John Tory Has (Another) Transit Plan

On September 20, 2022, Mayor John Tory announced his transit platform as part of his re-election campaign. It contains little new but rests mainly on completing works already in progress.

He pledges to be “laser-focused” on four key projects that just happen to be provincial undertakings. How exactly Tory, or any other municipal politician can advance these, other than standing out of Premier Ford’s way, is something of a mystery.

The projects are, of course, the Scarborough Subway extension, the Ontario line, the Eglinton Crosstown extension “towards” the airport and the Yonge North extension to Richmond Hill. Collectively they represent a $28 billion provincial commitment that will keep the construction industry humming along for the next decade, but an unknown call on future city budgets to aid in their operation.

They also represent “investments” that will crowd other projects off of the table when Toronto calls on provincial and federal governments for more transit support. Toronto and Mayor Tory are thrilled to get such a huge transit investment, but whether this is the right investment is quite another matter.

The remainder of his platform focuses more on past achievements than new programs, and is silent on the question of how we will actually pay for much of this.

In the following text, the quoted items come from John Tory’s campaign website linked above. The order has been slightly changed to group related items.

  • Moving forward with the Crosstown LRT and Finch LRT, both of which will open soon.
  • Securing funding for the expansion of Bloor-Yonge station to meet current and future ridership demand.
  • Planning underway for the Eglinton East and Waterfront transit lines.
  • Investing in 60 new streetcars for the TTC through a $568 million funding commitment from all three levels of government.

Notable by their absence are the Eglinton East and Waterfront LRT lines for which the only mention is that planning is underway. I spoke with candidate Tory at the TTC’s August 20 open house, and he replied forcefully about his support for the Waterfront LRT and desire to see it built. Strange, then, that actual construction does not appear in his platform.

Many other items are works in progress or nearly completed including the original section of Eglinton Crosstown and the Finch LRT both expected to open fairly soon. Others include securing funding for Bloor-Yonge station’s expansion (a second platform in Yonge Station plus expanded circulation space between the Yonge and Bloor lines) and funding for 60 additional streetcars.

  • Introducing the City’s first-ever RapidTO corridor – a priority bus-only lane – on Eglinton East.
  • Creating the King Street Transit Priority Corridor to ensure more reliable and efficient streetcar service along the busiest surface transit route in the city.

The King Street transitway is a fait acompli as are the RapidTO bus lanes in Scarborough. The much greater challenge, on which Tory’s platform is silent, will be wresting transit’s priority back on King Street from the “wild west” that has evolved since the scheme was introduced. This is only one aspect of the need for much more aggressive enforcement of traffic laws and regulations so badly needed in Toronto.

As for RapidTO, many proposed bus lanes have encountered political headwinds because they would be on streets where space is much less easily set aside for transit. The Scarborough project was low hanging fruit.

  • Increasing subway service on Line 1 and 2 during peak periods to support return to office plans.
  • Increasing investment on 17 bus and streetcar routes this year, and increasing service on 29 bus routes and two streetcar routes beginning in September as riders return to work.

John Tory takes credit for recent service improvements in response to riding growth. What his platform does not mention is that service is still below pre-pandemic levels especially on the subway. Running more service, both to get back to January 2020 levels and to grow in the future will require money, and it is not clear where this will come from as provincial and federal governments are expected to reduce or cease their Covid budget supplements to cities in the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2023. The issue is not what the TTC managed to achieve for Fall 2022, but how long this can be sustained.

  • Rolling out the Automated Train Control signalling system on all of Line 1 and expansion of the Wi-Fi on buses pilot program this fall.

The rollout of ATC on Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be substantially complete on the weekend of September 24, 2022, when the final segment from Eglinton to Finch switches over. There will be a clean-up phase to deal with changes identified since the project went live, but the main work is at last finished. It should be remembered that this project had a checkered life with a botched original implementation plan that was rescued by former CEO Andy Byford. The status of ATC for Line 2 Bloor-Danforth is not yet known, but is essential as part of the Scarborough Subway extension plans. (More about LIne 2 overall below.)

  • Bringing in the Fair Pass, a first-ever TTC discount for low-income residents, as well as free two-hour transfers on the TTC.

Worth remembering is that the Fair Pass and the Two-Hour Transfer were both products of community activism, not proposals that originated in the Mayor’s office. Both were hard-won in the face of budget hawks who saw them as added rider subsidies, not as investments in a better city.

The Fair Pass is still not fully implemented because the cost of extending it to the full projected market is not funded in the City’s budget. John Tory’s platform is silent on this.

  • Ensuring that the TTC continues to have the largest fleet of electric buses in all of North America. 

The City of Toronto has a Net Zero plan which sounds impressive, but only a portion of it has been endorsed by Council. Even the planned purchase of 300 battery-electric buses is not yet a fully funded project even though the TTC has been through a vendor evaluation and was expected to award contracts in September 2022.

The TTC will also require at least one more bus garage to handle the growing bus fleet assuming that plans to continue service expansion are not sandbagged. This type of change requires co-ordination of vehicle, plant and staffing many years in advance.

  • Implementing the SmartTrack program, with an agreement signed between all three levels of government and with Metrolinx now hiring builders for five new urban rapid transit stations.

SmartTrack, announced two elections ago when John Tory was first staking his claim to having a transit program, is a shadow of the original proposal. It is now a handful of new GO stations that will be built at the City’s cost, and marginal improvements in GO service that Metrolinx planned to operate whether SmartTrack existed or not.

Still to be settled is the question of GO and TTC fare integration.

