Seventeen

Here we are again at this blog’s anniversary. Looking back over the past year, let alone ahead to the next one, I regret that I am not in an up-beat, optimistic mood.

A year ago, I wrote:

In Ontario, there is hope that opposition will coalesce to drive the Premier and his band of incompetent fools from office. Whether we will get a new band of fools remains to be seen, but a Toronto, an Ontario in which nobody named “Ford” has any power is long overdue. Simplistic, populist slogans and dogma are no replacement for competent, dare I say, inspiring government.

This year I really do want to look forward, even with some misgivings on the social and political landscape.

The NDP and Liberal opposition did not manage to seize power, and won’t even have a shot at this until 2026. Meanwhile, we are stuck with Doug Ford and his gang of rogues who will sell off the province to their pals. Between rhetoric for the cameras, and legislation working against any interest that does not contribute to his party, Ford’s reign brings fresh disasters at every turn.

If there were a credible alternate view at the municipal level, I might hope at least for some balance, an alternate voice, but Mayor Tory continues to focus on doing whatever he can to cheapen Toronto. Some effects are not immediately visible, but they are cumulative. The City’s ability to be great, to inspire citizens to hope for more, drifts further and further out of reach.

Both “leaders” share a common problem: their egos and their dislike of criticism or opposition. They are right and everyone else is wrong, part of a rabble opposition who can be dismissed, if need be by legislative fiat.

On the transit front, their respective agencies echo this stance. Metrolinx and the TTC are run by CEOs who want things their way, and who answer, if that is the word, to boards utterly unwilling to challenge their rule (or under marching orders to shut up and vote the right way).

Without question, three years of the pandemic have stretched every agency thin. The lights stay on, flickering, only by infusion of special subsidies that already wane and could disappear within one fiscal year. That environment gave management a chance to take more power from their boards who, especially at the TTC, had many other problems as Councillors. That power will not likely be clawed back and delegated authority will be the “new normal”.

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So You Want To Be A TTC Commissioner (2023 Edition)

Our brand new City Council meets this week. After the requisite speechifying and back-patting typical of the inaugural gathering, they will get into the business of appointing members of various Committees and Boards, including the one that runs the Toronto Transit Commission.

There are two sets of Board members: Councillors and citizens, a.k.a. civilians who (in theory) are not politicians. Only the first group will be appointed at this meeting, and the citizen members will come up for review in the new year once the City goes through the motions of soliciting applications.

The choice of a TTC Chair is up to Council, although it’s hard to believe that a nod from the Mayor, even without any new powers, would be ignored.

On the past Board, the Council members were: Jaye Robinson (chair), Brad Bradford, Shelley Carroll, Cynthia Lai, Jennifer McKelvie and Denzil Minnan-Wong. Of these, Councillor Lai died just before the election, and Minnan-Wong chose not to run. The Chair’s job should go to someone with experience and a strong commitment both to transit and to making something of the position, not just being a seat warmer.

Oddly enough, none of the existing Councillor/Commissioners has asked to be reappointed. This could lead to turnover (good, maybe) but also the loss of institutional memory at the Board level. That works to management’s advantage, but an organization as large as the TTC needs experience at the top for policy and oversight, not just ribbon cutting.

The new Board, to be confirmed by Council today, will have Councillor Burnside as Chair, with Councillors Mantas, Holyday, Moise and Ainslie as members. The citizen positions will be filled separately in the new year, and current members remain in office until that occurs. I cannot say that I am enthusiastic abouy Burnside as Chair, and do not expect much advocacy from that quarter beyond a knife aimed at the budget, and hence the quality of transit service.

The new Board will face very, very serious problems affecting transit’s future in Toronto. As pandemic-era financial supports wind down, the TTC will simply not be able to afford to operate service without new revenues through fares or subsidies. Moreover, their capital plans vastly exceed available resources.

Since 2020, the struggle has been to just get past the crisis, but the TTC faced a bleak outlook even before the pandemic. I have no crystal ball or magical insights, but offer this article as advice to the new Board.

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Fifty Years of Transit Advocacy

Over five decades, I’ve had a hand in many of the issues described here, but I didn’t want this piece to give the impression of a one-man band. Many people contributed along the way including other activists, media, politicians, and professional staff within various agencies and consultants. My thanks to them all for being part of this journey.

