Creative Writing From the Mayor’s Office

Back in June, an Op Ed from Mayor Tory appeared in the Toronto Star extolling the virtues of the Scarborough Subway. Torontoist, intrigued by how this piece came to be, made an FOI request for correspondence in the Mayor’s office. The result is an article and associated copy of the FOI response.

Tory’s article triggered a response from Michael Warren, a former Chief General Manager of the TTC. I have no brief for Warren himself, but what was intriguing was how the Mayor’s staff reacted with a need to debunk Warren. The following memo from the Mayor’s Chief of Staff is among the FOI materials.

chriseby20160630remichaelwarren

This memo is full of misinformation, but it gives a sense of the mindset in the Mayor’s Office and why so many statements from Tory simply do not align with reality.

… greater use of existing GO rail tracks … six new stations …

The original SmartTrack plan was for a “surface subway” that would carry 200,000 passengers per day using capacity in the GO Transit corridors. However, this plan depends on key factors including good integration with TTC service and much more frequent trains. SmartTrack is now reduced to nothing more than GO’s already planned service stopping at six extra stations. That is not “greater use” of tracks beyond what would have happened with GO’s RER plan. Even the ability to make these stops with little or no penalty in travel time results from GO’s planned electrification, not as part of SmartTrack.

GO Transit has no interest in the work of upgrading signals on their corridors to accommodate the level of passengers implied by that all day count, and hence the network “relief” claimed for SmartTrack cannot possibly materialize without significant new investment.

Tory’s campaign literature talks about a “London-style surface rail subway”. In Toronto, the word “subway” means service that is at worst every 5 minutes, not every 15, and it’s that convenience the campaign expected people to key in on. Some of the timetables for London Overground do feature very frequent service at a level GO’s signal system (let alone Union Station’s platform arrangements and passenger handling) cannot hope to accommodate.

A recent City backgrounder on proposed new stations shows that they will attract some, but not a vast number of new riders. That’s why they were never in GO’s short list of potential stations to begin with.

At these six new stations, trains will come every six to ten minutes in rush hour. That’s better than what candidate Tory promised … every 15 minutes or better. And to be clear, the provincial RER model sees trains coming every 15 minutes.

Actually, the provincial RER model already sees trains coming more often than every 15 minutes during peak periods and the improvements are not confined to the SmartTrack corridors (Stouffville and Kitchener) or to the City of Toronto. Queen’s Park has made no move to bill Toronto for extra service above levels planned for RER, and therefore we must conclude that none is planned.

SmartTrack was always envisioned as a beefed up version of RER; more stations in Toronto, more access for riders, faster frequencies and a TTC fare.

In fact, there is no “beef” in SmartTrack, and its only contribution will be for those who live or work near the six new stations. The service levels are part of GO RER, nothing more. As for a TTC fare, this is far from decided, and the likely cost to Toronto to support such an offer is fraught with problems. There is the obvious question of where the operating dollars will come from, but moreover riders on other GO corridors within the city might reasonably ask why they don’t get the same deal.

Conversely, some of the Metrolinx machinations about “Fare Integration” have suggested that subways might be treated more like GO Transit with a fare by distance model. If that’s what a “TTC fare” for SmartTrack really means, that’s not what Tory was selling in his campaign.

… Warren suggests tax increment financing … has been abandoned. That’s flat out wrong. City staff are preparing to report back … and have already stated it “may be the appropriate revenue tool for funding …”

Warren may have been incorrect that TIF has been abandoned, although it is hard to tell because his original piece “was edited to make clear that John Tory still supports his TIF transit financing scheme” according to a correction notice following the online version of Warren’s article. Whether Tory still supports TIF is of little matter because City staff recently reported that it cannot support the full cost of SmartTrack and additional revenues from other sources will be required.

Warren … talks of the abandoned LRT option, which he says will cost $1.8 billion … The TTC said this week that building the LRT would now cost as much as $3 billion.