SmartTrack was announced in 2014 as a plan that would solve every transit problem. In the intervening years, the program shrank, and Mayor rather than candidate Tory learned that there is more to transit than one commuter rail / surface rapid transit corridor including simple things like more buses for better service.

Ironically, the SmartTracker website telling us how much time we will all save in our travels is still active with the full proposed network for all to see.

  • Significantly upgrading the TTC system as part of the five and 10-year plan to improve customer experience and accommodate expected growth in ridership.

To say that this is a key investment made, as if it were a done deal, is a real stretch. The TTC has a huge backlog of capital projects many of which are not funded. A substantial collection of these are part of a Line 2 renewal plan that was first proposed, but not published, while Andy Byford was still CEO. It was pushed to the back burner because of the substantial cost. The plan includes:

  • New trains for Line 2 including vehicles for service improvements and the Scarborough extension
  • Automatic Train Control implementation
  • Station upgrades
  • A new storage and maintenance facility west of Kipling Station

The TTC plans to publish an updated Line 2 plan in 2023. There is no sense of how we will pay for it, nor how strong a commitment we will see from City Hall and other governments for special funding beyond their regular contributions.

Vital to any plan that will improve the TTC and handle growing ridership is a recognition that carrying more riders on a more attractive service requires more operating subsidies. These are not small scale investments in a demonstration project here or there, but a system-wide effort that will be invisible without significant new resources. Moreover, TTC management must be held accountable for operating and maintaining their system well rather than the lacklustre operation that passes for transit service on many routes today.

I am not convinced that Mayor Tory is even aware of the calls on City funding that the transit improvements he touts will require. If he is, then he owes voters an explanation of what we can actually afford to do and when. If he is in the dark, just spouting feel-good slogans like “SmartTrack”, then Toronto will wait a long time for substantially better transit.

Doors Open Toronto: Lower Bay Station, May 28, 2022 (Updated)

On Saturday, May 28, 2022, between 10am and 5pm, the TTC will open the lower level of Bay Station as part of Toronto’s Doors Open event.

May 28, 2022: Updated with photos from the event.

Bay Station is an inverted version of St. George Station with the Bloor line on the upper level (the currently active station) and the University line on the lower level. Tracks connect to Lower Bay from the junctions north of Museum Station and at the west end of Yonge Station. These are regularly used for equipment moves between the two lines as well as by work trains.

This station has rarely been seen by the train-riding public except for a few construction-related subway diversions. It operated in revenue service for the first six months of the Bloor-Danforth subway during the trial of an integrated service on the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines. When that ended in September 1966, the station took on various uses including storage, training, testing of platform treatments for wayfinding, and movie shoots.

During the event, trains will be parked on the platforms, and there will be displays from the TTC’s centennial book A Century of Moving Toronto.

Access is only by stairway.

Route Map for Integrated Subway Service 1966

Here is a selection of photos from the event.

Lower Bay Station is taller than most because of the alignment of the tunnel which connects to the University line north of Museum by going under the north-to-west track into St. George Station.

Two trains were set up with photos arranged by decade. The display is adapted from the book TTC100 which is available in hardcover or digital version from the TTCShop.

The streetcar system is a lot smaller than it was in 1949 before any of the subway was built. Streetcar trains with Peter Witt cars served Yonge, and trains of PCCs operated on Bloor-Danforth. Many other parallel routes funnelled riders into downtown.

Lower Bay is a bit worse for wear, not having seen revenue service (at least with stopping trains) since 1966. It has been used, among other things, to test various floor treatments for wayfinding.

Once the Yonge Subway opened in 1954, the major interchange was at Bloor-Yonge with a protected unloading and loading platform in the middle of Bloor Street leading directly to the Bloor Station platforms below. This area will see major reconstruction in coming years as Yonge Station and the link with Bloor Station are expanded to provide a separate eastbound platform for Line 2.

Streetcar traffic to the east end was quite intensive with the combined service Bloor and Danforth trains operating close to once a minute between Bedford Loop (now St. George Station) and Coxwell. The view looks northwest on the Prince Edward Viaduct with the trees of Rosedale in the background.

At the east end of Lower Bay, there is a TTC Lego subway train set up which some lucky soul will win in a draw.

Finally, the station name is “BAY Yorkville”. This is a testimonial to the days when Yorkville was a disreputable neighbourhood full of coffee houses, people with long hair, and smokeables you can now find on any street corner. The station’s original name was to be “Yorkville” after the former town, but this was changed. This is not the only original BD station to get a different name when it was built: “Vincent” became “Dundas West”, and “Willowvale” became “Christie”.

A Buck’s Worth of Blarney

Today the Liberal Party of Ontario announced that it would cut all, yes, all transit fares in Ontario to just $1 if they are elected. The cut would apply through to 2023-24 (the provincial fiscal year end is March 31), and is sold as a way to get 400,000 cars off of the road every day.

This is a plan so simplistic, so poorly-thought-out, that even Doug Ford could have authored it, possibly after a few of his short-lived one dollar beers from the last campaign.

Regular readers here will know that I view across-the-board fare reductions as little better than snake oil because they benefit people who do not require more subsidy while doing nothing to improve what they actually use, transit service. The Liberal plan goes even further by giving massive fare reductions to regional transit riders who now pay double-digits for a one-way ticket.

They show the monthly saving for a commuter from Barrie’s Allendale GO station as $434.30. In other words, this plan would see a Barrie commuter subsidized by over $5,000/year.

In a separate pledge, the Liberals promise $375 million in annual transit funding to support existing systems, more service and “more intercity connections”.