Updated October 17 at 12:25 pm: Corrected opening date of Spadina streetcar (oops!)

When I was very young, I liked streetcars. A lot. Trains were OK, but streetcars were the genuine article. My Dad and I would go for rides around Toronto on most weekends exploring where all the lines went. Through him I got to know the world beyond Mount Pleasant and Eglinton and the loop where my local streetcar line ended.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of “transit advocates” and their equivalents in subways, buses and the mainline railways got their start that way. As such, I’m proud to be called a “railfan”, but not the pejorative term “trolley jolley” concocted by the anti-streetcar elements of the transit industry.

Roll forward to 1971. Toronto was a hotbed of citizen activism with the big focus of the Spadina Expressway, a road that would tear through downtown and provide the justification for even more destruction including the Crosstown, Scarborough and 400 South Expressways, not to mention conversion of local streets like Dundas and Front to serve as arterials through the core. This was an era when fighting City Hall was very much part of the body politic, and this was the context for my entry into transit activism.

The TTC planned to dismantle the streetcar system line-by-line up to 1980 when, yes, the Queen Subway would take over the heavy lifting of getting people into the business district and the streetcars would disappear.

TTC held on to its streetcars longer than most cities by buying up used vehicles as others disposed of them, often under the influence of a cabal of bus-gasoline-tire companies more than happy to finance the conversion. Streetcars came to Toronto from Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville (almost brand new, those), Birmingham and Kansas City. But the policy of streetcar abandonment had been in place for years, and the early 70s were to see the first lines go – St. Clair, Earlscourt and Rogers Road.

What would replace them? Trolleybuses. With the opening of the Yonge Subway north to York Mills Station, the TTC no longer needed a very frequent trolleybus service between Glen Echo Loop and Eglinton Station, itself a remnant of the Yonge streetcars that disappeared with the original subway in 1954.

Although this might have been the beginning of the end, the TTC made a crucial mistake: the level of service they planned for St. Clair was sized to the available trolleybus fleet, not to the existing capacity of the streetcar lines. In that era the peak service between Yonge and Oakwood ran every 60 seconds, and this was not a trivial route for service cuts.

The summer of 1972 saw the birth of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee under the leadership of Professor Andy Biemiller with political support from Aldermen (as they were then called) Paul Pickett and William Kilbourn. Later, Mayor David Crombie’s office lent support.

By October, the Committee was issuing press releases, making deputations and gaining political support from City Council. On November 7, 1972, the TTC board voted to reverse management’s position and to retain most of the streetcar system. The only exception would be the Rogers Road car that operated outside of the old City in York (a remnant of York Township Railways), and later the service on Mount Pleasant (a victim of bridge reconstruction at the Belt Line Railway).

This was not just a fight to save one car line, but for streetcars as the backbone of the old City of Toronto’s transit network, and as a basis for expansion into the suburbs, something the TTC had planned in the late 1960s.

Ex Kansas City PCC 4779, the last in the fleet, eastbound on St. Clair at Mt. Pleasant. July 21, 1968 (Steve Munro photo)

Here are some of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee members at the TTC Board meeting.

From the left along the wall: the late Mike Filey and John Bromley, Chris Prentice, Steve Munro, Professor Andrew Biemiller and Alderman William Kilbourn. In the foreground at the table are Commissioner Gordon Hurlburt and Pat Paterson, General Manager of Engineering.

Not shown: Howard Levine, Robert Wightman, Ros Bobak.

Photo by Ros Bobak

In those days, the estimated cost of a new streetcar was quite low, and the TTC had already been working with Hawker-Siddeley (then proprietors of the Thunder Bay plant now owned by Alstom) on a design for an updated streetcar. These would be used both on exiting streetcar routes, pending the Queen subway, and on suburban lines to what is now Scarborough Town Centre, across the Finch hydro corridor, southwest through Etobicoke and even with a branch to the airport.

Photo: Hawker-Siddeley/TTC

But Queen’s Park had other ideas, and in the same month, November 1972, Premier Bill Davis announced his scheme for a network of maglev trains that would criss-cross the city and make subways obsolete. The premise was that subways were too expensive, and buses were limited in speed and capacity. The “missing link” would be “GO Urban”.

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Why I Voted For Gil Penalosa for Mayor

In the Toronto Mayoral race for 2022, there is only one person I could vote for: Gil Penalosa.