The infamous “Briefing Memo” from the TTC about LRT vs Subway costs provides that higher estimate, but this is based on the assumption that the LRT line would be build much later than originally planned. Most of the cost increase is a function of inflation. Also, of course, the LRT option would serve much more of Scarborough than the subway, including the Town Centre planning precinct, a fact Tory’s Chief of Staff conveniently ignores.

As for additional costs, the provincial commitments to various transit plans, including its own, have always included inflation to completion, although undue delay caused by Toronto Council’s inability to make a decision might reasonably considered beyond the level of Queen’s Park’s generosity. All the same, the $3 billion estimate assumed a leisurely LRT project schedule compared to what would have been possible with dedication and leadership.

Under the Mayor’s leadership, Toronto is moving ahead with the most ambitious, and badly needed, transit expansion in its history.

A great deal of the expansion now underway was in the works before John Tory was elected. Indeed, his campaign claimed that SmartTrack was the single project that would solve every problem, and no other transit schemes, notably the Relief Line, need even be considered. Tory has changed his tune on that, but the RL is still treated as something we will need, someday, maybe. There is no leadership on his part in demonstrating how this line would serve suburban riders with additional commuting capacity.

debate … should be guided by fact, not distortions and rhetoric

That comment speaks for itself.

Thoughts On A Liberal Government

This blog has been churning along since January 2006, and for almost all of that time, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have been running Canada. The idea that Ottawa would have a significant role in transit beyond the occasional showcase project simply was not part of the landscape.

Now, to everyone’s amazement, we have a Liberal majority government, one whose campaign platform includes a very substantial presence in infrastructure spending including the public transit portfolio.

We will get our communities moving again, by giving our provinces, territories, and municipalities the long-term, predictable federal funding they need to make transit plans a reality.

Over the next decade, we will quadruple federal investment in public transit, investing almost $20 billion more in transit infrastructure. [Liberal platform p 12]

That is a lot of new spending, but is has to stretch over the entire country and the next ten years. Advocates of many schemes will project their enthusiasm onto that pot of money saying “Look! We have funding”, but it’s not that simple.

It is instructive to look at how funding is divided up today. The federal gas tax allocations for 2014-15 totalled $2-billion of which $750-million went to Ontario, and of that about 20%, $150-million, to the City of Toronto for transit capital spending. On a proportionate basis, this would yield only $1.5-billion “more” funding over the next decade. This has to be read in the context of targeted funding for specific projects such as the Spadina subway extension that lies outside of the gas tax stream. If all of the new Liberal funding comes from that $20b pot, the actual change, all things considered, may not be as generous as expected.

Other funding lines in the Liberal platform focus on housing and non-transit infrastructure. These are not to be ignored especially to the extent that they relieve municipal governments of spending where they have carried a substantial share of the programs. However, if total spending goes up, Toronto may be forced to bump its investment level in transit and other portfolios because “we don’t have a funding partner” will no longer be a convenient excuse for inaction.

Whatever money does appear on the table, it will not be enough to build every single pet project, and Toronto cannot evade hard decisions about priorities claiming that the Feds will shell out for everything. There is also the delicate question of how much new matching funding will arrive from Queen’s Park Liberals who do not share the deficit spending plans espoused by their federal cousins.

Capital projects, especially on the scale of transit infrastructure, require a long view. Projects may be “shovel ready” in some cities, although Toronto has little in that status thanks to years of dithering and backtracking on transit priorities. Major proposals would do well to reach significant construction spending within the current federal mandate or even well into whatever follows. Toronto may build a bus garage here or renovate a subway station there in the short-to-medium term, but the big projects are years away.

This brings us to the rationale for new spending. If the idea is to stimulate the economy and create employment in the short term, a clear focus of Conservative programs, then long term project funding is doomed. Conversely, if the aim is to invest in the future of Toronto, the GTHA and cities in general, a longer view is possible at the expense of big, immediately visible results and ribbon cutting.