Let’s check the math:

Assuming that:

  • Each car represents at least two trips (fares) for a round trip (single occupancy)
  • The saving/trip is at least $2 based on local transit fares
  • The trip only uses one transit system (e.g. TTC, YRT)
  • There are 250 commuting days per year

This gets us up to $400 million per year.

But don’t forget that we’re giving a break to all of the existing riders, and just for the TTC that would be around 300 million rides per year, or another $600 million and change.

We have not even talked about other transit systems, or the much larger savings GO Transit riders would see.

The big problem, however, is that all this money will not buy one more bus trip’s worth of service. That forlorn display in transit’s shop window will not improve one bit even with a big sign “Sale, Only $1!”.

Buck-a-ride will not deal with the last mile problem of getting people who now drive to their transit trip be it a local bus stop or a parking lot.

Already, the TTC reports that it is increasing service on some routes because of crowding. Where will it put a large influx of new riders, assuming that they appear?

In the short term covered by this proposal, the TTC has some surplus vehicles (albeit no operators to drive them) because they are not yet back to full service across the system. Even at full pre-pandemic service, they had a generous number of spare buses.

Systems elsewhere in Ontario do not have the robust demand we see in Toronto and could have more headroom for growth within existing operations, but the ability to carry all of those new riders without extra operating costs should not be assumed.

With this announcement, the Liberals have side-stepped commenting on the really big issues like the scope of transit expansion they would fund and their vision for planning that doesn’t start and end with subway tunnels.

When they get around to publishing a platform, we might see how transit fits in their wider scheme of spending and priorities across the many government portfolios. For the moment, this is a cheap, ill-conceived piece of campaigning from the man who turned Metrolinx into his own photo-op generator, the Minister for Kirby Station.

Toronto Contemplates Net Zero Plan

Updated January 13, 2022 at 6:45 am: Sundry typos and scrambled phrases have been corrected. The projection of additional bus requirements for a 70 per cent service increase has been corrected to include spares.

At its recent meeting, Toronto Council endorsed a plan to move the City to Net Zero emissions by 2040. A review of the full plan is well beyond the scope of this blog, but some proposals affecting transit service and operations are very aggressive.

If Toronto is going to be serious about this we need a detailed examination of assumptions, scenarios, cost projection, and plans out to 2040. Where will population and job growth be? How will transit serve them?

Before I get into the report itself, a quotation from former TTC CEO Andy Byford is worth mention.

Andy Byford sums up the role of a transit system:

“…service that is frequent, that is clean, that goes where people want to go, when people want to go there, that is customer responsive, that is reliable, in other words that gets the basics right …”

Andy Byford on CBC Sunday, December 21, 2021

Too often we concentrate on big construction projects, or a new technology, or a showcase trial on one or two routes rather than looking at the overall system. In particular, we rarely consider what transit is from a rider’s point of view. It is pointless to talk about attracting people to use transit more if we do not first address the question of why they are not already riding transit today. This is an absolutely essential part of any Net Zero strategy.

The reports contain a lot of material, although there is some duplication between them. They contain proposals for short and medium term actions. At this point, Council has not embraced anything beyond the short term plan.

From a transit point of view, that “plan” is more or less “business as usual” and does little to challenge the current status of transit service in the short term. There is hope that electrification of the diesel/hybrid bus fleet might be accelerated, but little sense of what, on a system-wide basis, would shift auto users to transit beyond works already in progress.

A vital point here is that transit has two major ways to affect Council’s Net Zero goals:

  • Conversion of transit vehicles to all-electric operation will reduce or eliminate emissions associated with these vehicles, depending on the degree to which the electricity sources are themselves “clean”. This is a relatively small part of the City’s total emissions.
  • Shifting trips from autos to transit (or to walking or cycling) both reduces emissions and relieves the effects of road congestion, including, possibly, making more dedicated road space available for transit and cycling. Emissions from cars are much more substantial than those from transit.

In the short term, the overwhelming focus is on conversion of the existing bus fleet to electric operation, not of expanding service to attract more riders. Improvements to specific routes might come through various transit priority schemes, but these will not be seen system-wide. Based on demand projections, large scale capital works, notably new subway lines, will primarily benefit existing riders rather than shifting auto users to transit.

The short term targets related to transit are quite simple:

  • Electrify 20 percent of the bus fleet by 2025-26.
    • This effectively requires that 400 diesel or hybrid buses be converted. The TTC already plans to buy 300 eBuses, and the Board has asked TTC management to look at accelerating this conversion. This target is very low hanging fruit provided that someone will pay for the buses.
  • Further targets are 50 per cent conversion by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2040.
    • Looking at the TTC’s likely replacement schedule (discussed in my Capital Budget Follow-Up), they will easily be achieved as much of the existing fleet is due for replacement by the early 2030s. Hybrid buses to be acquired this year will reach end of life in 2034-35.

This is an endorsement of “more of the same” in our transit planning, but no real commitment to making transit fundamentally better so that it can handle many more trips at lower emission rates than today.

Looking further out there are proposals for substantially more transit service and free fares, but these are not fully reflected in projected costs or infrastructure needs.

