the entire value of the pass, and will provide the credit based on the days the pass was not used. This recommendation ensures that requests are being responded to fairly to our customers, while also considering the current financial constraints the TTC is facing. [p 36]

There will be no refunds for May and beyond as, by that point, riders would have been well aware of their changing travel needs and had ample time to cancel any pass subscriptions in effect.

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35 Jane Travel Times and Priority Lanes

On June 17, 2020, the TTC Board will consider a proposal to implement transit priority lanes on several corridors including Finch East, Steeles West, Dufferin, Jane and Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside. This article reviews travel times and speeds for the Jane Street corridor comparing November 2011 and May 2020 data with the underlying premise that the May data show the best case for congestion-free operation.

The proposal for Jane Street run north from Eglinton to Steeles. Roadway widths and adjacent land uses vary along the corridor, and the removal of traffic lanes will have different effects along the street. A related problem will be the provision for cyclists, if any.

Note: When this article was first posted, some charts erroneously had some data labelled as “April 2018” rather than “November 2019”. This has been corrected.

Travel Times Between Eglinton and Steeles

Northbound

As on Dufferin, but to a greater degree, Jane Street has a high PM peak travel time and an extended peak period. The difference between November 2019 and May 2020 is quite striking.

Looking at the weekly breakdowns, there is the same pattern here on Jane as on Dufferin – although May 2020 times are shorter than those for November 2011, they have been rising over the four weeks showing a growth in some combination of traffic congestion and stop service time.

Southbound

The southbound peaks are similar to northbound and the PM peak extends over a considerable period.

The weekly breakdown shows the same pattern with growth in travel times through May 2020.

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29 Dufferin Travel Times and Priority Lanes (Updated)

Updated July 18, 2020 at 2:00 pm: 29 Dufferin is a route that I have been tracking for much longer than most bus routes. To give a longer perspective into travel times on the Dufferin corridor, I have added a section looking back to 2011.

Route 29 Dufferin is one of five corridors proposed for rapid implementation of reserved bus lanes in a proposal that will be at the TTC Board on June 17. Others include Finch East, Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside, Steeles West and Jane.

In this article, I will review travel times and speed data for Dufferin comparing conditions in April 2018 and May 2020. (2018 is used because I do not have any more recent pre-covid data.) The premise of this comparison is that May 2020 represents conditions on the route with all or most traffic congestion removed revealing the underlying conditions that would apply in a best case transit priority lane implementation.

Dufferin Street is very different from the other proposed corridors because for much of its length it is only four lanes wide with houses and businesses fronting onto the street and little or no opportunity for widening. On the northern portion where the street allowance is wider, there is a combination of four through traffic lanes with bays for right turns and bus stops.

Creation of a reserved lane will involve both a reduction of capacity for non-transit traffic and removal of parking. Depending on whether the lanes are in effect only during peak periods or longer, parking will be a big political issue as it was for attempts to improve transit operations on streetcar routes.

Before the King Street Pilot was proposed, the City reviewed parking regulations on the shoulders of peak periods to determine whether they should be extended. (Full disclosure: I worked on this project as a consultant.) With the growth of traffic over many years, the peak had expanded beyond its traditional 7-9 AM, 4-6 PM periods. Travel time charts would clearly show two super-peaks on either side of the official two-hour period as transit vehicles were fighting peak level congestion when parking and turn restrictions were not in effect. From this study, many areas had their peak periods extended by 30 or 60 minutes on either side of the original hours so that the period could be as long as 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM.

There was a lot of push back on this scheme from local businesses who regarded parking as essential to their operations, and there were tradeoffs in the final scheme to limit the expansion of peak restrictions. For example, a proposed no parking restriction on Broadview near Danforth was changed to end at 6:30 pm instead of 7:00 pm. It is worth noting that on Queen Street in The Beach there are no extended restrictions and the traditional two-hour windows apply. It would be intriguing to know whether Councillor Bradford, the author of the motion, would agree to elimination of parking in his ward in the name of speeding up the Queen car.

Parking is already banned in some locations on Dufferin Street from 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM, but the traditional hours are more common, and some locations have no restrictions at all. There are many locations where motorists would routinely move into a “reserved” curb lane to access off-street parking and laneways, as well as for right turns.

There is also the question of how bicycles would fit into any new street design.

Overall, the challenges on Dufferin Street are not straightforward and, like the much shorter King Street Pilot, they will require detailed block-by-block review.

