Waterfront Transit Reset Phase 2 Update

This article is based on the public presentation held on September 18, 2017 at Harbourfront Centre. A similar presentation will be held in southern Etobicoke on September 26.

The “Waterfront Transit Reset” project was launched by Council at the end of 2015 to review all of the outstanding plans for transit from the Mississauga border to Woodbine Avenue. The first phase of this review reported in July 2016, and that provided the springboard for Phase 2 which will report to Executive Committee on October 24, and thence to Council at its meeting beginning on November 7.

Given the geographic scope, the review has been broken down into segments (and a few sub-segments) to focus on problems particular to locations across the waterfront. The four main segments are:

  • Southern Etobicoke
  • Humber River to Strachan including Parkdale and Exhibition Place
  • Strachan to Parliament including the Central Waterfront and much of East Bayfront
  • Parliament to Woodbine including the Port Lands

The presentation was done west to east, and in a single go without questions. This was something of a marathon for the audience, and I am not sure this was the best approach given the complexity of issues in some areas. As someone who has followed the detail of this study since its inception and participated in consultation sessions, I am quite familiar with the issues and was just getting an update. Those who came to this fresh, as many did, had a lot to take in.

A further problem is that the presentation included no cost estimates, and limited information on issues such as construction effects and complexity that could inform a choice between alternatives. This is particularly true of the review of Union Station. There are no travel time estimates to show what time savings, if any, various options present. Such estimates must exist as they are a critical input to the demand modelling process.

For this article, I will take a different approach and deal with the simpler parts of the study first just to get them out of the way, leaving the knottiest problems to the end.

Updated September 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm:

The presentation file is now available as a PDF. The display boards can be viewed on the project website.

Projected Demand in the Waterfront

The heart of any transportation study is the demand projection for various components under review. The chart below shows the 2041 AM peak hour demands forecast by the City’s planning model.

There is a fundamental difference between the projected demands from the western part of the line and the eastern one. From the west, the demand has the conventional inbound-to-core pattern for the AM peak. At the core and to the east, the peak flow is outbound, south to Queens Quay and east to new office and school developments.

This chart is missing some vital data that would put other parts of the discussion in a better context:

  • It assumes the presence of the Bremner link although this is the least likely to be built beyond an upgraded bus service.
  • There is no screenline west of Bay Street to indicate the demand arriving and leaving to the west right at the portal. With 2,350 going east and 3,700 coming south, this implies a substantial outbound demand to the west. Without the 750 each way on Bremner, these numbers would be higher.
  • The comment about higher demand in the east without the Relief Line does not explain whether the modelled values shown here include that line or not.

It is impossible to evaluate the demand numbers when there is no sense of staging of projects or of networks with some pieces “in” or “out” of the mix.

There is also no sense of the time frame over which the various demands will evolve, only that this is the 2041 end state. Any decision of the order of projects (and indeed their worth relative to other parts of the transit network) must be in the context of changes that are anticipated in the short, medium and long terms. This also begs the question of whether there are changes in the pipeline that will require heroic efforts in building up transit service to avoid short changing growing parts of the city (much as we already see in Liberty Village).

Another factor in any plans for the Waterfront network is the degree to which it serves major entertainment and recreational destinations. This will bring substantially stronger off-peak and seasonal demands that would be found on the transit network as a whole.

Ridership growth on the TTC has been stronger during the off peak period, if only because there has been so little growth in peak service. Strong off-peak demand is good for transit economics because the fixed cost of infrastructure is spread over more hours and riders, but the flip side is that peak riders have more incentive to abandon the TTC.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting: September 14, 2017 (Updated)

Updated September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm: An inconsistency in the opening date for the Finch West LRT between the Capital projects update and the project’s website has been flagged by a reader. Snapshots have been added to this article.

The Metrolinx Board met on September 14 to consider various reports. I have already written about the Fare Integration update, and will devote separate article(s) to the “Next Big Move”, the updated regional plan.