Some of the proposals for the NZ2050 plan are, shall we say, poorly thought-out:

  • Convert one lane of traffic to exclusive bus lanes on all arterials.
    • Many arterials are only four lanes wide and taking a permanent bus lane has considerable effects on how the road would operate. This is a particular problem for routes with infrequent service during some periods of operation.
  • Increase service frequency on all transit routes: bus by 70%, streetcar by 50%, subway off-peak service increased to every 3 mins.
    • This represents a very large increase in transit service with effects on fleet size, facilities and, of course, budgets. This would require an increase in the bus and streetcar fleets beyond what is already planned as well as construction of new garages and a carhouse.
  • Tolls of $0.66/km on all arterial roads.
    • This would apply only to fossil-fueled cars, and the forecast amount of revenue is less than half of the additional funding transit would require.
  • No transit fares.
    • The immediate cost of this would be about $1.2 billion in foregone fare revenue, offset by about ten percent in the elimination of fare collection and enforcement costs.
  • Shift 75% of car and transit trips under 5km to bikes or e-bikes by 2040.
    • This is truly bizarre. In effect, transit stops performing a local service for most rides and they are shifted to cycling. The average length of a transit trip is under 10km, and many are shorter. Moreover, trips are often comprised of multiple hops each of which might be quite small. There is a small question of how much uptake there would be in poor weather conditions.
  • Shift 75% of trips under 2km to walking by 2040.
    • Even some transit trips are short, and transit, especially with improved service, is the natural place for these trips. It is not clear whether the plan would be to somehow deter transit users from making very short trips just as, indeed, a car driver would.

[Revenue and cost issues are discussed in more detail later in this article.]

With all of the planned investment, transit’s mode share of travel is projected to fall, while walking and cycling would rise considerably in part because of the policy of diverting short trips. It simply does not make sense to push people off of transit just at the point where we are trying to encourage transit use. This part of the plan is laughably incoherent, and is an example of how good intentions can be undermined by poorly crafted policy.

For example, it is less than 5km from Liberty Village to Yonge Street, and if we were to take the proposal seriously, we would expect most people to cycle to work downtown, not take GO or the streetcar services. I look forward to the public meeting where this scheme is unveiled to the residents. If the demand for GO and for the King car is any indication, they do not want to use “active transportation”. Similarly, the planned development at East Harbour is less than 5km from downtown.

Meanwhile, transit electrification itself only eliminates 3 per cent of existing emissions, assuming a clean source of electricity. The subway and streetcar systems already are electrified, and both have capacity for growing demand if only more service were operated.

Reports:

The Council motion reads, in part:

City Council endorse the targets and actions outlined in Attachment B to the report (December 2, 2021) from the Interim Director, Environment and Energy, titled “TransformTO Net Zero Strategy”.

Councillor Layton moved two amendments:

* Request the Board of the Toronto Transit Commission to identify opportunities to accelerate the Green Bus Program and to request the CEO, Toronto Transit Commission to report to the Board in the second quarter of 2022 on these opportunities.

* City Council request the City Manager, in consultation with the General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, to outline in the 2022 Budget proposal options to increase spending on surface vehicles and hiring additional operators aimed at increasing ridership to get us on the path to achieving the TransformTO goals.

The first amendment echoes a request from the TTC Board to its management at the December 20, 2021 meeting. Acceleration of eBus purchases will require additional funding from somewhere, as well as a vendor capable of meeting a larger order. It will also have effects on TTC infrastructure needs for garaging.

The second amendment is more pressing because it speaks to the 2022 Budget process that will launch on January 13. If the TTC is going to ramp up service this year, this must be factored into the budget. A likely problem will be that any growth beyond that now planned will be entirely on the City’s dime rather than supported by other governments. However, we need to understand what could be done, if only to know the cost should a “fairy godmother” show up with some spare change.

Neither the amendment nor the short-term target for 2022-2025 gives any indication of just what is meant by “better” transit service, nor do they distinguish between restoring pre-covid service levels and going beyond that to encourage more ridership.

The points listed above for NZ2050 are excerpted from Attachment C, the technical background report. A casual reader might think that Council has embraced a very expansive view of transit’s role, but they have not.

The tactics from Attachment C are notably absent from Attachment B which refers to them, but actually lists a much more restricted set of transit goals. I have confirmed with City staff that Council has only endorsed Attachment B.

Q: For clarification: There are, broadly speaking, two levels of a shift in the emphasis on transit in the short term plan to 2030 and in the longer term to 2040 and beyond. Reading the Council motion, it appears that Council has endorsed the short term plan (Appendix B), but has not endorsed the more aggressive targets of the longer term set out in Appendix C. Is this a correct interpretation?

A: Yes. City Council endorsed the targets and the actions outlined in Attachment B ‘TransformTO Net Zero Strategy’. Attachment C is a technical backgrounder report that was used to inform the targets and actions that were recommended and adopted.

Email from Steve Munro to Toronto Media Relations, December 29, 2021. Response from Toronto Environment & Energy Division, January 10, 2022.

That is a polite way of saying “we had some really aggressive ideas, but we know enough not to bring them to Council”.

“Transit” vs “Transition”

In the process of reviewing the reports, I searched on the word “transit”, but got hits more frequently on “transition” as there are many other sectors where reduction or elimination of emissions are possible and on a large scale.

According to the most recent greenhouse gas inventory, transportation is the second largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 36 percent of total emissions with approximately 97 per cent of all transportation emissions originating from passenger cars, trucks, vans, and buses. Gasoline accounts for about 30 per cent of Toronto’s total GHG emissions.

TransformTO: Critical Steps for Net Zero by 2040. p. 30

Here is a pie chart showing the relative contribution of each proposed action in the Attachment C list which is a more aggressive set of changes than Council adopted. Note the small contribution of transit (red) compared with other areas such as personal and commercial vehicles and changes to building energy use.

Based on Section 7: Low-Carbon Actions pp 52-56 in the Net Zero Technical Report

Another way to look at this is shown in a chart of energy sources and emissions generated by each transportation sector as the full NZ plan is implemented.