Travel Times Between King and Wilson

In the following charts, note that changes in travel times will be due to a combination of two factors: the level of traffic congestion and the time spent at stops loading and unloading passengers. Transit priority can reduce the effect of congestion, but stop service times are a function of service level and demand, and especially of the degree to which crowding prevents a speedy movement of passengers onto and off of buses.

Budgetary constraints drive the TTC to run as close to its capacity standards, if not over them, as a routine practice. The degree of crowding is only rarely reported, and the cost in terms of service delays is not considered. A vicious circle can develop where headways are widened and travel times stretched in response to this type of delay, but this reinforces crowding problems while providing a “no cost solution” so beloved by simplistic political analysis.

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Transit Priority Lanes Can Help, But They Are No Panacea

At the TTC Board meeting on Wednesday, June 17, a motion by two councillor/commissioners, Brad Bradford and Jennifer McKelvie seeks to fast track the installation of five transit priority lanes that are part of the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan.

They argue that buses are the workhorses of the transit system, and much can be done to assist with the city’s covid recovery by improving key parts of the bus network.

Bus service is already the workhorse of our transit system – moving over 260 million passengers a year and more people than any other transit mode pre-COVID. Buses have been critical in moving essential workers throughout the pandemic and they will play a critical role as ridership surges in the next stages of economic reopening…

This is a noble stance, one long overlooked by a political environment where promises of new subway lines a decade away take precedence over actually running better service now. However, there is a risk that the focus on buses will be undermined by expecting too much from comparatively simple interventions in how roads and transit actually work.

The bus priority transit corridors in the 5-Year Service Plan focus on parts of the city where our service has experienced more acute overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically for suburban transit-reliant communities.

Overcrowding was a serious problem on the TTC before the pandemic, but one would hardly know this by the rarity of TTC reports on the subject. For years, transit service has been strangled both by a shortage of buses and garage space, but also by a lack of urgency, a sense that everything was just fine. That suited a fiscal plan that spent little on expanding the bus fleet and concentrated instead on replacing the oldest and least reliable buses while constraining operating costs.

The TTC faces a difficult choice in coming months: should it run as much service as possible in order to maximize the space available to those riders who chose to return to transit, or should it limit service based on financial pressures to minimize the ongoing loses in fare revenue? We know how much the TTC is losing, but there is no commitment from any level of government to sustain transit over the next year or more as demand recovers.

Improving the speed and service reliability will increase capacity on the system at no additional operating cost. Bus priority corridors may be a more cost-effective solution to current real-time responsive measures to address overcrowding, while also improving service. As the routes speed up, the number of buses required for standby decreases, thereby reducing operating costs.

This is a simplistic view which includes the unfortunate phrase “no additional operating cost”. This is the sort of outlook that bedevils attempts to improve transit, the idea that there is a “free” solution to our problems. However, there is an assumption that the capacity issue can be addressed simply by running buses faster, and that transit priority will provide what is needed. In fact, this is unlikely on the scale that is required.

A further conundrum lies in statements from Commissioner Bradford that the TTC would “flood” routes with service according to a CBC interview.

Bradford said flooding the five busy corridors with buses would help front-line workers — who don’t have the luxury of self-isolating — move more quickly between work and home. It would also make it easier to physically distance, since more buses would mean more elbow room between passengers.

A “flood” of buses is possible only if the TTC actually operates more service as the change in travel times from transit priority, by itself, will not achieve this goal. In the short term, the TTC has more buses because it is not running full service, but this will change as they ramp up to full pre-Covid levels on major routes. There are also buses from the spare pool which is quite generous thanks to the comparative youth of the bus fleet, but running service beyond the 100% level pushes up operating costs at a time when fare revenue is running well behind historic levels.

Since the travel and work restrictions of the Covid-19 era have been in place, we have seen a worked example of what a Toronto largely without congestion looks like. This gives us a chance to compare bus travel times and speeds for the old “typical” workday with many weeks of lower traffic and little congestion. That is likely to be a best case scenario because buses have also benefited from reduced demand and shorter stop service times. Even if traffic congestion is eliminated, higher demand will lengthen times at stops and this component of today’s savings will be lost.