Other items of interest on the agenda included:

Presto Update and Quarterly Report

The roll out of Presto continues and TTC, even with a relatively low take-up rate to date, now accounts for more Presto taps than any other agency in the network. However, this only slightly more than one quarter of all Presto “taps” on a monthly basis (6.6 million for TTC vs about 24m for all systems). As the proportion of Presto-based TTC trips rises, TTC figures will dwarf all other agencies.

Status updates of note:

  • Readers are now performing well, but problems remain with the add value machines. A new generation of machines is now in testing and these will be rolled out across the system in the near future, including on the about-to-open Spadina subway extension to Vaughan.
  • There is no plan to introduce “open payments” (credit/debit cards, etc) on Presto in 2018 because Metrolinx is pre-occupied with the TTC roll out. Something might appear in the following year, but a related issue is that security standards for bank card transactions keep changing and getting tighter requiring ongoing design updates.
  • Presto sales and reload functions in Shoppers Drug Mart stores have been well received.
  • Presto supports “UPASS” programs. These are specific to each institution, not a system-wide standard implementation. Improvements coming in November:
    • UPASS program core functionalities enabled as part of PRESTO Vouchers solution.
    • UPASS program will provide discounted fares to university students in their respective districts through their local transit agency and universities.
    • Students will be able to electronically load discounted passes onto their cards through the PRESTO Customer Website, and universities can add eligible students through the PRESTO Vouchers portal.
  • Presto has negotiated a new agreement with various client agencies. There was no information in the presentation about how willing these agencies/cities were to accept higher service fees to fund the Presto system.
  • Presto is developing a new privacy policy for disclosure of data to law enforcement agencies. Public feedback on their proposals will be sought through a web survey, stakeholder groups and public sessions. The Information and Privacy Commissioner will review management proposals to ensure that they comply with applicable laws. A proposed policy update will come to the Board in December 2017.

Capital Projects Update and Quarterly Report

Metrolinx’ large inventory of capital projects continues, notably the Crosstown LRT, but also expansion of GO corridors.

There was a lengthy discussion of Union Station capacity, and among the information that came out was that Metrolinx is considering a reconfiguration of the station with fewer tracks and wider platforms. This would provide more passenger handling capacity, a key requirement considering the anticipated rise in service on all corridors. A new layout would also imply that services would be “hooked up” east and west of Union rather than terminating there. This would considerably simplify operations. A study of Union’s future requirements will come to the Board in December 2017.

Metrolinx is planning to study the status and appropriateness of Hydrogen technology to their operations:

  • A feasibility study on the use of hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative technology for electrifying GO rail service and the UP Express is underway
  • Ontario is committed to running electrified trains on the GO rail network by 2025. Studying the feasibility of hydrogen rail technology is part of our due diligence to ensure that we choose the appropriate technology.
  • Metrolinx has had discussions with the Germany-based National Organization Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) to learn directly about early experience
  • Metrolinx is committed to bringing industry leaders together for a symposium later this year to explore the potential application of hydrogen fuel cell technology

This will be useful if only to get a current view of the technology’s maturity and applicability, assuming that there are no Ministerial interests in forcing a conversion on Metrolinx. According to staff, they are operating on the basis that RER will be rolled out with existing electrification technology.

Updated September 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm:

In the Quarterly Report, there is a status table for all of the projects. The Finch West LRT is shown with an In-Service date of 2022.

However, the project’s web page shows a 2021 opening. I have asked Metrolinx to clarify this discrepancy. Thanks to reader Kass Forman for catching this.

2016-2017 Annual Report

The Annual Report includes, under the heading of “Being responsive & accountable”, the following statement [p. vii]:

Metrolinx is:

  • Increasing transparency in its financial, labour, realty, freedom of information, support fleet, information technology and capital projects details, so that Corporate and Administrative Costs are easier to understand.
  • Increasingly relying on evidence-based cost drivers to strengthen the data used to allocate costs to capital and operating programs.