  • Top left: the emissions of urban buses are shown in green. This falls off to zero as the bus fleet electrifies.
  • Middle left: the decline in diesel (green) is a combination of transit, trucking and a small contribution from diesel-powered autos.
  • Bottom left: Cars and light trucks are the overwhelming contributors of emissions within the transportation sector.
  • On the right, the charts are harder to accept at face value because they include the effect of a very large shift of short trips to active transportation. An interesting comparison would be what might happen if autos electrified, but did not lose mode share.

That last point has a knock-on effect because if short trips are not shifted, but are only electrified, they will contribute a substantial demand to generating and charging capacity, not to mention continued auto traffic and competition for road space.

Net Zero Technical Report, p. 91
Continue reading

A Brand New Electric Bus for the TTC: 9020 on Charter April 20, 1969

In spite of the TTC’s self-congratulatory publicity about its largest-in-North-America electric fleet, elecric buses have been around a long time and in greater numbers in the form of trolley coaches.

Toronto had a very small fleet in the 1920s, but the mode came into its own in the 1940s when the TTC replaced streetcars on some routes with trolley coaches to retire aging rail equipment. These vehicles served Toronto for two decades, and in the late 1960s, the TTC experimented with reconditioned electrical gear in a new bus body.

Western Flyer (as it then was) 9020 was the result, with the fleet number taken from the coach whose equipment was recycled. During its experimental period, a group of transit enthusiasts (we were not yet respectable enough to be called “advocates” or any haughtier term) took the prototype out for a spin on the network of routes based at Lansdowne Garage.

The robust nature of 1940s electrical gear allowed it to be reused in new buses, and the “new” fleet ran for over two decades. Using old electrics saved on the cost of new buses, but brought the downside that the buses had no off-wire capability.

Now, with batteries and a mixture of charging schemes, the electric bus has been rediscovered. In a few cities like Vancouver, it was never forgotten.

The TTC could still have a trolley coach network, probably much bigger than the one it dumped in 1992 for the then-latest “green” fad: “clean” natural gas buses that did not last ten years.

For more about the history of trolley coaches in Toronto, see Transit Toronto’s site.

TTC Contemplates the Future of Streetcars: 1952, 1971, 1972

From time to time, I am asked about the TTC streetcar replacement policy and some of the history. To flesh out some of this, I have scanned three reports of interest.

1952: Buying Used Streetcars

In 1952, the TTC was still acquiring second-hand PCCs from other cities, but planned eventually to replace all of their streetcar lines by 1980 when subways downtown would make the streetcar lines obsolete.

This is a scan of a photocopy of a carbon copy of a typewritten report. [26MB PDF]

This report shows the TTC’s thoughts on the future of its streetcar system from just before the Yonge subway opened, and how it would be an important part of the network until about 1980.

The importance of the Bloor-Danforth corridor can be seen in the following text:

The Service Change Committee estimates that after the subway is in operation the Bloor service will require 138 cars for through service over the whole route, plus 36 cars for short-turn service between Yonge and Coxwell, or a total of 174 cars.

No present-day route comes close to requiring this much equipment to handle passenger demand.

A longer extract is worth highlighting:

At the present time … there are available good, used, P.C.C. cars of recent manufacture which are suitable for operation in Toronto. This situation will obviously only continue for a limited time. It is believed that the Commission should seize the opportunity to protect its future by the purchase of some of these cars.

It might be asked why Toronto should consider buying additional street cars when so many of the transit properties on this continent are giving them up and turning to trolley coaches, buses or rapid transit operation. It is, therefore, necessary and useful to examine the practice as to vehicular service, past and present, of other transit properties to determine what course should be followed in this city.

It is more or less true that there has been a gradual abandonment of street cars in a substantial number of large American cities and some smaller Canadian cities.

There is obvious justification for the abandonment of street cars in smaller communities but the policy of abandonment of the use of this form of transportation in the larger communities is decidedly open to question. In fact it is hardly to much to say that the results which have occurred in a good many of these larger cities leaves open to serious question the wisdom of the decisions made.

It may be not wholly accurate to attribute the transit situation in most large American cities to the abandonment of the street cars. Nevertheless the position in which these utilities have now found themselves is a far from happy one. Fares have steadily and substantially increased, the quality of the service given, on the whole, has not been maintained, and the fare increases have not brought a satisfactory financial result. Short-haul riding, which is the lifeblood of practically all transit properties, has dropped to a minimum and the Companies are left with the unprofitable long-hauls. Deterioration of service has also lessened the public demand for public passenger transportation. The result is that the gross revenues of the properties considered, if they have increased to any substantial degree, have not increased in anything like the ratio of fare increases, and in most cases have barely served to keep pace with the rising cost of labour and material. It is difficult to see any future for most large American properties unless public financial aid comes to their support.

These facts being as they are, Toronto should consider carefully whether policies which have brought these unfortunate results are policies which should be copied in this city. Unquestionably a large part of the responsibility for the plight in which these companies find themselves is due to the fact that the labour cost on small vehicles is too high to make the service self-sustaining at practically any conceivable fare.

Why then did these properties adopt this policy? It is not unfair to suggest that this policy was adopted in large part by public pressure upon management exerted by the very articulate group of citizens who own and use motor cars and who claim street cars interfere with the movement of free-wheel vehicles and who assert that the modern generation has no use for vehicles operating on fixed tracks but insists on “riding on rubber”. If there is any truth in the above suggestion it is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility by those in charge of transit interests. They have tailored their service in accordance with the demands of their bitter competitors rather than in accordance with the needs of their patrons.

The report goes on to talk about both the deterioration of physical plant and equipment in many cities, but not in Toronto, as well as the very high demands found on our street car routes.