Five corridors are proposed in the TTC’s Service Plan and in the Bradford/McKelvie motion:

  • Jane Street: from Eglinton Avenue to Steeles Avenue
  • Dufferin Street: from Dufferin Gate to Wilson Avenue
  • Steeles Avenue West: from Yonge Street to Pioneer Village Subway Station
  • Finch Avenue East: from Yonge Street to McCowan Road
  • Eglinton Avenue East/Kingston Road/Morningside Ave – from Kennedy Subway Station to University of Toronto Scarborough

What we do not have, and what the TTC has never produced, is a detailed review of these and other parts of the city looking at where and when congestion occurs, what the physical constraints to taking over road lanes might be, and just how much time might be saved by their implementation. These are key elements both in designing any priority scheme and advocating for it against the inevitable opposition of motorists, businesses and residents along affected streets.

In particular, if we are not prepared to give real transit priority at the locations and times when congestion is at its worst, and the effect of taking road space from cars will be severe, then this scheme will not succeed.

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Evolution of Travel Times on 504 King in 2020

The reduced transit riding and auto traffic in Toronto during past months provides an opportunity to compare travel times during what used to be “typical” conditions with the situation when there is no congestion and stop service times might be shorter.

This article examines the 504 King route from January to May 2020. I plan to publish data for other streetcar and bus routes, but I am awaiting the May data extract from the TTC’s new Vision system which tracks all buses and a substantial portion of the streetcar fleet. (In May, the King route operated substantially with cars using the old CIS system from which I have already received data, and so there are enough data from that route to represent its operation.)

504 King operates with two branches: 504A from Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop, and 504B from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop. Only trips late at night after service to Distillery and Dufferin Loops ends make the full trip between Broadview and Dundas West Stations. For this analysis, I have split the route in half at Yonge Street to measure travel times to that midpoint from the outer ends of the lines.

The change in travel times is quite obvious looking at month-by-month averages. In the charts below, travel times are averaged for all weekdays in each month, grouped by hour of departure from Danforth and Broadview. (The screen lines at terminals are located far enough from the loops to avoid including queuing times to enter crowded loops in the measured travel times to and from Yonge.)

January and February (red and yellow) are the highest because they represent normal pre-covid conditions. During March (green), the amount of transit riding and traffic began to fall as offices closed and non-essential travel was reduced. The King car was particularly affected because it serves the business district. April and May (light and dark blue) represent a “new normal” for travel times.

Note that in these charts, the Y-axis does not begin at zero so that the spread in the data values is clearer.

(A full set of PDFs of these charts is at the end of the article.)

Although the monthly averages show a clear pattern, the weekly values change within the two broad bands of pre- and post-covid conditions. Note that for this chart there are no data for the week of April 20 because streetcar service on Broadview north of Gerrard was suspended for track repairs.

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TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, June 21, 2020

There are comparatively few changes for the June-July schedules in 2020 because service is already operating at a reduced level due to the Covid-19 emergency.

Production of a table comparing old and new service levels with this change is tricky because the “before” situation included a lot of ad hoc operations by the TTC. I will try to pull something together and will update this article at that time.

During the May schedules, quick adjustments were made on many routes by removing previously scheduled crews rather than completely rewriting the schedules. This produced scheduled gaps which show up in the published timetables and in the data feed used by various trip planning applications. Many, but not necessarily all of these will be fixed for the June schedules.

Extra Service

On the bus network, there will be scheduled trippers overlaying the regular service on routes where there have been crowding problems. The table below is taken from the TTC’s memo detailing the new service arrangements. There are 90 AM and 87 PM trippers.

In addition to these trippers, a large number of crews will be provided for additional service as needed and to cover subway shuttle operations. There will be 180 weekday, 208 Saturday and 148 Sunday crews. Note that a crew is not the same thing as an additional bus because more than one crew is required to operate one vehicle if it is in service for more than 8 hours.

On the streetcar network, the current four crews for extra service will be expanded to eight. Half of these cover the morning and early afternoon period, while the other half cover the afternoon and evening

Bathurst Station Construction

The streetcar loop at Bathurst Station will be rebuilt, and all bus operations will shift to the surface loop at Spadina Station. This arrangement is planned to be in effect until the schedule change on Labour Day weekend, but if work completes sooner, service will revert to Bathurst Station earlier.

  • 7 Bathurst will divert both ways via Dupont and Spadina to Spadina Station.
  • 511 Bathurst (which is already operating with buses due to construction at Front Street) will divert via Harbord and Spadina to Spadina Station.
  • 307 Bathurst Night will divert both ways via Dupont, Spadina and Harbord. The route will also be changed to operate via Fort York Boulevard at the south end of the route so that the night bus route matches the one used by the 511 buses during daytime service.
  • 512 St. Clair will operate from Hillcrest as a temporary yard because the line will be physically isolated from the rest of the streetcar system while track work on Bathurst Street is underway.