These are fascinating claims considering the degree to which Metrolinx is a secretive organization. Far too many background studies are published, if at all, long after the Board has made a decision and the time for public input which could have been informed by such studies has passed.

“Freedom of Information” should occur naturally (as it would for a municipal agency), not when it is forced on Metrolinx by a formal FOI request from the media.

Easy understanding of costs will be more challenging because of corporate restructuring to amalgamate former divisions (Presto and UPX) into the main body of Metrolinx.

The integration and consolidation of operations under one management structure will deliver core Metrolinx services to customers and allow us to leverage internal learning and skills so we can adapt quickly and respond to our dynamic and fast-changing region. While we will maintain the identities of each service brand externally, we will be looking for opportunities to help our customers and the public understand the connections between each service and product. Beginning next fiscal year, we will report on our consolidated transit operations division, which will combine data and statistics for GO Transit and UP Express. [p. viii]

This will make determination of the profitability or cost of individual segments that have been treated as independent divisions more difficult, along with the degree of cross-subsidy that might exist between various aspects of Metrolinx’ businesses.

I asked Robert Siddall about this during the press scrum after the meeting. Siddall is the Metrolinx CFO, but is also Acting President and CEO pending the arrival of a recently-appointed CEO in October. He replied that with UPX becoming operationally part of GO Transit, it did not make sense to attempt to break it out as a separate cost and revenue centre. He was silent on the question of Presto.

For 2016-17, Presto received $14.8 million in usage fees. Operating costs were not broken out. [See charts on pp 35 and 38 of the report.] Oddly, the Presto update earlier in the agenda treated the negotiation of the client agreement with UPX as if this were a completely separate agency rather than part of GO Transit. The degree to which there are cross-subsidies between GO and UPX trips and Presto is completely hidden.

To Kirby, or Not To Kirby

The line in the Annual Report about “evidence-based cost drivers” is particularly amusing given the situation at both the provincial and municipal levels.

Ben Spurr in the Star has reported on political interference with the stations selected to be part of GO’s coming expansion. Specifically, the Lawrence East and Kirby Stations were originally not to be included in the list recommended to the Metrolinx Board, but this changed after intervention by the Minister of Transportation.

During the press scrum, Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard performed a not-too-elegant dance around repeated questions about just how the change in Metrolinx’ official position on these stations came about. Boiling many answers down to their core, he argued that although the Board had considered the matter of the station list on three occasions, they only actually voted on it once. Moreover, it is Metrolinx’ job, he argued, to provide advice based on information and analyses they have. Such decisions are a combination of technical analysis and art, he said. It was a performance not quite at the level of Swan Lake. [I will leave it to the reader to decide whether Prichard was auditioning for Prince Siegfried or Baron von Rothbart.]

An obvious question here is this: Metrolinx is supposed to give advice based on their expert technical studies (and whatever art they might muster). However, if the Cities of Toronto and Vaughan have new information about development plans for these two station sites, one must ask why Metrolinx staff and consultants did not have this as part of their study. How credible is any plan Metrolinx produces if “new information” can arise with clear political motives to swing decisions?

Fare Integration Update

As I previously reported, Metrolinx has rethought its approach to integration so that it can actually achieve something rather than endless discussion. Specifically, the Board approved:

  1. The Metrolinx Board endorse the step-by-step strategy outlined in the Report and that staff report back on December 14th 2017 on means to advance the strategy which includes:
    • Discounts on double fares (GO-TTC)
    • Discounts on double fares (905-TTC)
    • Adjustments to GO’s fare structure
    • Fare Policy Harmonization
  2. Staff undertake to engage the public and key stakeholders (including municipal elected officials) on advancing the step-by-step strategy
  3. Staff post the consultant’s Draft GTHA Fare Structure Preliminary Business Case

After a long period when Metrolinx was attempting a “big bang” change in fare policy, they are now trying a “step-by-step” approach intended to deal with the most annoying inconsistencies in regional policy without actually tearing the entire structure apart. Although it is clear Metrolinx would like to reach an end-state based on fare-by-distance, they will settle for an interim configuration for “two to five years”, according to Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer. Politically, that is equivalent to saying that the matter is deferred sine die.

