Bill Davis Had A Plan (Updated)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TTC Plans Service Cuts and Layoffs (Updated)

Updated April 27, 2020 at 11:10 am: A modified and expanded version of this article appears on the NOWToronto website.

In response to a steep fall in ridership, the TTC plans to implement service cuts and reduce its staff complement by layoffs.

Service capacity will be reduced to match demand, taking into account the need for physical distancing by riders. Many of the changes have already occurred as the TTC dealt with staff shortages from illness and quarantine, but this will make the changes official within the schedules. These include reduced service levels and the end of many peak period services. The 14x and 9xx series of express services have already been discontinued, along with the 508 Lake Shore Tripper. Other cuts are likely such as “school trippers” for which there are no students, and the rush hour bus extras on streetcar routes.

Full details of service changes to take effect on the Victoria Day weekend will be released by the TTC on May 4, according to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. Service will be maintained “at roughly 70-80 per cent of regular levels” according to the TTC’s news release. “Particular focus remains on servicing priority routes within the bus network in a way that allows for good physical distancing.”

The May schedules are traditionally a point where the first wave of summer cuts are implemented (those related to post-secondary institutions), and the second wave normally comes at the end of June. The reduction in service allows for a greater proportion of vacations in the summer months, but with layoffs, the drop is clearly going to be more than Toronto normally sees during this season.

About 1,000 transit operators and 200 non-union staff positions will be affected by the layoff. According to a letter from CEO Rick Leary to all staff, “The TTC will be working to establish a compensation and benefits arrangement for employees to minimize negative impacts as a result of the layoffs.”

Other changes to address the budget crunch brought on by lost fare revenue include “pausing” all non-union salary increases, reducing overtime, reviewing all vacant positions, and going without the usual summer seasonal hiring.

On the capital side of the budget, all “non-essential” projects will be delayed, but the TTC has not published a list of what this entails.

Combined with other savings such as utilities and fuel thanks to the reduced level of operations, the TTC expects to reduce its ongoing losses by $25 million per month from the current level of $90 million.

It is no surprise that the Amalgamated Transit Local 113 is not happy with this situation. Carlos Santos, president of Local 113, wrote to his members:

This is the “thank you” our members get for sacrificing themselves day in and day out for putting their families and themselves at risk. No doubt, this feels like a punch to the gut after all the hard work our members are doing to keep Toronto moving throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Almost 30 of you have tested positive for COVID-19. You deserve better than today’s announcement. The federal and provincial governments need to step in and provide emergency relief funding for the TTC.

This speaks to the heart of the issue: the level at which governments other than the City of Toronto itself will act to support transit through this difficult time. Even with the decline in economic activity and travel, the need for physical distancing by riders dramatically lowers the capacity of transit service, and this drives up the cost per ride substantially. The question is what is the appropriate balance between keeping a transit at a level that actually serves the many who still require it, and reining in costs. Even at only 20 percent of its normal demand, the TTC carries hundreds of thousands of trips per day and these cannot be replaced easily or economically by other modes. For many, many Torontonians, travel is built on transit.

One substantial problem for the TTC in reviewing potential service cuts is that the subway network has a considerable, fixed cost regardless of how many riders it carries. Infrastructure must be maintained and kept safe, and standby technical staff must be available to handle a wide variety of problems. Operators driving the trains are only part of the total needed for all aspects of subway operations.

That has implications for surface routes which are always the poor cousins of transit service. Whether the cuts will fall disproportionately there as they did in past recessions remains to be seen.

Planned Changes to King, Queen, Roncesvalles and The Queensway for 2021

Correction: This item was to have been approved by Council at its April 1, 2020 meeting, but that was cancelled. The item is still pending approval.

Update: This item was approved by Council at its meeting of April 30, 2020.

Toronto Council Infrastructure and Environment Committee recently approved the long-awaited changes at the intersection of King, Queen and Roncesvalles, and on The Queensway to occur in 2021. The detailed construction staging plan is not yet available, but the overall plans were part of the city’s report. This work had originally been planned a few years back, but was delayed for various reasons including conflicts with other  projects and the desire to bundle all works affecting this area in one major undertaking.

The transit work includes extension of the “new” Roncesvalles street design south to include the stops just north of Queen, reconfiguration of the intersection between the four streets, and extension of the transit right-of-way on The Queensway from Claude (east of Parkside) east to Roncesvalles.