His many policy planks cover a wide variety of topics, some more thoroughly than others, but they share a common goal of making Toronto a better city.

After nearly three years of pandemic, and many more of fiscal austerity before them, Toronto needs to think beyond this to ask what should the city be? What could it be?

Too often we begin with the premise that we cannot afford anything, and plan on that basis.

In John Tory’s Toronto, we see the cumulative effect of spending, when it happens, focused on pet projects like SmartTrack (itself a shadow of the original promise), misplaced priorities (the Gardiner rebuild), and credit taken for programs by others (Ontario’s transit plan). On other areas talk demonstrably exceeds action. The big ticket items are capital works, projects that will not show results for years, while day-to-day services crumble.

I have no illusions that in a Gil Penalosa Toronto all would be perfection. I have already written about shortcomings in the FastLane proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit network. To his credit, Penalosa has released a second policy regarding transit priority, the FastLane Quick Fixes that proposes extensive priority changes for streetcars, especially those already on reserved lanes.

More is needed, including a commitment to much improved service, but my sense is that Penalosa is not stuck on one map as the master solution to transit problems. Too many elections are fought on grand plans, on maps with great promise for the 2030s, but with nothing for today’s transit riders. Steak tomorrow, but gruel today.

Penalosa also proposes reducing fares to $1 for low income riders. This would be a substantial cut below the “Fair Pass” that now gives approximately the same discount as Seniors’ and Students’ fares and therefore offers no benefit to low-income riders in these groups.

The challenge for any new Mayor will be how to pay for everything, and what programs will take priority.

From John Tory, we know that a tax increase below inflation is his target, although the current economic figures give him far more leeway than in past years. However property taxes are only about one third of Toronto’s total revenues, and money from other sources is not a sure thing, notably from the Land Transfer Tax. After a covid-era fare freeze, there is no word on what might happen to TTC fares which accounted for over $1 billion in City revenue in pre-pandemic times.

What we do know is that there will not be new money for anything without offsets elsewhere. The TTC’s 2023 Draft Service Plan includes restructured routes and new services, but they are all on a no-net-cost basis. If you want something new, you have to sacrifice something that’s already there. The TTC will be lucky to achieve even that unless it receives funding to replace covid supports from Ontario and Canada. (Details of the 2023 plan have been shared via consultations with various groups, and they will appear on the TTC’s website soon.)

The same problem applies across the city. We face the combined effect of revenues that do not rise to cover even inflationary costs, let alone new services, and the cutback of pandemic-related subsidies that will dwindle or vanish in 2023 and beyond.

Penalosa would face the same fiscal problems. The next few years will not be easy for Toronto no matter who is in the Mayor’s office. The difference would be the direction, the aim, the choice of top priorities for real change and improvement.

I voted for Gil Penalosa even though the polls show an almost certain Tory win because Toronto’s body politic must see that there is support for an alternative, for a better city. The debate about our future must continue even after the election as Toronto looks ahead to better economic times and to new regimes at both City Hall and Queen’s Park.

For the record: I was not asked for advice on nor did I contribute to any of Penalosa’s policy development.

Election day is Monday October 24, but I have already voted by mail. If you’re thinking of getting my vote, it’s too late.

Gil Penalosa Embraces Bus Rapid Transit

Updated Sept 29/22 at 7pm: A link to and short commentary on the TTCRiders mayoral candidate poll has been added at the end of the article.

Gil Penalosa, the primary challenger to Mayor John Tory’s re-election bid, released a transit platform this week. In place of Light Rapid Transit such as the Finch West line now under construction, Penalosa advocates a network of Bus Rapid Transit under the moniker FastLane.

My reaction, quite simply, was “is that all there is?”

This map ignores large parts of Toronto, and the platform is silent on Penalosa’s view on what might happen with the transit system as a whole. There is an unhappy echo of John Tory’s SmartTrack scheme eight years ago in the amount of empty space on that map.

Notable by their absence are several projects in various states of planning and engineering including many RapidTO corridors, both bus and streetcar, and the Waterfront LRT extensions. These may not figure in Penalosa’s transit view, but any candidate should at least explain where they stand on current planning proposals. Are they deferred? Replaced by an alternative? Dropped? Also missing are planned BRT corridors on Ellesmere and on Dundas West.

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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
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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.