This would conveniently allow someone in, say, the midst of an election campaign, to promise added funding to cover the cost of bringing the TTC into a consolidated fare system, to rationalize GO transit’s fares, and to sort out some regional inconsistencies such as the TTC’s transfer policies.

If Toronto adopted the two-hour transfer, this would make a seamless cross-border trip simple to implement and administer for Presto users. With the 416/905 barrier out of the way, the “need” to completely reorganize fares would drop substantially, and the political leverage to go “all the way” to fare-by-distance would be reduced almost to vanishing.

One issue came up during the scrum, and it will be thrown into the hopper for December’s report: the integration of UPX fares with the rest of GO. It makes no sense to operate UPX effectively as a short turn service on the Kitchener line while charging different fares. Moreover, integration of UPX trips with the wider GO tariff, including any TTC co-fare, is essential if Metrolinx is to play by the same rules they expect of every other transit agency.

Particularly important to any discussion about alternative fare schemes will be an open revelation of how each arrangement would affect different types of riders. Metrolinx has always been silent on the effect of a distance-based fare and premiums for “rapid transit” (e.g. subway) on long-haul suburban commuters within Toronto. Failure to publish this information puts the “debate” in the ludicrous situation of asking for a faith-based approval rather than one based on actual evidence. This kind of “planning” and “consultation” at Metrolinx must stop if they are to achieve their goals for transparency.

A Messy “Reset” For Waterfront Transit Planning (Updated)

The first of two public meetings on the City of Toronto’s so-called “reset” of transit plans for the waterfront was held on May 25, and a second is to follow tonight (May 26).

The presentation deck from these meetings is now available online.

Updated May 27, 2016 at 5:30 pm: The preliminary evaluation grids for various routing options have been added to this article following the original discussion of each section of the study. This raises an obvious question of how options can be scored before important factors such as demand projections, design and costing are known, and whether the preliminary scores will bias the discussion and evaluations to occur in Phase 2 of the study. Scroll down to the end of each section for the additional material. (Apologies for the resolution. The grids are not available online, and I am limited by the quality of the paper copies distributed at the meeting.)

There is a lot of material to digest here, and the process is not helped by several factors:

  • Council has imposed a very short timeframe, considerably less than would normally be taken for the scope of work.
  • All proposals that have ever been on the table for the past few decades and a few new schemes are up for discussion, including some that should have been discarded quite early in the process. In part this is due to the many incomplete studies of various sections of the route that never got to the point of killing off the unworkable options.
  • The City and consultant staff presenting this material are not intimately familiar with the details of many proposals, nor with the history of how they came to be part of past studies.
  • Conflicting goals of previous studies, not to mention of today’s Councillors and community groups, make a “one size fits all” solution impossible.
  • Beyond identifying a few locations where GO/Metrolinx might add stations in the Lake Shore corridor, there is little discussion of the role GO/RER can and, equally importantly, cannot play in handling travel.
  • There is very limited origin-destination or demand information with which to validate or compare proposals, or to put them in the wider context of competing demands for transit funding.
  • A vital consideration for any network is the effect on travel times. After spending millions (or even billions), how would the speed and capacity of travel have improved?
  • The real meat of any discussion remains for an as-yet unapproved “Phase 2” study that would include [text taken from the presentation]:
    • Feasibility studies (including but not limited to demand forecasting, operational assessments, further developed cost estimates);
    • Potential Environmental Assessment(s) or amendments to existing Environmental Assessment(s);
    • Pursuing the implementation of short term strategic improvements that minimize long term throwaway costs; and
    • Advancing a Business Case and pursue funding opportunities.