Inevitably, the conflict will be between one shot announcements and “long-term predictable funding”. These address very different political goals and produce very different outcomes. Without a shift away from unpredictable ad hoc decisions (the Scarborough Subway and SmartTrack promises are two examples), local pols will continue to jockey for yet more isolated planning to suit quick political ends, rather than looking at broad-scale goals and benefits. Long-term funding only works with long-term planning.

Absent from any federal platforms was new federal money for transit operating costs. These will grow through the combined pressures of inflation, population growth, shifts from auto to transit and eventually the need to operate all of the new buses, LRVs and subway trains that might arrive thanks to higher capital spending. Operating subsidies, service quality and fare strategies will challenge municipal budgets, and the long-standing question of provincial funding, of getting back to the “Davis formula”, cannot be ignored.

There is a new government, a new outlook on national priorities, and the debate on our transit future begins today. We all want more transit, but nothing is free, and even the “new” money has its limitations. Let us spend it wisely.

New Fares and Service Improvements Coming to the TTC (Updated)

On January 19, 2015, Mayor John Tory, TTC Chair Josh Colle and TTC CEO Andy Byford held a press conference to announce major changes for TTC riders in 2015.

  • Adult fares will rise by 10 cents (from $2.70 to $2.80, or 3.7%) with proportionate increases for passes, senior and student fares.
    • Children under 12 will ride free (the current fare is $0.75 cash or a ticket for $0.60).
    • The cash fare will remain at $3.00.
  • All day, every day services that were cut in 2011 will be restored.
  • A network of key bus and streetcar routes will have 10 minute service except overnight (after 1:00 am).
  • Crowding and wait times off peak will be reduced by modifying the loading standards.
  • Proof-of-payment and all-door loading will be extended throughout the streetcar network.
  • Twelve new Blue Night routes will be added to the 22 now in operation.
  • Fifty new buses will be acquired for service improvements.
    • Crowding and wait times during the peak periods for 21 busy routes will be improved.
    • Four new express bus routes will be added.
    • The pool of buses available for maintenance will be increased.
    • Temporary storage will be obtained to house the buses pending new garage construction.
  • Trains on the YUS and BD subways that are now held on standby for emergencies will be scheduled into the regular service.
  • Route management will be improved for streetcar routes to provide more reliable service and better utilize the capacity of vehicles in service.
  • The reliability of signals, track and communication systems will be improved with more resources for maintenance.

Updated Jan. 19, 2015 at 4:00 pm: One sour note in the announcement is the fact that the Metropass multiple will go up from 49 to 50 giving a new price of $141.50 vs the existing $133.75, an increase of 5.8%. In the midst of an otherwise upbeat, positive set of recommendations, it was a poor choice not to mention that frequent users would pay a higher increase for TTC fares. This continues TTC management’s desire to bump the pass pricing up on the basis that frequent users are getting too high a subsidy. If that’s the official position of the Mayor and TTC Chair, they should have said so in the press release.

FareIncrease2015

Much of this program arose from the August 2014 “Opportunities” report from TTC management.

At the time, then-candidate Tory argued against these proposals on the grounds that they were unfunded, and behind the scenes, the Tory camp complained that the TTC was supporting another candidate’s platform. To his credit, now-Mayor Tory recognizes the importance of better transit service that can be delivered in the short term, and he has embraced advice from Andy Byford wholeheartedly. Among the lessons he learned was that TTC’s off-peak ridership is higher and growing faster then peak demand, and that investments in off-peak service will benefit a very large number of riders throughout the city. This is an important change from a focus just on peak period, core-oriented capacity.

Tory has reluctantly dropped his proposed fare freeze saying that Toronto cannot do this and get on with improving transit. He now argues that fares will go up a bit more, but that riders will get a lot more service.