King-Queen-Roncesvalles-Queensway Intersection

This intersection, which has been the subject of iconic photos in the TTC’s history, will be reconfigured as shown below. The biggest change is the realignment of the approach tracks from King Street so that they meet Queen Street in a conventional 90 degree configuration rather than the angled approach today. At the same time, the eastbound traffic channel that allows traffic to slip past the intersection onto King Street will be removed.

The eastbound carstop will be moved farside with a bump-out platform similar to those used on Roncesvalles Avenue.

The eastbound approach to the intersection will include four lanes: streetcars (reserved), left turns, through, and right turns. With the farside eastbound carstop, it is clear that the City is not anticipating a lot of through traffic. Traffic signals will be changed to use only two phases rather than the lengthy three-phase cycle now in place.

This arrangement greatly improves the safety for pedestrians crossing to and from the southwest corner of the intersection which provides access to the bridge over the Gardiner to Sunnyside Beach.

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Now Also In NOW!

Starting this week, I will be writing a column for NOW magazine.

Fear not. The deep dive articles on budgets and operations and transit policy will still appear in this site, but for smaller nibbles, I will have the column.

There will also be the occasional article in Spacing magazine including the winter issue that should come out quite soon.

The first NOW column is an introductory piece about the many things people expect public transit to accomplish, a tiny manifesto.

What Is Transit For?

Streetcar Service During the CLRV Era

With the retirement of the CLRV fleet on December 29, 2019, this is a good time to look back at how service on the streetcar network has evolved during the lifetime of those cars.

When they first entered service on the Long Branch route in September 1979, the new cars marked a real sign that Toronto was keeping its streetcar system.

Although Toronto decided to keep streetcars in late 1972, there was no guarantee that without renewal of the fleet and infrastructure the system could last very long. The last-built cars in the PCC fleet (the 4500s) dated to 1951 and, despite their simplicity compared to what we now call “modern” cars, they would not last forever. Second hand cars from other cities were older than the most recent “Toronto” cars. They were retired over the years even while the TTC undertook major overhauls on its own, younger fleet.

In 1980, the streetcar service was still dominated by PCCs as much of the CLRV order was still to come, and the ALRVs would not arrive until the late 1980s.

Yes, I know. What are all of those acronyms? Not every reader is a die-hard railfan with all of this information at their fingertips.

PCC: The President’s Conference Car was the product of work by a consortium of street railways to update streetcar design in competition with the rise of the private automobile. This was a large research project, especially for its time in the 1930s, and it produced a totally re-thought vehicle. The TTC was working with Hawker Siddeley on an updated PCC design in the mid-1960s, but nothing came of this thanks to a provincial fascination with new, high-tech transit. A license agreement for updated PCC patents held, in the 1960s, by the Czech manufacturer Tatra was never signed, and work on a new PCC for suburban routes stopped.

PCCs on King Street at Atlantic Avenue

CLRV: The Canadian Light Rail Vehicle. This car was designed partly by the TTC and partly by a provincial agency, the Ontario Transportation Development Corporation (later renamed as “Urban” to remove the explicit local reference). The design, from the Swiss Industrial Group (SIG), was very different from the car the TTC had worked on, but the UTDC needed a viable product after their magnetic-levitation project ran aground with technical difficulties. As a city streetcar, it was overbuilt in anticipation of high-speed suburban operation, notably in Scarborough. That scheme was supplanted by what we now know as the “RT”.

CLRV at High Park Loop

ALRV: The two section “Articulated” version of the CLRV was designed to run on heavy routes, notably the Queen car. These vehicles were never as reliable as the original CLRVs, and they were the first to be retired. At various times over the years, they ran on Queen, Bathurst and King.

An ALRV at “Old” Exhibition Loop

Flexity: This is the generic product name for Bombardier’s low-floor streetcars. It exists in many formats with Toronto’s version being designed to handle tight curves and steep grades. Delivery of the 204-car fleet was almost complete at the end of 2019.

Flexity on King Street at University Avenue

When the TTC decided to keep streetcars in 1972, they were still enjoying a long period of post-war ridership growth with constant expansion into the suburbs of bus and subway lines. Getting new riders was a simple task – just run more service. The downtown streetcar system was still bulging with riders thanks to a stable population and a robust industrial sector.

By 1980, however, the TTC hit something its management had not seen before, a downturn in ridership, thanks to the economic effect of the first Middle Eastern oil war and its effect on energy prices. Although the TTC continued to grow through the 1980s, a mindset of running just enough service to meet demand took over. This would be particularly unfortunate when the ALRVs entered service, and the new schedules merely replaced the capacity of former CLRV/PCC service on wider headways. With cars 50% bigger, the scheduled gap (headway) between cars increased proportionately. This combined with the TTC’s notoriously uneven service to drive away ridership, and the Queen car lost about a third of its demand.