As someone who has worked for years in hopes of better transit service to the waterfront, all of this is quite disheartening. So many competing ideas are on the table, so many competing priorities, and so little desire to spend pervades the discussion. We may end up with nothing at all.

Growth in the Waterfront

The need for better transit to many parts of the waterfront is quite obvious to anyone who looks at the forests of new condo towers along the water and neighbourhood close by to the north. Much of the projected population growth in Toronto is located in the southern part of the city (an area considerably bigger than the traditional “downtown”), but transit improvements there always come second (at best) to proposed expansion elsewhere. Where suburban subway boosters take a “build it and they will come” approach to subway advocacy and treat rapid transit as a trigger that will, they hope, bring new population and jobs, the waterfront already has both, and is growing apace without adequate transit support. Improved transit to the eastern and western waterfront rank in the top five performers of the City’s “Feeling Congested” study.

201605_PopEmpGrowthto2041

201605_PopEmpGrowthto2041_Chart

This growth will not all arrive “tomorrow”, but it certainly will build in over coming decades. Already, access by transit across the waterfront is inadequate, and this will only get worse as time goes on.

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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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UPX Fares are Falling Down, Falling Down

After months of ignoring the obvious, Metrolinx and their Queen’s Park masters will lower fares on the Union Pearson Express.

UPXFares_20160309

Although the Board does not meet to ratify the change until 6:00 pm February 23, 2016 (as I write this), the report has been online for a few hours, and the change was announced by Minister of Transportation Stephen del Duca earlier in the day.

Not shown in the chart above is a reduction in the monthly pass for workers at the airport. It will fall from $300 to $140, according to The Star.

The official story told both in the management report and accompanying presentation is that UPX did everything it set out to do – it was built on time and on budget, it ran (mostly) on time, and its customers were highly satisfied with the service. Only one small problem – not enough customers.

The low ridership is attributed to four problems.

People Don’t Know It’s There

It has been more challenging then expected to reach both local and non-local markets to ensure they are aware of the service. Notwithstanding the significant media focus on the service and the marketing efforts that have been undertaken, more effort is required to build awareness of the service. [p.2]

This is just a tad hard to swallow given the amount of puffery around town about the new service beginning well before the line opened. Metrolinx now talks about a variety of strategies including staff not just at Pearson Airport to lure travellers to their service, but even with marketing further afield including the ability to buy UPX tickets at airports like Montreal that originate a lot of Toronto-bound traffic. One cannot help wondering what the effective cost per passenger will be.

People Use The Service They Know

Second, engrained habits on how people travel between Pearson Airport and downtown Toronto have proven to be difficult to change. Individuals are used to driving, taking a taxi or limousine to the airport, and with the recent rise of car/ride sharing services, more effort is required to incent people to change their past practice and test the new service.

What is completely ignored in this statement is any concept of convenience, the possibility that auto-based travel (shared or otherwise) provides point-to-point service, whereas UPX by definition is a transit service one must access where it actually stops. This is a major impediment. The demand modelling done for Metrolinx included a fairly wide catchment area, but most of the trips from the various modelled zones required a transit journey just to reach a UPX station. If someone is already on transit, especially the Bloor subway, then continuing to Kipling and the 192 Rocket is not a difficult choice. The problem lies in getting an airport traveller onto public transit in the first place.

People Don’t Know How To Find It

Third, there is uncertainty among potential customers about the beginning and end portions of their trip. This includes the “first mile/last mile” topic, in terms of the total trip time experienced by customers, and navigating at Pearson Airport and Union Station, both of which are complex visual environments, and with ongoing construction at Union Station making wayfinding and signage more complex.

That “first mile” also includes getting to the UPX station, never mind navigating through it, and yet Metrolinx looks only at the last leg of such a journey as the source of problems. Without question, Union Station is a challenging place these days for anyone who doesn’t know it well. Regular commuters adjust as the paths change, but for would-be airport travellers, this could be a first journey. As for the airport, bad signage has been an issue since the line opened. Trotting out this among the excuses begs the obvious question of why this had not been fixed months ago.