During the press conference, the Mayor made pointed, repeated references to “my predecessor” and “the previous administration” saying that the policy of service cuts and subsidy freezes was wrong. One can be gleeful seeing the Ford era openly criticized by the new Mayor, but that’s not the important point. Simply by making the statement, Tory puts allies inherited from the ancien régime on notice. Better TTC funding is not simply a predictable request from the usual activists and left-wing Councillors, but part of the Mayor’s program.

The financial proposal is that the TTC’s budgeted subsidy from Toronto will rise from $440.1-million in 2014 to nearly $479m in 2015. The fare increase plus added ridership (projected at 545m in 2015, up 10m from 2014) will bring in $43m more, net of the elimination of children’s fares ($7m). (The subsidy includes approximately $90m in provincial gas tax revenue which is paid to the City. This amount has not changed in many years.)

Further details will be revealed in the City Budget Launch on January 20, and at the TTC Board’s own budget meeting on February 2. Implementation of this plan is contingent on Council approval, although the new fares (which can be approved by the TTC itself) will take effect March 1. Service changes require lead time for planning, staffing, and in the case of the new buses, acquisition of vehicles and a storage yard. In practice, the changes will likely roll out beginning later this spring with the majority of service improvements coming in September or later. This will also limit the cost of new services to a smaller part of the year, although full-year costs will have to be absorbed in 2016.

The maps in the Opportunties report (linked above) show the range of routes that will likely be affected by the various proposals. I checked with TTC officials at the press conference, and although there may be minor changes, these maps give substantially a good idea of where the improvements will be.

Of the many opportunities proposed in August, the one which is notable by its absence is the two-hour fare. There is only so much money to spend on a new fare structure, and rebuilding service takes priority this year. However, the need for a simpler “transfer” mechanism on the TTC will be forced by the Presto implementation which Andy Byford is pressing Metrolinx to complete by the end of 2016. This will more-or-less force the question as part of next year’s budget planning.

During the scrum, the inevitable question to Mayor Tory was “how will you pay for all of this”. Tory demurred saying all would be revealed at the Budget Launch. An important point, however, is that he plans to keep tax increases to inflation, but the Scarborough Subway tax will be outside of that “inflationary” envelope.

This is a very good start for the Tory/Colle era of TTC policy-making. Rather than cherry-picking a handful of improvements that might benefit only a small segment of Toronto, they have opted for a variety of changes addressing many submarkets within the TTC’s ridership. If this continues in future years, by the time the TTC and Metrolinx open new rapid transit lines, Toronto will have a much improved surface network linking riders to new and improved trunk routes.

Why I Voted For Olivia

On the first day of the Advance Poll, I was down at City Hall queued up to cast my vote, and it went to Olivia Chow.

Why Olivia? Just for starters, she is the only candidate talking about the quality of transit service, not simply pie-in-the-sky plans for rapid transit lines we might build some day, if only a whole army of Tooth Fairies descends on Nathan Phillips Square.

Full disclosure: I was asked to advise about better bus service back at the start of the campaign, but what I advocated and what wound up in the platform were quite different. Chow’s platform was rightly criticized as being inadequate to the problem, and this was compounded when the TTC started shooting holes in her proposals. I can just imagine how a Tory or a Ford would have reacted to a city agency undermining their campaigns, but Chow just soldiered on and even bought a chunk of the TTC’s position.

Olivia Chow believes in LRT lines even in the teeth of a brigade of Scarborough politicians who convinced their voters that only subways are good enough, and not just for Scarborough but for all of Toronto. I agree with Olivia, and fully expect that one or two election cycles from now, people will be wondering where all those promised transit improvements are.

Riders will still be out in the cold waiting for a bus that never shows up or a jammed streetcar because a Tory or Ford mayoralty means more of the starvation diet for the TTC, more cutbacks in the name of watching taxpayer dollars. Earth to Mayor’s Office: transit riders pay taxes too, and we also pay a good chunk of the cost to run the TTC.