Even if the Queen subway were to open “in the next decade”, the initial operation of this line would be with streetcars and the TTC would continue to need a fleet. This statement was made at a time when the Queen route, rather than Bloor, was seen as the next rapid transit corridor after Yonge Street.

The report recommends purchase of 75 used cars from Cleveland, 25 of which had been built for Louisville but barely operated there before that system was abandoned. The TTC already had second-hand cars from Cincinnati, and would go on to buy cars from Birmingham and Kansas City.

1971 and 1972: The Beginning of the End?

In 1971 and 1972, the TTC was still discussing their plan for a Queen Street subway, although it was looking rather uncertain as a project. As we all know, it did not open in 1980.

The 1971 report sets out a plan to discontinue all but the core routes of King, Queen (including Kingston Road) and Bathurst, with even these up for grabs should a Queen subway open in 1980, rather far-fetched idea for late 1971 and an era when all rapid transit planning focused on the suburbs.

This is a scan of an nth-generation photocopy and it is faint in places because that’s what my copy looks like. [6 MB PDF]

The 1972 report set in motion the political debate about the future of streetcars, and led to the formation of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee. Had its recommendations been adopted, the removal of streetcars from St. Clair would begun the gradual dismantling of the system.

It is amusing to see the sort of creative accounting by the TTC that we in the activist community associate with more recent proposals. There is an amazing co-incidence that the number of spare trolley coaches exactly matches the needs of the streetcar retirement plan for St. Clair even though this would have actually meant a cut in line capacity. Moreover, the planned Spadina subway would lead to an increase in demand as St. Clair would be a feeder route.

There is also the wonderful dodge that if the TTC abandoned the streetcars and claimed it was for the Yonge subway extension, they hoped to get Metro Council to pay for some of the conversion cost out of the subway budget.

In this report (as well as in the 1971 report above) we learn that the Dundas car just had to go because its continued operation would interfere with the planned parking garage for the then-proposed Eaton Centre.

Note: My copy of this report was in good enough shape to scan with OCR and convert to text rather than as page images. The format is slightly changed from the original, but all of the text is “as written”.

The Streetcars Survived, But the Network Did Not Grow

In November 1972, the TTC Board, at the urging of Toronto Council, voted to retain the streetcar system except for the Mt. Pleasant and Rogers Road lines. The former would be removed for a bridge project at the Belt Line, and the latter was in the Borough of York who wanted rid of their one remaining streetcar route.

The TTC had a plan for suburban LRT lines in the 1960s, but this was not to be. While Edmonton, Calgary and San Diego built new LRT, Toronto’s transit future was mired in technology pipe-dreams from Queen’s Park that bore little fruit and blunted the chance for a suburban network while the city was still growing. It is ironic that growth in the streetcar network, if it comes at all, will be downtown thanks to a renaissance of the waterfront when it could have happened decades ago while much of suburbia was still farmland.

Transit and the Urban Form of Toronto

This article contains a deck with my presentation and speaking notes for a guest lecture to Professor George Baird’s class at the Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto, “A History of Urban Form”.

It is not intended as a definitive document, but as an overview tailored to the course as a whole and to the time available.

Alas, you will not hear my dulcet tones. For some things you just had to be there.

The version linked here as of 7:00 pm, November 6, has minor corrections and typos fixed.

TTC’s 100th Birthday

Today, September 1, 2021, marks the anniversary of the day 100 years ago when the Toronto Transportation Commission, as it was then known, began the consolidation of the mostly privately owned street railways that served Toronto into the system we know today.

I will not attempt a mini-history in this article as there is good reading elsewhere in the TTC and Toronto Archives sites, as well as many detailed articles on various aspects of the system’s history on the Transit Toronto site.

At Roncesvalles Carhouse, which is conveniently half-empty thanks to a combination of the never-ending King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles reconstruction (held up by Toronto Hydro) and the reduced level of streetcar service, the yard could be dedicated to a collection of vehicles over the past century. There was plenty of room for a socially distanced gathering of media, a few politicians, TTC management and staff.

The assembled fleet included:

  • Peter Witt 2766, PCC 4549, CLRV 4081, ALRV 4207, Flexity 4601
  • Proterra 3725, BYD 3754, New Flyer 3722, Nova Bus 8850, GM New Look 2252 and Wheel Trans ProMaster W700.

The TTC has produced a commemorative book that will be available at some subway kiosks and through the TTC online shop. There is also a painting which will be issued as a poster, and used as the cover art for the January 2022 Ride Guide. The artist is Robert Croxford.

[Full disclosure: I reviewed an early version of the text for this book on a pro bono basis.]

In his remarks, Mayor Tory emphasized the importance of the TTC to the City of Toronto and to the movement of people particularly during the covid pandemic. He gave thanks for the dedication of TTC staff and the substantial funding from other governments. Although there are many large capital projects now underway, Tory also noted the importance of better funding for day-to-day operations.

Although the reference was veiled, Tory also was happy that the proposed “uploading” of the TTC to Ontario did not occur, and that the TTC was celebrating its centenary as a municipally owned and operated system.

Although Premier Bill Davis brought Queen’s Park’s participation in transit funding, he was also responsible for the failed technology dreams of the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation’s maglev train “GO Urban”. Had Toronto’s suburban network actually developed in the financially balmy days of the 1970s as an LRT network (planned by the TTC in the 1960s), the city might be a very different place.

The TTC began in the post-war excitement of the 1920s, survived the Great Depression and provided key service to Toronto in World War Two. Then came the Metro amalgamation of the 50s, the start of the subway network, and the booming economy that fueled growth of Toronto and the surrounding region. Transit barely kept up and the density of transit service once seen in the old City never came to the suburbs.