The real blow came in the early 1990s with an extended recession that saw the TTC system lose 20% of its ridership falling from about 450 million to 360 million annual rides over five years. The effect was compounded when Ontario walked away from transit subsidies when the Mike Harris conservatives replaced the Bob Rae NDP at Queen’s Park.

The TTC planned to rebuild and keep a small PCC fleet to supplement the LRVs in anticipation of vehicle needs on the Spadina/Harbourfront line. However, when it opened in 1997 service cuts had reduced peak fleet requirements to the point that the PCCs were not required and the network, including 510 Spadina, operated entirely with CLRVs and ALRVs. This locked the TTC into a fleet with no capacity for growth, a situation that persisted for over two decades and which the new Flexity fleet has not completely relieved.

The combination of rising demand, in turn driven by the unforeseen growth of residential density in the “old” City of Toronto, and of commercial density in and near the core, leaves Toronto with unmet transit needs, latent and growing possibilities for transit to make inroads in the travel market, and a customer attitude that “TTC” means “Take The Car” if possible.

The problem with service inadequacy and unreliability extends well beyond the old city into the suburban bus network, but this article’s focus is the streetcar lines. I have not forgotten those who live and travel in what we used to call “Zone 2”, but the evolution of service on the streetcar system is a tale of what happens when part of the transit network does not get the resources it should to handle demand.

The evolution of service and capacity levels shown here brings us to the standard chicken-and-egg transit question about ridership and service. Without question there have been economic and demographic changes in Toronto over the years including the average population per household in the old city, the conversion of industrial lands (and their jobs) to residential, the shift of some commuting to focus outward rather than on the core, and the shift in preferred travel mode.

Where service has been cut, ridership fell, and it is a hard slog to regain that demand without external forces such as the population growth in the King Street corridor. The lower demand becomes the supposed justification for lower service and what might have been “temporary” becomes an integral part of the system. However, the level of service on any route should not be assumed to be “adequate for demand” because that demand so strongly depends on the amount of service actually provided.

This is a challenge for the TTC and the City of Toronto in coming decades – moving away from just enough service and subsidy to get by to actively improving surface route capacity and service quality.

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The Early Days of the CLRVs

As I write this, it is Christmas morning in 2019, and the TTC’s fleet of CLRVs, now 40 years old, has only a few more days to run in revenue service.

Here is a gallery of photos culled from their early years. There is a preponderance of photos showing construction activities because that is what I tended to focus on in those days. Although the TTC had decided to retain its streetcars and bought a new fleet, track construction techniques had not caught up with the idea that things should be build to last. Untreated ties and rails that were only spot welded at the top, not with a solid top-to-bottom thermite weld, were not the most robust.

This design combined with the vibrations from the original Bochum wheels on the CLRVs led to the quick disintegration of roadbeds leaving the TTC by the mid 1990s with a double-dose of track repairs. Not only did they have to rebuild track that was 20-30 years old, they had a fresh batch that was 10-15 years old. The overall track repair program caught up with this backlog a few years ago for tangent (straight) track, but the adoption of panel-based and properly welded special work (intersections) took longer to get underway. Some major intersections, notably Queen & Roncesvalles, are falling apart leading to slow orders on various parts of the streetcar system. (Ironically, because this is a blanket order, there are slow orders on all special work whether it needs it or  not.)

Back in the 1980s, the CLRVs were brand new, and after many teething problems they became the workhorses of the network as the PCC fleet was gradually retired.

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Humber Loop QEW Realignment 1973-74

There was a time when the curve between the Queen Elizabeth Way and the Gardiner Expressway at the Humber River was rather tight. In 1973-74, while the highway structures were realigned, the Long Branch car continued to run through the site on a single track with signals.

Rather than overhead contactors common on single track street railway operations everywhere, the TTC opted for subway-type track circuits to control access. With a lot of water in the construction site, especially through winter, “track down” conditions showing the presence of a “ghost” car, were an ongoing problem. Nonetheless, through service continued over the single track, first on the old alignment, and then on the new one.

Special work for the crossovers was mined out of the street. One location was on Dufferin north of King and the other on Spadina south of King.

The Dufferin crossover had been used originally for a shuttle service to the CNE western gate that operated with double-end equipment. Later, this location was a point where the TTC snow plows reversed direction. Yes, there were official routes for the plows and sweepers when the TTC still had such cars. Ironically, after the work at Humber, the TTC re-installed the crossover on Dufferin even though by then the snow fighting fleet that used it had been retired.