Olivia Chow also believes in subways, where they are justified, notably on a Relief Line, whatever pseudonym we use to disguise construction south of Bloor Street from the jealous suburbs. Indeed that whole suburbs vs downtown fight is a political creation brewed up not to benefit the city, but to pit factions against each other with the eventual result that nothing gets done.

Olivia isn’t just about transit, although that’s one big plank in her platform. I’m not going to walk through every portfolio here, but the common thread is that Olivia cares about the city, about all of the people who live here, and about making Toronto better for everyone.

The advocates of strategic voting caution that I am wasting my vote, that a true blue anti-Ford vote has to go to John Tory. There are several reasons I won’t go down that path.

First off, lest anyone think I am soft on the Fords, I believe that they are a blight on Toronto that must be expunged. Yes, people voted for Rob and they will vote for Doug, in many cases because they don’t see anything better on the ballot. They’re entitled to their view.

Toronto does not need four more years of a pitched battle among Council factions and the Mayor’s Office. It won’t be smiles all around, but we certainly should not be facing rampant incompetence and bullying in our city leadership, let alone the need for Council to seize control of the Mayor’s powers.

Second, John Tory can be a nice guy, friendly, he chats with lots of people, but he can also be maddeningly thick on basic issues. His classic radio interview starts with a long, error-filled polemic which the hapless guest spends valuable time trying to correct.

On the transit file, he has one answer, SmartTrack, that will solve everything. It doesn’t matter where you live, or what your travel plans might be, SmartTrack is the ticket. Heck, it might even be a solution to world peace. In fact, most of SmartTrack is cribbed from the Metrolinx “RER” plan, and the one significant add-on is a poorly considered, unbuildable fantasy on Eglinton West. For funding, see “Tooth Fairy” above. What has become clear as the campaign wore on is that Tory’s “experts” more or less made up the plan on the back of an envelope, notwithstanding their glossy literature. They don’t have the detailed answers anyone with an $8-billion plan should be more than willing to provide.

Tory’s standard response to criticism is that this is just naysaying, a preference to carp and obstruct rather than believing in Toronto’s future. Well, John, wrapping yourself in the flag is an old trick, but it’s a poor response especially to people like me who want to improve transit plans generally regardless of who is Mayor. If you assume that you are right and everyone else is not just wrong, but can be ignored as disloyal to the cause, well, that’s no way to build a collegial environment at City Hall.

I do not play golf, other than mini-golf in my now-distant youth. It did not qualify as a career-advancing move.

I am a strong supporter of the arts both as an essential part of the city, an industry deserving of support in its own right, and for the benefits arts can bring not just to the big-ticket “high culture” companies, but to neighbourhoods across the city. Even in his arts platform, Tory drags in SmartTrack claiming that resentment for arts spending downtown is caused by the fact people can’t get there as consumers. He is silent on whether SmartTrack will provide better access to golf courses so that the deprived among us can build better business networks.

Tory may talk a good line about communication and co-operation across the political aisle, so to speak, but the ability to compromise or to even consider alternatives during the election is notably absent. If we have a Tory administration, I hope it’s not just Rob Ford policies with Rosedale manners. We need a mayor who really will work with Council, not dictate an agenda that brooks no dissent, criticism, or improvement.

John Tory will probably be Mayor, but I am convinced he has more than enough votes to defeat Doug Ford without my help.

Olivia Chow should have as strong a showing as possible. There’s an outside chance she could win, but placing second would show Toronto that Ford isn’t even good enough to be second choice. She is my candidate, my first choice for Mayor.

SmartTrack: That Pesky Curve in Mount Dennis (Updated)

Updated October 17, 2014 at 4:15pm:  Information from Metrolinx about the revised design for the Air Rail Link spur line from the Weston subdivision to Pearson Airport has been added.

John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal has been roundly criticized by various people, including me, on a number of counts. When one looks at the scheme, it is the technical issues — the degree to which SmartTrack will crowd out the Metrolinx RER scheme (or simply take over its function), the question of capacity at Union Station, the route along Eglinton from the Weston rail corridor to the airport. But the biggest challenge is the link from the rail corridor to Eglinton itself.