Bathurst will remain as a bus operation until the end of 2020 while various construction projects along the line are completed.

Conversion of 506 Carlton to Bus Operation

Several projects will take place affecting 506 Carlton over the summer and early fall. These include:

  • Track replacement and paving at High Park Loop and on Howard Park Avenue west of Roncesvalles.
  • Replacement of the special work at Howard Park and Dundas.
  • Replacement of the special work at Dundas and College. Work at this location includes addition of traffic signals and reconfiguration for pedestrian and cycling crossings. There is a diagram of the new arrangement in an article I published earlier this year.
  • City of Toronto work on the Sterling Road bridge.
  • Modification of all overhead from High Park Loop to Bay Street for pantograph operation where this has not already been done.
  • Construction at Main Station.

506 Carlton buses will operate to Dundas West Station instead of to High Park Loop. The 306 Carlton Night route will also operate with buses on its usual route to Dundas West.

Through-routed 501 Queen Service to Long Branch

When the May scheduled were implemented, an inadvertent error did not provide enough running time for streetcars to make the full Neville-Long Branch trip as planned. Buses were substituted on the west end of the route. Effective June 21, through streetcar service will be provided all day long, rather than only at late evenings and overnight.

All Queen service will operate from Russell Carhouse.

Streetcar Service on 503 Kingston Road

With the removal of streetcars from 506 Carlton, the 503 Kingston Road line will return on Monday June 22 operating to Charlotte Loop at Spadina & King. The TTC plans to switch this back to bus operation in the fall when streetcars return to 506 Carlton. The 22 Coxwell bus will revert to its usual arrangement running only to Queen Street during weekday daytime periods.

Seasonal Services

  • 92 Woodbine South will receive additional service in anticipation of higher riding to Woodbine Beach.
  • 121 Fort York-Esplanade will be extended as usual to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach.
  • 175 Bluffers Park will operate during the daytime weekends and holidays on the same schedule as in March 2019.
  • 86 Scarborough will operate an early evening shuttle between Meadowvale Loop and the Zoo.
  • Planned service increases on 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront will not be implemented, but the routes will be monitored for crowding and extra service will operate if necessary.

Pantograph Operation on 505 Dundas Streetcars

With the conversion of all overhead on the 505 Dundas route to pantograph-friendly suspension, the full route will operate with pans. Previously, a switch to/from poles was required at Parliament Street, the eastern end of pantograph territory on this route.

506 Carlton will be the next route to convert to pantograph operation. 504 King and 501 Queen cannot convert until after the reconstruction of the King-Queen-Roncesvalles intersection planned for 2021.

Bill Davis Had A Plan (Updated)

Updated June 3, 2020: A PDF version of the document has been added.

With all of Metrolinx’ recent hype about the Ontario Line and its design, I have been digging into my archives looking at the promises made back in 1972 when Premier Bill Davis announced “An Urban Transportation Policy for Ontario”. This was to be the transit answer to his cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, a new transit network that would bring rapid transit to outlying areas in Toronto, as well as to Hamilton and Ottawa.

There was to be a test track around the CNE grounds linking to Ontario Place. A new technology, trains that would fill the missing link between buses and subways that were far too expensive at the then astronomical cost of $25 to $30 million per mile.

This scheme was doomed from the outset by its dependence on an untried technology (although at the point of the announcement, the Krauss-Maffei magnetic levitation system had not been officially chosen). All that ever happened at the CNE was a small stand of trees near the Princes Gates were felled in anticipation of guideway construction, and a few column footings were built. So much for the brave new world of a transit network.

Oddly enough, buried in the announcement is the following acknowledgement that existing technology could be used, at least as a stopgap:

“As an interim measure it may be feasible to provide express routes through parts of these corridors using existing modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars. When operating in exclusive rights-of-way these facilities are capable of providing intermediate capacity transit facilities.” [p 15]

This was the only time the government acknowledged that a brand new technology was not a pre-requisite for building their network. Within a few years, Davis’ dreams would be dust. The government would resurrect the work on a new TTC streetcar design that was underway in the late 1960s, but was stopped when the focus shifted to Davis’ Intermediate Capacity Transit System (ICTS). Eventually, a less technically complex system that we now know as the SRT in Toronto and Skytrain in Vancouver came along, but the plans were never resurrected on quite so grand a scale.