People Think It Costs Too Much

The fourth barrier to ridership growth has been perceptions about price. The research indicates that there is a view that UP Express is expensive, without knowledge among potential customers what the exact price is.

This is really the most bizarre explanation for corporate failure I have ever seen. It’s like saying that people don’t buy a Rolls Royce because they think it would cost too much, but they’ve never been into a dealership on the off chance of a one-day sale. Instead of just saying “the fares are too high”, Metrolinx proposes to jetison the “business class” fare structure and go after a completely different market.

As evidenced by the large turnout on the recent Family Day Weekend, when more than 43,000 riders waited in line up to 2-3 hours in order to ride for free, there is a great deal of interest in and curiosity about UP Express. Management is proposing a multi-faceted strategy to build on this interest. A key part of this strategy is a new fare structure.

The proposed new fare strategy is designed to attract new riders, change air travellers’ ingrained travel habits around ground transportation, provide a viable new travel option for travel between downtown Toronto and communities served by UP Express, and reinforce UP Express as a high-quality component of the region’s transportation network.

In otherwords, rather like Porter Air, the UPX is going to have a never-ending sale, although whether it will feature daily adverts with cuddly critters exhorting us to fly UPX remains to be seen.

Let us be honest: you can have the greatest engineering and project management and the nicest trains (even with a drab colour scheme), but without customers, you have failed. The new fares will generate more riding, although how much effect they will have on the bottom line is quite another matter. Fares for non-airport trips will sit at the same level as GO Transit which remains uncompetitive, except on speed, for local travel within Toronto.

A huge, obvious, and totally missing part of the equation is fare integration with the TTC. If, like the 192 Rocket, a trip on UPX included free transfer to the TTC for inbound riders, and a discounted outbound fare with the same effect for outbound trips, then UPX would truly be part of the transit system, not a tantalizing, but annoying service that looks nice on the map, but isn’t worth the effort.

After Metrolinx spent months telling us that the line just had to find its market, the market proved Metrolinx wrong. All the brave talk about success on other fronts is a nice show, but it is meaningless because the service was not properly designed from the outset. I wonder how many awards they will collect from the Air Rail Association for that little blunder?

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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TTC Budget Meeting: November 9, 2015 (Updated)

Updated November 10, 2015 at 6:00 pm:

The Budget Committee meeting was not the best-organized or well-informed of TTC meetings thanks to a combination of factors. It was held in the boardroom at TTC headquarters which is no longer configured suitably for such events and cannot handle a large presence by the media who were out in force anticipating a story about 2016 fares. Almost all of the material was presented by one person who, unfortunately, trusted to memory rather too often and got the odd fact wrong as the meeting wore on. Moreover, there simply was too much material to absorb in the manner it was presented.

Committee members, for their part, tended to view the situation through their personal lenses of which hobbyhorse needed attention. This did not necessarily make for a broad view of TTC issues, and many erroneous assumptions, often uncorrected, crept into the debate.

We will go through this and much more all over again at the November 23, 2015 meeting of the full Board when we can also expect a very long parade of deputations on the subject of fares.

The entire exercise of having a Budget Committee has been useful, up to a point, in that some Commissioners have been exposed to the gory details, but they remain confused, and we have yet to see an actual philosophical discussion of just what the TTC should be as a basis for the budgets for 2016 and beyond.

The following motions were approved by the Committee:

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A Smarter SmartTrack

The SmartTrack scheme was born of an election campaign, but it was John Tory’s signature project, one he is loathe to relinquish despite its shortcomings.

What’s that you say? I am just being one of those “downers” who cannot see our manifest destiny? What’s that line about patriotism and scoundrels?