Let’s get one issue out of the way up front. Writing in the Star on October 6, Eric Miller states:

And it’s interesting to note that very little criticism deals with the basic merit of the proposal as an addition to Toronto’s transit network. The design logic to address major commuting problems is self-evident; analysis to date indicates high ridership and cost-recovery potential that is expected to be confirmed by more detailed post-election studies; and it is modelled on successful international best practice.

Criticisms have, instead, focused on the line’s “constructability” where it meets Eglinton Avenue W. and on Tory’s proposed financing scheme. As already briefly discussed, however, the constructability issue is truly a tempest in a teapot. And with respect to financing I would suggest that all three mayoral candidates and most of the popular press still have this wrong.

In fact, constructability and the technical issues are precisely what could sink this proposal. Dismissing this as a “tempest in a teapot” is a neat dodge, but it is the academic equivalent of “you’re wrong because I say so”. Many who support Tory’s campaign see criticism of SmartTrack as the work of naysayers who, like so many before us, doom Toronto to inaction.

This is tantamount to saying we cannot criticize the plan because doing so is disloyal to the city’s future. Never mind whether the plan is valid, just don’t criticize it.

Miller’s comments in his op-ed piece (linked above) also don’t line up with statements in the “Four Experts” article of October 9 where he and others talk about what SmartTrack might do. Miller is much less in agreement that SmartTrack could achieve what is claimed for it. Should we dismiss his comments as being irrelevant or counterproductive? Of course not.

This article deals with the challenge of getting from the rail corridor to a point under Eglinton Avenue West at Jane Street, the first stop on the journey west to the airport. To put all of this in context, it is vital to look at the details of both the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (including amendments) and at the Metrolinx Georgetown South project in the rail corridor.

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Olivia Chow’s Lost Momentum on Transit

That I would prefer Olivia Chow, of the three major candidates, win the Toronto mayoralty is no secret. All the more disappointing that her campaign has aimed low playing to the “no new taxes” mentality of the Ford years rather than showing ambition for what the city could have if only someone had the leadership to actually pay for it.

My comments, as with those on the Tory and Ford programs, are on the Torontoist site.

Updated October 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm:

The Chow campaign objected to an original remark I had made:

… missing from her proposal is the substantial capital funding needed for stopgap repairs to old buses, and to permanently increase capacity by purchasing additional vehicles and adding more garage space. Moreover, Chow’s plan is silent on the streetcar network, where service has not improved much in 20 years.

Details of a capital funding plan were included in an early September announcement about a proposed bump in the Land Transfer Tax. Unfortunately, Chow took the TTC’s August proposals for service improvements uncritically and simply plunked down $184-million that would purchase:

  • The missing half of the funding for McNicoll Garage ($100m).
  • 10 additional streetcars (part of the proposed 60-car add on, $60m).
  • 40 additional buses ($24m).

Most of this money would not in fact allow Chow to provide the service improvements she proposed, but would simply backfill holes in the TTC’s long-range capital plans. 40 buses won’t go very far especially with a peak service of over 1,500, and with a delivery date out  in 2018.

The most disappointing part of this? Chow could have demanded that the TTC be more responsive and show what it could do. It’s hard to imagine a mayor Tory or Ford putting up with a shrug and “we can’t do it” as an answer from staff, especially when alternatives should be on the table at least for discussion.

How Can the TTC Run More Service?

In a previous article, I wrote about the crisis in system capacity across all modes – buses, streetcars and subways – and the danger that Toronto may face years without meaningful improvement in transit capacity.

This is a campaign issue, but one that is embraced only by one major candidate, Olivia Chow, and even then, not very well.

Full disclosure: Early in the campaign, I was approached by the Chow team to advise on what became her better bus service plank, but I certainly didn’t write it for reasons that will soon be obvious.

