Eglinton West: An LRT Subway for Etobicoke?

On February 28, 2020, Metrolinx release a Preliminary Business Case for the Scarborough Subway Extension, and an Initial Business Case for the western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport.

The Eglinton West Extension IBC is not as blatantly skewed as the Scarborough study in that it acknowledges the LRT plans and uses these as a starting point. The SSE study simply pretends that LRT does not exist and touts “benefits” of the subway versus a bus network.

The idea of a line along Eglinton West has been around for a long time.

  • 1972 ‘GO Urban’ and Rapid Transit Plan on Eglinton: Eglinton corridor was part of Province’s and TTC’s ‘Intermediate Capacity Transit System’ (ICTS) Network Plan (in which the present Scarborough RT was a part of)

  • 1985: ‘Network 2011’ and Eglinton West Plan: TTC Report identified Eglinton West as busway corridor as part of Metro Toronto’s rapid transit network plan (in which the present Sheppard subway was a part of)

  • 2007: ‘Transit City’ and Eglinton Crosstown Plan: Eglinton Crosstown LRT (spanning from Pearson in the west to Kennedy in the east) was part of the City of Toronto’s surface rapid transit expansion proposal

  • 2010: Crosstown LRT Project Approval: City of Toronto sought EA approval for surface LRT alignment from Kennedy to Pearson Airport Area boundary, one year after the City approved the full-length Eglinton Crosstown alignment

  • 2012: Eglinton West Segment Deferment: Metrolinx undertook Crosstown LRT construction, with Mount Dennis-Pearson Airport segment deferred due to funding constraint

  • 2016: Eglinton West LRT IBC: City of Toronto and Metrolinx co-published Eglinton West LRT’s first IBC and recommended surface LRT option, and the City approved funding for preliminary planning and design works

  • 2017: Grade Separation Review: City of Toronto approved arterial and midblock stops along Eglinton West and conducted grade separation study to address community concerns

  • 2019: Surface Option’s Affirmation: City of Toronto in its report maintained its preference for surface LRT based on fine-tuned benefit-cost analysis. [p 9]

As an historical note, a mid-1960s TTC plan to serve the airport with LRT linking southeast to the Bloor Subway and northeast to the Finch corridor was stillborn thanks to the 1972 GO Urban scheme.

We have arrived at a preferred subway option by provincial fiat:

In December 2017, the City of Toronto conducted further studies on additional grade-separated options based on inputs from the local community who are concerned with the at-grade LRT’s traffic impact. The number of options for the Toronto Segment were revised to four (featuring at-grade and below-grade alignments with frequent arterial and midblock stops, and a mostly below-grade alignment with either a single stop or multiple arterial stops) and re-evaluated using traffic model updates and additional metrics recommended by community representatives.

Nonetheless, the City of Toronto in early 2019 released a report re-confirming their preference for an at-grade LRT due to its cost-effectiveness in meeting all of the city’s project and policy objectives.

Subsequently, the Province’s 2019 Budget announcement included the extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to Mississauga as one of the four budgeted rapid transit projects with an underground alignment. [p 27]

This is a second “Initial” study, but it is in the context of Premier Ford’s strong preference for subways. The usual caveats apply about the rough level of cost estimates and comparisons between options.

There is a fundamental conflict in the analysis in this study triggered both by the Premier’s distaste for “streetcars” and by Metrolinx methodology.

The surface option carries the greatest number of weekday riders, but one of the subway options carries the most “new” riders. In other words, the surface option does a better job of serving existing demand while not drawing as much new demand, while the subway option leaves some existing demand quite literally “out in the cold”, but (according to the modelling) shifts more people to transit from autos. The machinery of value assignment rewards the new riders more because they allegedly represent less auto use, and they tend to be longer-distance riders who save more travel time.

At no point does the study explain why carrying fewer total riders at much greater expense constitutes a valid planning outcome.

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A Preliminary Snow Job on the Scarborough Subway Extension

The Government of Ontario has been responsible for a lot of hot air over the years, and that applies to all three political parties. But their agencies Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx have come up with the biggest pile of crap I have seen in a very long time going back to Bill Davis and the flim-flam surrounding his failed maglev train project.

The Scarborough Subway Extension Preliminary Design Business Case is a classic attempt to support a bad project by cooking the books outrageously and hoping nobody will notice. Even with their sleight-of-hand, Metrolinx cannot make the SSE look good as a business proposition. It fails not by a small amount that could be “adjusted” out of the way, but by a country mile.

This raises two fundamental questions:

  • Is the methodology of Metrolinx’ so-called business cases a valid way to examine transit projects?
  • Has Metrolinx used a comparison that so flagrantly misrepresents reality that it destroys credibility not only of the report, but of the organization?

This analysis has a fundamental problem. It compares two schemes, one of which is the flimsiest of straw men, in an attempt to make the subway look better than it is.

  • One option is the extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard East with stops along the way at Lawrence/McCowan and Scarborough Town Centre.
  • The other is a network that assumes the Scarborough RT does not exist, but is replaced with many, many buses.

The latter option has never been on the table.