The announcement itself makes interesting reading with many comments that will be familiar today especially as they relate to the limits of car-based travel and expressways.

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TTC Ponders New Fare Options

At its recent meeting, the TTC Board approved a report launching reviews of fare policy and technology. These will run on an overlapped timetable beginning in fall 2020 with a goal of reporting to the Board in October 2021. The topics are linked in that policy choices can be held hostage by technology options. Nowhere is that clearer than in the TTC’s experience with Presto:

  • The range of options and capabilities specified by the TTC was constrained, in part, by the policy and financial framework in which Toronto operates, especially the avoidance of proposals that would increase costs.
  • The provider, Metrolinx and its partner Accenture, failed to deliver to the requirement knowing that the iron fist of Queen’s Park and threats to subsidy funding would overrule any complaints about functional problems. Metrolinx is on record now as refusing to meet all of the contracted requirements for the simple reason that they will not invest more development funding in a system that they hope to replace.
  • Any modifications to Presto functionality are treated as billable change orders, even if the TTC could argue that the “change” is a contracted feature. Metrolinx enforces its billings by withholding fare revenue from the TTC.

This poisonous relationship colours any discussion of the future of fare structures, levels, technology and subsidies not just in Toronto but across the GTHA.

A further problem, and this is common to studies of the future of TTC service design, is the pre-emption of options by the catch-all “we can’t afford it” line that pushes aside consideration of options that require more than small adjustments within existing funding.

Years ago, in the Miller-era Ridership Growth Strategy of 2003, the starting point was not “what can we afford”, but “what can we do, and how much would it cost”. This left the policy decisions where they belonged in the political realm where the TTC Board, Council and the public could balance investment in better transit with costs and expected benefits. Options were not swept off of the table by management second guessing the politicians, or, worse, protecting politicians from options they might not want to know about.

With fare policy, there is an added layer of the rivalry with Metrolinx and its role as a regional agency. If Metrolinx were actually doing its job, there would be little need for a TTC study because Metrolinx would look at fare and technology policy:

  • including the needs of local transit, not just commuter service, and how this will grow into a wider network;
  • without prejudice for the preservation of its existing technology investment in Presto nor its existing partnership with a service provider;
  • without attempting a zero-sum “solution” where no new money is committed, especially by Queen’s Park; and
  • without the doctrinaire belief that the private sector will magically pay for everything, and by implication that change can only happen with private funding.

We have been around this bush before with a previous TTC Fare Policy Study in 2015 that was itself hobbled by Presto limitations, the then co-existence of legacy fare media and policies, and utter paranoia about changing fare structures. Toronto could have had a two hour transfer years sooner but for political foot-dragging and the assumption that the revenue loss would severely damage the TTC (and by extension the City). Eventually the Mayor needed some good news beyond free rides for kiddies, and the two-hour transfer became a reality.

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Metrolinx Spins Their Tale on the Ontario Line’s Alignment

In a recent article, I reacted to a Metrolinx blog post about the Ontario Line’s design with a series of questions hoping that as the project has now advanced to the Request for Information stage, there would be more details available. Metrolinx chose not to answer, an odd decision for a route about which they are so proud.

Another article has appeared extolling the Ontario Line’s virtues and its benefits for overall capacity on the rapid transit network (all this, of course, with pre-covid assumptions).

The claims in this article clearly were not conjured out of the air, but are based on detailed modelling of the future network. With Metrolinx’ non-response, I will not bother asking question of them, but will simply address their article head on.

Without question, the Ontario Line will provide rapid transit to areas that do not have it today, notably to the northeast in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks and to the major redevelopment node at Don Mills and Eglinton. However, Metrolinx writes as if this was conceived as part of the Ontario Line when the Relief Line North project was already underway under their direction. That planning process was dragging along through an evaluation of alternative alignments most of which made no sense at all, and some of which did not hit these major nodes.

On an historical note, a proposed Queen/Don Mills subway from the 1960s would have gone through these areas. The idea is hardly new.

One might almost think that Metrolinx wanted this process to bumble along as a way to delay the project. Magically, by the time Premier Ford announced the Ontario Line, the always-obvious destination and route had been selected.