At the recent Executive Committee meeting, Tory actually had the gall to say that during the campaign, he didn’t have access to a squad of experts and had to make do with the people he had. Funny that. This is the crowd that estimated construction costs on the back of an envelope, who “surveyed” the line using out of date Google images, who ignored basics of railway engineering and capacity planning to make outrageous claims for their scheme.

When the dust settled and John Tory became Mayor Tory, I thought, ok, he will adapt his plan. Indeed, it didn’t take long for a reversal on TTC bus service and the recognition that Rob Ford had stripped the cupboard bare and then started to burn the lumber at the TTC. A campaign attack on Olivia Chow’s (far too meagre) bus plan changed into championing the restoration of TTC service to the days of the “Ridership Growth Strategy” and beyond. Good on the Mayor, I thought, he can actually change his mind.

SmartTrack is another matter, and what Tory, what Toronto desperately needs is a fresh look at what GO, SmartTrack and the TTC could be if only the fiefdoms and the pettiness of clinging to individual schemes could be unlocked. That would take some leadership. I wonder who has any?

Inevitably comments like this bring out the trolls who say “so what would YOU do” (that’s the polite version). Here’s my response as a scheme that bears at least as much importance as a way of looking at our transit network as the competing visions in the Mayor’s Office, Metrolinx, City Planning and the TTC.

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SmartTrack Update: Many Reports, Many Unanswered Questions (Updated)

Updated October 21, 2015 at 9:30 am:

The Executive Committee spent a few hours discussing this report. As the morning wore on, it was clear that Mayor Tory was becoming unhappy with questions about his scheme. By the end of the debate when he spoke, he said:

I think a number of the questions raised by members of council today are perfectly legitimate questions which I’m sure our staff have taken note of and if they weren’t already being asked and answered, those questions, they will now be.  I just hope and I sense a generally positive sort of sense around here but I hope that we don’t get into being either sort of Douglas or Debbie Downer about these things. [Adapted from a quotation in the Toronto Sun]

Tory went on to say that he had “a mandate” from voters to build SmartTrack in a manner distressingly reminiscent of Rob Ford’s “mandate” to tear up Transit City. The problem with both claims is that voters did not elect Tory or Ford for those specific purposes, but in a reaction against the previous administrations, particularly in Tory’s case. Moreover, that “mandate” does not mean that the platform necessarily made sense as proposed, only that it was an attraction to voters that a candidate had concrete ambitions. We have already seen Tory backtrack on his claims that Toronto did not need more bus service (responding to Olivia Chow’s half-hearted support for transit), and there is no reason for SmartTrack to be treated as a divine plan on stone tablets.

As answers from staff to various questions made abundantly clear, there is a lot of work to do between now and first quarter 2016 when all of the details are supposed to return to Council. Staff went out of their way to avoid giving any indication of the way preliminary work might be headed lest they be drawn into a debate about “conclusions” before the supporting studies are in place.

The Executive Committee made a few amendments to the report’s recommendations:

1.  Requested the City Manager to forward the report (October 15, 2015) from the City Manager for information to the Toronto Transit Commission, the Ministry of Transportation, Metrolinx, the City of Mississauga and York Region.

2.  Requested the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report to the Planning and Growth Management Committee on the results of the public consultations arising from the Preliminary Assessments of the Smart Track Stations, as set out in Appendix 2 to the report (October 15, 2015) from the City Manager, particularly with respect to the development potential of new stations.

3.  Requested the City Manager to work with Toronto Transit Commission, Metrolinx, and GO Transit, to develop a One Map Strategy where by major intersections and/routes of these transit operators are shown on future hard copy and electronic local and regional transit maps, once SmartTrack routes and stations are established.

The first recommendation is the original staff proposal simply to transmit the update report to other agencies. The second arose from a concern by Councillor Shiner, chair of the Planning & Growth Management Committee, that implications of and potential for redevelopment around SmartTrack stations be understood as soon as possible. During debate, he spoke about the success of development a long the Sheppard line, an ironic stance considering how strongly he had opposed development around Bayview Station when it was at the design stage.