Her transit plan includes support for LRT lines, GO electrification and the first stage of a Downtown Relief subway line. It also includes this commitment regarding bus service:

A better transit plan starts investing now, with buses. Because 60% of TTC rides involve a bus and as the TTC says, the only way to expand transit now is with buses. So Olivia will invest to boost bus service right away, investing $15 million a year.

When we stack a paltry $15m up against the billions in rapid transit plans, it looks rather puny and gives the impression we are trying to get more service on the cheap. How can small change by transit budget standards stack up against the massive spending schemes of rapid transit networks?

Where did the number come from? Back when the Ford/Stintz crew started to dismantle the Miller-era service standards, the anticipated saving was only about $14m/year. However, reversing the cuts is not quite as simple.

When you cut transit service, you can reduce costs simply by letting old buses wear out and not replacing them, by reducing the operator workforce through attrition, and by cutting plans for a new bus garage (needed for a bigger fleet) out of the capital budget. That’s precisely what happened.

To undo the damage, we need more buses, more garage space and more operators. Some, but by no means all, of the cost will come out of the $15m, but there is much more involved.

McNicoll Garage has a pricetag of $181-million (of which only about $80m has been funded as of 2014), and it is required simply to handle growth in the bus fleet with no provision for better service standards. Yet another garage will be required to support better service, although in the short term one garage will do for both purposes. Also, by 2020, some bus services will have been replaced by rapid transit lines, but we don’t really know how much because the future of various schemes is uncertain.

(Some of the chaos in fleet planning dates from the cancellation of Transit City, and still more from shortsighted cutbacks of the last few years.)

New buses cost about $700k apiece. With current peak service at around 1,500 buses (not including those used for construction service), a 10% bump in fleet capacity means 150 new vehicles at a cost of $105-million.

At the very least, in the next few years, the TTC would face the following capital costs over and above what is already committed:

  • $100m to fully fund McNicoll Garage
  • $105m to purchase 150 buses

Moreover, the McNicoll project must be accelerated for completion before 2019, the current schedule. The idea that Toronto would see no additional peak service for five years is a disgusting testament to the ill-informed folly of the Ford/Stintz era.

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John Tory’s “SmartTrack”: Will That Train Ever Leave The Station?

Late in May, John Tory launched his “SmartTrack” transit line, the centrepiece of his “One Toronto” plan. Media reps gathered for a preview at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and the launch was handled almost entirely by Tory’s staff. All of the background papers are on the One Toronto website, and little has been added since that event.

Even then, in the early days of the campaign, there was good reason to distrust Tory’s grasp of his own proposal, let alone a willingness to engage in debate, when he made the briefest of appearances for a canned statement to give the media clips for the news broadcasts, but answered few questions.

I was modestly impressed that at least a Mayoral candidate was not just thinking at the ward level for a transit proposal, but felt the plan was rather threadbare — a single line to solve almost all of Toronto’s problems.

Wearing two hats that day – as both reporter and activist – I was scrummed by the media for comments, and the Tory campaign chose to lift one phrase out of context as an “endorsement” for SmartTrack that remains online.

Steve Munro, Toronto Transit Blogger, said, “This is very much a refocusing of what transit in Toronto should be.”

What I was talking about was the need to look at the region and at trips to points other than the corner of Bay & Front and times other than the traditional commuter peaks. As to the specifics of SmartTrack, I was rather less complimentary.

In brief, SmartTrack would see electric multiple unit (EMU) trains operating primarily on GO Transit corridors between Unionville on the Stouffville line and Mount Dennis on the Weston corridor (the Kitchener-Waterloo line). At Eglinton and Weston, the line would veer west along the former Richview Expressway lands to the Airport Corporate Centre, but not to the airport itself.

The route would charge regular TTC fares with free transfers to the existing system, and with frequent all-day service at peak levels of every 15 minutes. Over its 53km it would have 22 stations, and might, according to the campaign, carry over 200,000 passengers per day.

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