Cutbacks began in the 1980s, but hit hard with the mid 1990s recession when the TTC lost 20 per cent of its riders, a loss that was not recovered until the mid 2000s. There has been much emphasis on subway building, but the new lines did not contribute new riders at the same rate as the earlier rapid transit additions on established, well-used corridors.

With the covid pandemic, ridership dropped again and now stands at about 40 percent of the pre-pandemic level growing slowly as more activities resume. The TTC faces a challenge over the coming decade not just to regain its riders but to sustain and improve service as external subsidies fall.

As I have discussed in many articles, there is a crying need to deal with line management and headway reliability. It is not enough to advertise a service, but a transit system must actually operate credibly to be an alternative to other solutions including that classic alternate for the TTC acronym, “take the car”. There are limitations to what can be achieved with red paint and a handful of reserved bus lanes.

As I was leaving the event, I could not help looking at that yard and contemplating what it might have become if not for we merry band of “streetcar enthusiasts” (and that’s the polite term) who convinced the City of Toronto and the TTC back in 1972 to keep the streetcar system. The years have not been kind, and service levels on some routes are a shadow of what operated decades ago.

When cuts settle in as a management response, when “tailoring service to meet demand” means stuffing as many people as possible onto a declining number of streetcars and buses, the result is a “new normal”. Every time there is an economic downturn, and there have been a few since the early 70s, transit falls back and rarely recovers lost ground.

Back in 2019, the TTC had an all time record day with 2.7 million, but that was for a special event – Raptors Victory Day. But in years before, the rate of ridership growth had leveled off, in spite of continued population growth in the City. The political focus was on where new rapid transit lines might be planned (never mind actually built and opened), while daily operations were strangled by a Mayor and Council bent on limiting taxes. The TTC squeezed some savings out of its own organization, but that sort of exercise is limited to short-term austerity, not for long-term growth.

Today’s presentation had brave words about the TTC’s future, its importance in greening our city. Very true, but not possible without acknowledging that owning and running a good transit system costs money, and short term “efficiencies” can work contrary to our goals.

The TTC’s bus network might be electrifying over the coming decade, a noble goal albeit an expensive one that could constrain vehicle purchases more generally. But if all we do is to replace existing buses and offer no more service, the real saving of moving more people by transit will not be achieved.

This might have been a great site for condo towers overlooking the lake at Sunnyside, but it is still a car barn as it has been since 1895 and the early days of the Toronto Railway Company. I look forward to the day when this yard will be full of streetcars again, and there will be good, frequent service across the entire streetcar network including long-awaited extensions in the waterfront.

The Sigmund Serafin Subway Paintings

About 50 years ago, there was a housecleaning at TTC’s head office at 1900 Yonge Street. A room in what was then the Advertising Department stuffed with archival material was to be cleared out because they needed the space. A call went to the transit fans interested in preservating things that would otherwise be lost. This included a set of water colours by Sigmund Augustus Serafin who produced images of what subway station designs would look like long before the days of computer graphics.

These date mainly from 1957 when the Bloor-Danforth-University subway was still in the design stage. Few of the stations were built exactly as shown here. The quaint presence of the red “G” trains that ran on BD for only six months is a wonderful touch. Other vehicles include PCC streetcars and GM buses that predate the “New Look” era. Many buildings in the backgrounds no longer exist.

For decades these paintings lived in our family house, but in 2016 with what appeared to be a “friendlier” crew with Andy Byford in charge, I decided that it was time for them to go back to the TTC and the City Archives where they now reside. The TTC had thoughts of publishing them as posters, but that idea never bore fruit. The original mats around the paintings were in less than perfect condition when I received them, but the watercolours were and are almost like new.

Reproductions are on display at Bay Station, but they do not do justice to the originals. In anticipation of the TTC’s 100th birthday on September 1, 2021, here is a gallery of the paintings with photos I took while they were in my hands.

Click on any photo to open a gallery of larger versions.

Continue reading

Ontario Line v Osgoode Hall

Metrolinx has an unerring ability, in the name of progress, to propose infrastructure that will not be friendly to its neighbours. Coupled with an organizational arrogance and the pressure to deliver on Ford’s transit dreams, this can produce unhappy relations with areas where they plan to build. It is convenient to portray those objecting to Metrolinx works as misinformed Nimbys, or to gaslight them by suggesting that nobody else in the known universe objects to their plans and to “progress”.

They are so confident that their copious output of publicity includes unintended double entendres such as:

Transit runs both ways. The conversation should too.

Once the progress train gets moving, there’s no stopping it.

The first is advice they could well take themselves, while the second implies that any “conversation” will slam into a brick wall of we-can-do-what-we-want enabled by provincial legislation.

Neighbourhoods along the eastern side of the Ontario Line have received most of the publicity regarding pushback on Metrolinx plans, but one appalling proposal, in the heart of the city, has gone unnoticed: Osgoode Station.

Queen & University, NE Corner, Aug 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

The proposed Osgoode Station on the Ontario line will be an interchange point with the University Subway. To bring the combined station up to current fire code as required when any major change like this occurs, more entrance capacity is required. Metrolinx proposes to put a new entrance (sitting on top of an access shaft) right on that corner.

Here is another view looking south on University.

University Ave E Side Looking SE to Queen, Aug 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

Here is a view from inside the park.

Looking SW Toward Queen & University, Aug 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

This is not the only park that Metrolinx has in its sights (the grove of trees at Moss Park Station west of Sherbourne will vanish), but this particular forest is part of an historic site going back to the City’s origins. It stands in front of Osgoode Hall dating from 1829.