As for the west end of the line, yes, it will serve the south end of Liberty Village, but at a considerable walking distance from many buildings in a neighbourhood that has grown north to Queen Street. The problem with east-west service to this area is the capacity of streetcar service provided especially on Queen.

The Ontario Line will begin at the Ontario Science Centre where a new transit hub will connect it to the Crosstown LRT. With LRT trains and TTC buses delivering riders to this station, the Ontario Line will divert more people away from Line 1 than the earlier Relief Line South plan, which would have started near Danforth Avenue at Pape Station.

In fact, Metrolinx projects that the new plan will reduce crowding on Line 1 at Eglinton station by 15 per cent, compared to only 3 for Relief Line South.

In a strange editorial choice, the article illustrates “high-density neighbourhoods that need better transit” with a photo of a small residential street in Riverdale (the corner of Paisley Avenue and Booth Street, near Dundas and Logan) which is roughly midway between proposed stops at Queen and Gerrard Streets.

There is also a photo looking south from Queen Street East on McGee Street, a likely location for the Leslieville Station. Metrolinx does not mention the physical intrusion that expansion of the rail corridor and construction of a station here would produce, only that it makes a connection to the Queen streetcar. Directly behind the photographer is the Jimmie Simpson recreation centre and park which are both threatened by the line. These are conveniently ignored in the article.

Metrolinx is big on connections and travel time savings, but neglects that a rider who is already on the Queen or Kingston Road cars at this location can reach downtown directly simply by staying on board rather than transferring to the Ontario Line.

There is no question that the proposed Relief Line station on Eastern Avenue near Broadview would not make a convenient connection to the GO corridor being well north of the line and very deep so that the tunnel can go under the Don River. That said, this connection was never a principal function of the station, but rather it would serve the East Harbour development site immediately south of the station, and the proposed Broadview streetcar extension through the development would have linked to the Waterfront East streetcar line.

Metrolinx’ true aim both here and at Exhibition Station is quite clear: they need to offload demand from Union Station and hope to do so by diverting riders to the Ontario Line. To make this work, the link between the two routes needs to be as simple as possible, and Metrolinx often refers to the across-the-platform transfers between GO and the OL at East Harbour. That direct transfer is only possible with a surface, not an underground alignment.

However, this assumes a rider is actually destined for the north end of the core business area which, if anything, is moving south from King and across the rail corridor, not north to Queen. GO riders bound for the core area would be better off staying on GO trains, not transferring. There is real irony that Metrolinx trumpets a direct, transfer-free ride to downtown from Don Mills at the same time as they hope to shift GO riders away from Union Station with an extra transfer in their journeys.

This easy connection at East Harbour will give GO Train commuters an option to connect to the subway without going through Union Station – a big part of the reason why this plan will reduce crowding there by 13 per cent.

That’s 13 percent of all riders at Union Station including those arriving on other corridors – Barrie, Kitchener, Stouffville, Richmond Hill – and so this claim represents a very large shift of riders between GO trains and the Ontario Line. This is not credible, especially for outbound connections where the “easy transfer” includes waiting for a GO train running much less frequently than the Ontario Line. (There are also operational issues with the assignment of tracks to services in the shared Lake Shore East corridor, and I don’t think Metrolinx has thought this through.)

When Metrolinx cites the catchment area of stations, they use a distance of 500 metres (a circle one kilometre across). This might work well for a suburban GO station, but in an urban areas, the transit network is more finely grained and a rider could well have a surface route closer-by than a rapid transit station. Access and transfer times consume proportionately more of a trip than in-vehicle times.

The travel time saving brought by the Ontario Line is illustrated in this chart from the project’s website. This chart assumes that access time to an Ontario Line station is the same as the time needed to reach a bus stop, but this is true only for people living very close to the station. At the trip destination, the time from Queen (City Hall Station on the OL) to King & Bay shows the effect of a transfer between rapid transit lines. This almost certainly understates the time penalty. One might well argue that simply walking from the west end of City Hall Station south via Bay to King or via the PATH network (to which the station would connect) would be faster.

This is not to argue against the obvious time and convenience savings of a direct trip, but proportionately the access and transfer times will contribute more than this chart shows for riders who are further from stations at their origin or destination. Metrolinx presents a best case scenario here.

In another recent article, Metrolinx talks about public consultation and the feedback they received from open houses along the route. The overwhelming concern of participants was with the route’s alignment and community effects.