The third recommendation arose from Councillor Pasternak, who never tires of advocating the “North York Relief Line” (otherwise known as the Sheppard West extension to Downsview). His desire is that maps show all of the projects that are in the pipeline during studies, not just the one that happens to be the subject of debate.

A notable absence in the staff presentation was any reference to the Scarborough Subway Extension as an alternative route for travel to downtown. That presentation covered substantially the same information as the background reports, but it included a few new charts about comparative travel times with SmartTrack in place.

STvsTTC_TravelTimes1

The important difference between this map [at p23] and the Tory SmartTracker website (which shows comparative travel times) is that the TTC includes the access and wait times for SmartTrack in its calculations. This reduces the proportionate saving over a trip. Another issue, of course, is that many riders do not work at Union Station, and taking SmartTrack there would be an out-of-the-way trip. This is not to downplay what SmartTrack might do, but to point out that if ST is to be part of a “network”, then advocacy for it must look at how it benefits all of the trips originating in some part of the city (say northeast Scarborough), not just those that conveniently lie on its route. This will be an issue in comparative ridership projections for ST and the Scarborough Subway Extension because those who are bound for midtown will almost certainly have a shorter trip simply by taking the subway rather than ST.

The original article follows below:

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A “Reset” For Waterfront Transit Plans? (Updated)

Updated October 15, 2015 at 10:20 am:

Because the options for the Waterfront West line are not fully explained or explored in the City report, I have added the drawings of the options from the Environmental Assessment to the end of this article.

A few weeks ago, I reported on a presentation at the TTC Board meeting by Deputy City Manager John Livey on the status of various rapid transit plans and studies. This was by way of a preview of reports that were expected at the City’s Executive Committee meeting on October 20, 2015.

One of these reports has now surfaced on the subject of Waterfront Transit, while another on SmartTrack is still in preparation. (Reports on the Relief Line and Scarborough Subway studies are not expected until the new year pending results from the UofT’s new demand model.)

The new report proposes a “reset” in the status of the many waterfront studies and proposals given that many of them are incomplete or out of date. The area of study will be south of Queensway/Queen from Long Branch to Woodbine, although there is passing mention of Scarborough which has its own collection of transit problems in the Kingston Road corridor.

The fundamental problem along the waterfront and areas immediately to the north is that population and plans for development continue with no end in sight, while transit planning, such as it exists at all, looked much further afield for signature projects. Moreover, origins and destinations in the present and future waterfront are not conveniently located along a single line where one scheme will magically solve every problem. Transit “downtown” is not simply a matter of getting to King and Bay. There is a mix of short haul and long haul trips, and a line designed to serve the first group well almost certainly will not attract riders from the second.

There has been significant growth in many precincts along the waterfront, including South Etobicoke, Liberty Village, Fort York, King/Spadina, City Place, South Core, and King/Parliament.  Further, significant growth is planned for emerging precincts, including Lower Yonge, East Bayfront, West Don Lands, North Keating, Port Lands and the First Gulf site.  There is currently a latent demand for transit south of Front Street as witnessed by transit loading on the King and Harbourfront streetcar services.  King Street, for example, represents the most southerly continuous east/west transit line and is regularly experiencing near or at-capacity conditions through much of the weekday peak periods.  The extent of latent and anticipated future demand creates an imperative for defining a long-term transit solution as soon as possible. [pp 1-2]

Better transit on King and Queen, whatever form it might be, will address demand from redevelopment of the “old” city north of the rail corridor, but it cannot touch the “new” city south to the lake. Service on the rail corridors (Lake Shore and Weston) can address some longer trips, but with constraints on both line capacity and service frequency. Despite politically-motivated claims, the GO corridors will not be “surface subways” with service like the Bloor-Danforth line, and GO service is constrained to operate through some areas that are not well placed relative to the local transit system.

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