Looking West Across Osgoode Hall Courtyard, Aug. 5/21, Photo by Steve Munro

Before the Ontario Line was proposed, Osgoode Station would have been the western terminus of the Relief Line and it would have shared the entrance facilities of the existing station. The stairways on the southwest corner of Queen & University would have been replaced by a new entrance through the former Bank of Canada building on that corner.

The secondary entrance, required to provide an alternate exit from the new Relief Line station, would have been at York Street.

Osgoode Station Street Level Plan from Relief Line Design Documents, 2018.

The Ontario Line’s Osgoode Station is sited further to the west. This is the high level view showing the two proposed new entrances to the station at University Avenue (NE) and Simcoe (SW).

The station area, as seen in the satellite view:

Source: Google Earth

Metrolinx shows their property requirements in the drawing below, but this does not include lands required as a “lay down area” for materials for the station project. Note also that their tunnel appears to run under Campbell House (northwest corner, south of the Canada Life Building) when it fact it is supposed to be directly under Queen Street. This is at least partly an error in perspective, but it misrepresents the tunnel’s location.

Source: Metrolinx

A further entrance will be required on University Avenue somewhere north of Queen to provide a second exit from the existing Osgoode Station which does not meet fire code (it has only one path from platform to street level).

A related consideration in the station design is a proposed reconfiguration of University Avenue so that what are now its northbound lanes would shift to the median, and the east side of the street would be an expanded sidewalk and park land. If this scheme proceeds, then both the new entrance and any lay down area needed for the station should be co-ordinated with the reconfiguration of the area around Osgoode Hall. Tearing out part of the park is a quick-and-dirty approach to station design that is totally out of place on this site.

I asked Metrolinx about their planned design.

One of the outstanding issues about Osgoode Station is why or if it is actually necessary to locate an entrance building on the Osgoode Hall lands.

The original Relief Line Station lay between York Street and the west side of University Avenue. It had two entrances: one was at York Street, SE corner, and the other was through a new joint entrance to both stations on the southwest corner through the old Bank of Canada building.

With the shift of the Ontario Line station box westward, the west entrance of the OL station will be through the old bank on the SW corner at Simcoe. The new east entrance is proposed for the Osgoode Hall lands. Why, by analogy to the original design, is this entrance not simply consolidated with the existing station entrance on the NE corner rather than taking a bite out of the historic lands of the Hall?

I know that there is a need for two exit paths under fire code but must they be completely separate from the existing structure? Why would this not have applied equally to the original Relief Line design?

Any significant change in the use of an existing station requires that it be brought to current code. The existing Osgoode Station only has one exit path. Does the additional load the OL interchange represents trigger a need for a second exit from that station too (ie something surfacing in the median of University Avenue from the north end of the station)? There has never been any discussion of this as part of the OL project. Is the OL providing two completely separate entrances to its station to avoid triggering the need for a second exit from the existing Osgoode Station?

Email to Metrolinx July 28, 2021

Metrolinx replied:

Thank you for your email. We also know that transit is sorely needed in Toronto and the broader region. Building a subway through the heart of the largest city in Canada in some of the areas of greatest density was never going to be easy. We know it will have impacts for some, but the necessity of the Ontario Line requires us to make these difficult decisions to build the transit network needed for this region.

Osgoode Station is one of the four interchange stations the Ontario Line has with the TTC subway network, providing a direct connection to Line 1 Yonge-University. As you know, it will serve an estimated 12,000 riders arriving and departing Ontario Line trains during the AM peak hour alone in 2041, making it the third busiest station on Ontario Line.

The station will be located directly below the existing Line 1 station with a connection to the existing TTC concourse within the same ‘fare paid’ zone below ground. The existing Line 1 concourse level will also need to be expanded to meet fire code requirements as an interchange station. The major challenges involve constructing under, and connecting to, the existing station with minimal disruption to daily operations and minimizing any risk of damaging the structural integrity of the station itself. Within such a highly urbanized area, the work is further constrained by the limited availability of undeveloped land to construct a vertical shaft to access the deep below-grade construction site and for a suitably sized site to accommodate necessary laydown and staging activities on the surface.

In the case of Osgoode station, we know the passenger demand at this station necessitates the need for crowd management provisions and efficient surface network transfers. Two entrances, one at the west and one at the east end, of the new station are required to accommodate the anticipated passenger volumes and to meet safety and fire code requirements.

The TTC’s entrance for the existing Line 1 Osgoode Station does not provide sufficient capacity for the ridership expected when the Ontario Line is in operation. We also looked at various other location options for the Ontario Line Osgoode Station entrance buildings in this area. The proposed locations are the only ones where we can construct the station entrances and meet the necessary safety and code requirements.

We are working to minimize the footprint of Osgoode Station to the greatest extent possible. We will work with the Law Society of Ontario, the City of Toronto’s Heritage Preservation Services and the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries to make sure we are not impacting more than we need to here.

Email from Caitlin Docherty, Community Relations & Issues Specialist – Ontario Line, August 9, 2021

Metrolinx is not known for “working with” affected communities preferring to bend any opposition to their predetermined plans. It will be interesting to see how they deal with this site and whether a better approach to Osgoode Station’s design and construction can be achieved that leaves the existing landscape intact.

The University Avenue redesign project appears to languish at City Hall while schemes such as the now-defunct Rail Deck Park soak up the political attention. This would be a chance to transform University Avenue from a suburban style arterial born of an era when much of downtown’s streets and built form were treated as expendable. City Council and Mayor Tory should seize this chance to make a grand street in the heart of the City.