“The Metrolinx team tasked with undertaking the Ontario Line is attuned to the sensitivities of preparing to build in such a vibrant city,” said Franca Di Giovanni, Metrolinx director of community relations for Toronto region. “We take people’s comments very seriously, and making this report public is part of an open and ongoing dialogue around Ontario Line planning.”

However, it is quite clear that Metrolinx is wedded to their alignment and will only “consult” on comparatively minor issues such as station design. Their intransigence to discussions of alternatives is a long-standing problem undermining the credibility of their public participation process.

All of this is slightly surreal in an era when the future of office space and demand to the core is under question. Personally, I prefer optimism that we will get back to something like “normal” eventually, but this will not happen tomorrow. Meanwhile, there will be a huge problem with travel demand outside of the core and on the road network where transit has little hope of competing.

Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario have issued an RFI to gauge interest from potential bidders on the Ontario Line project. This process was already delayed due to pushback from industry on the degree of risk transfer the government wanted its “partners” to undertake, and the covid crisis has added to the delay. However, there is a big push to reach a contract signing before the 2022 election. Whether this is practical, and whether any meaningful consultation will actually take place, are open questions.

Metrolinx Mum on Ontario Line Details

A recent Metrolinx blog post extols the virtues of the Ontario Line and the advantages of staying out of underground alignments.

Well, I thought, maybe they are further along in the design and can actually answer some questions about details that have troubled me, among others, for months. I wrote them an email on May 14:

Greetings:

In your recent blog post “The upside of Ontario Line’s upside – How Metrolinx experts are looking to design a Toronto subway that isn’t just confined to dark tunnels” you talk about an elevated alignment on the northern portion of the line through Thorncliffe/Flemingdon, but you state:

“In Leslieville and the Don Lands, the line will run at-grade alongside the existing GO rail corridor, helping to reduce construction impacts.”

One of the issues about this portion of the line has been the question of whether the new trackage would run at the same level as the GO trains, or above them on an elevated structure. This is particularly tricky for the proposed station at Queen Street that requires not just room for the tracks but also for platforms and vertical access to the street below.

Assuming you are still planning to straddle the GO corridor with OL tracks for across-the-platform transfers at East Harbour, this means that there will have to be flyovers/unders where the lines diverge south of Gerrard Station and at the curve north at Corktown.

Here are my questions (some of this is a holdover from the consultation round back when we could still have hundreds of people in a room together):

1. Please confirm whether the OL trackage will be at the same elevation as the GO trackage in the segment between the Don River/East Harbour and the point where the lines diverge at Gerrard Station.

2. How do you plan to handle the need for the eastbound OL track to cross the GO tracks at Gerrard and at Corktown, assuming that you are still planning to have the OL straddle the GO right-of-way? Will the OL eastbound go over or under the GO trackage?

3. How will you handle the station at Queen Street where space is required for platforms and access structures, not just the new OL rails, plus (possibly) one more mainline rail track?

4. Has the requirement for trackage for a possible high speed VIA service leaving Union via Lake Shore East and then the Stouffville corridor been factored into the track requirements yet, and if so, what is the effect?

5. Are there conflicts between a possible GO/Smart Track station at Gerrard and the planned OL structures/station?

6. Has the issue of lateral separation between mainline rail operations and the “lighter” OL vehicles been sorted out? What is the minimum spacing allowed between the two types of service?

Today, May 19, I received the following reply from Nitish Bissonauth, a Media Relations & Issues Specialist at Metrolinx:

Hi Steve,

We have nothing else to provide at this point in time as the project details are still being finalized and the preliminary design business case has yet to be released.

Remember, this is the same Metrolinx that originally expected to have a request for expressions of interest on the street already and a request for proposals in the fall. But they cannot, or rather refuse to answer basic questions that should have been settled long ago. This process has been delayed both by covid-19 and by the reticence of the construction industry to take on the level of risk Metrolinx so fervently wishes to push off of its books.

How people are supposed to intelligently comment with any hope of actual “participation” in the design process is beyond me. This is an organization devoid of any sense of public responsibility answering only to their bosses at Queen’s Park. Fearless Leader doesn’t want surface transit in his Etobicoke bailiwick, but it’s just fine for the folks elsewhere.

It will be amusing to see the pretzel-shaped logic that will appear in the “preliminary design business case” and whether, indeed, it bothers to address the technical challenges of the proposed route. Or will we simply get a line drawn on a map without regard to the local terrain and geography, much like a consultant now working for Metrolinx once did for SmartTrack?