The crossover from Spadina was last used in 1948 when double-ended streetcar operation on the Spadina streetcar route (along with the route itself) ended, and it had been buried in asphalt for years.

Access to the construction site was much more relaxed than today when, of course, the streetcar line would have been shut down and replaced by buses.

The photos with Peter Witt cars were all on charters. The Tour Tram never got this far west.

Subway Upload I: The Getting Ontario Moving Act

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek introduced Bill 107, the Getting Ontario Moving Act, in the Ontario legislature on May 2, 2019.

This is an omnibus bill amending several other Acts to implement various policies, one of which is the first stage of the “upload” of responsibility for subway extensions and new builds from the City of Toronto. Schedule 3 of the Bill amends the Metrolinx Act. In brief, the amendments provide for:

  • The Cabinet (legislatively known as “The Lieutenant Governor in Council”) may “prescribe a rapid transit design, development or construction project as a rapid transit project that is the sole responsibility of Metrolinx”. For such projects, the City of Toronto and its agencies are barred from taking “further action” on the project, and all of the project’s “assets, liabilities, rights and obligations” can be transferred to Metrolinx. Such projects are known as “sole responsibility projects”.
  • The Cabinet may prescribe that a project is “subject to the Minister’s direction”, and for such projects “the Minister may issue directives to the City of Toronto and its agencies”, and the Cabinet may require that “a specified decision about the project be subject to the Minister’s approval”. Such projects are known as “direction and approval projects”.

These provisions address two separate types of project organization. In the first case, control of and responsibility for a project is transferred completely to Metrolinx. In the second, a project could remain in the City’s hands but be subject to Ministerial direction and approval.

Sole Responsibility Projects

Where a project is declared to be a sole responsibility project, the City of Toronto is barred from undertaking a project “that is substantially similar and in close proximity to” such a project. Why Toronto would attempt to duplicate a provincial project such as the extension of Line 2 in Scarborough is a mystery, but Queen’s Park clearly wants to ensure this does not happen. An exception provides that the Minister “may authorize” the City to undertake work on a sole responsibility project.

The Cabinet may order the transfer of City assets related to a sole responsibility project “with or without compensation”. The list of “assets” is quite extensive and includes real estate. This begs the question of how such property becomes “related” to a project as opposed to simply being property previously owned by the City.

The City is required to participate in this process and “take all such actions as are necessary and practicable to give the Corporation possession of property transferred”.

Direction and Approval Projects

A project could be left nominally under the City’s control, but subject to Ministerial direction, in particular that “a specified decision with respect to the project” could be subject to Ministerial approval. The City is barred from taking action that would arise from a decision without such approval. In other words, the City cannot launch work that could be in conflict with a Ministerial approval that has not yet been granted.

Legal Protection

Many of the amendments address the transition of projects from the City to the Province and preclude legal action against the parties for the implementation of the new regime.

What the Legislation Does Not Address

The legislation is completely silent on matters of capital or operating costs of projects undertaken by or under the direction of the province. Specifically, there is nothing to explain:

  • Any aspect of capital cost sharing that might be sought or imposed by the Province on the City of Toronto or other municipalities for sole responsibility projects.
  • The future operation of projects created under the “sole responsibility” or “direction and approval” regimes.
  • The subdivision of “maintenance” costs between the Province and the City of Toronto or any other municipality.

The “other shoe” still to drop is the question of uploading the existing subway network. This is a much more complex transfer that will be the subject of future legislation.

This is the bare bones of legislation needed to give Metrolinx control over rapid transit construction so that Ontario can “get on with the job” of building transit, but much more is involved in actually doing the work.

Minister Yurek is good at repeating his talking points including the bogus claim that there has been no rapid transit expansion for decades. Taking pot shots at the City for alleged chaos in transit planning is easy, although both Premier Ford and the Conservative Party have rampant amnesia about their own contributions. Now Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario will have to deliver rather than just posturing.

Ontario Announces Toronto Subway Plan

On April 10, 2019, Premier Doug Ford announced his government’s intentions to expand transit in Toronto. The plan includes:

  • The “Ontario Line”, a rebranded and extended version of the Relief Line, will run from Don Mills and Eglinton to Ontario Place.
  • The Yonge North Extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre
  • The three-stop version of the Scarborough Subway Extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard with stops at Lawrence East and Scarborough Town Centre
  • Extension of the Sheppard Subway east from Don Mills Station to connect with the SSE at McCowan and Sheppard
  • Extension of the Eglinton Crosstown west from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport

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