Missing is the one we all know and love or hate. The Scarborough LRT from Kennedy Station to Malvern is not even mentioned, not even in the potted history of rapid transit plans which begins with the SRT in 1985, not with the LRT plan that first appeared in the 1960s. Possibly Metrolinx planners are too young to know about this, or they are willfully ignorant.

The result? The subway “saves” thousands of hours of travel time, makes trips far more convenient, gets more cars off of the road, and on and on. But of course it would, just as the replacement of any surface network by a subway would make a huge difference.

However, that should not be the basis of comparison, and Metrolinx/IO flagrantly spend page after page extolling the subway’s virtue versus “Business As Usual”, a bus network that does not exist and has never been proposed. Their rationale is that the SRT will not last forever but will succumb to old age, and a bus network will be the “base case” against the subway would be measured.

Based on available information, it is understood that the SRT would require substantial investment to remain operational during the business case’s time frame (beyond 2029/2030) and so it would be inappropriate to include it for comparison purposes.

It has been assummed that a replacement bus network has been established to provide the type and volume of transit connections required to serve former SRT passengers. In reviewing this document it will be of value to keep this assumption in mind as the Scarborough Subway Extension is not being compared against the SRT, but rather against transit network scenario where Scarborough is largely served by surface route buses. [p 17]

Indeed, some text reads as if the SRT was never there, and the subway is a spectacular network addition built out into an area that has never seen rapid transit.

This is a deeply dishonest presentation. It does not review the real alternative to the subway, and it grossly inflates the subway’s benefit.

I am under no illusion that we will ever go back to the LRT plan. If the government would just say “a subway’s what we need and what we will build”, fine. That’s a policy decision. But when a collection of well-paid staff and consultants cook up this sort of BS to give a political decision a patina of professional respectability, that’s going too far.

If Metrolinx has stooped to this level in order to please their boss at Queen’s Park, they have shown just how trustworthy their work on everything else must be. For starters, there’s the Ontario Line, but that’s a whole other article.

As an aside, the document is littered with typos showing that it was not carefully edited even though it was considered by the Metrolinx Board in January, according to the Globe’s Oliver Moore. It has almost certainly been pushed out the door at the last minute in anticipation of public meetings next week.

It is also ironic that Hamilton lost its LRT plan thanks to provincial complaints about runaway costs while two signature Doug Ford projects, the three stop Scarborough Subway Extension and the underground version of the Eglinton West LRT extension roll on despite bad economic reviews.

There is little point in my reviewing this document in excruciating detail because almost every page depends on comparisons with an utterly invalid base case. However, there is the occasional point worth noting, a few of which will surprise readers I am sure.

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TTC Board Meeting: February 25, 2020

The TTC Board meets on February 25 to discuss several reports and proposals. Among items on the agenda are:

I will add to this article following the Board meeting with additional information from the discussions.

Notable by its absence from the CEO’s Report is any information on route crowding or improved metrics for service quality.

Trials of electric buses are in early days, and Toronto is a long way from seeing an entirely zero-emission fleet. My column this week in NOW Toronto present some of the history of evolving bus technology.

Commissioner Brad Bradford has a Notice of Motion which seeks to link spending on improved transit service to potential funding for new vehicles. While the recently improved City Building Fund provides more money for transit vehicles, this covers only one third of their cost and none of any future increase in operations. Bradford’s motion requests:

The TTC Board request that the TTC Chief Executive Officer, when engaging in negotiations with the provincial and federal governments for funding for the TTC’s vehicle procurement priorities, tie funding requests to the implementation of the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan and service levels as prescribed by the strategy.

There are two problems with this stance.

First, if the TTC and Council choose not to actually fund the added service, this would imply that the capital funding should not come from other governments. I doubt that is Bradford’s intent, but the real issue is that there is no Council commitment to fund better TTC service. Other factors such as the jump in operating budgets to fund new lines such as Eglinton Crosstown and increased fare subsidies could crowd out spending on service.

Second, the scale of service increases proposed in the Service Plan is quite modest, and it really should be revisited. Sadly, the TTC chose not to include more aggressive options for expansion in the Plan even if only on an aspirational basis. Back in 2003, the strength of David Miller’s Ridership Growth Strategy was that it addressed what Toronto could do for modest increases in spending, but this approach has never been repeated.

Bradford also has a Notice of Motion that seeks to consolidate updates on two reports so that both sides of the revenue protection and enforcement issue can be seen by the Board together.

  • Auditor General’s Report – Review of Toronto Transit Commission’s Revenue Operations
  • Ombudsman Toronto Enquiry Report Review of the TTC’s Investigation of a February 18, 2018 Incident Involving Transit Fare Inspectors

Further discussion of fare issues and Presto are likely at the meeting.

Metrolinx Scarborough Subway Extension Info Session

Metrolinx will hold two information sessions on the Scarborough Subway Extension from Kennedy Station to Sheppard & McCowan in early March.

Each session will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020
Scarborough Civic Centre
Rotunda
150 Borough Drive, Scarborough, ON

Thursday, March 5th, 2020
Grace Church Scarborough
Parish Hall
700 Kennedy Road, Scarborough, ON

There are no presentations materials available yet for these sessions. I will add links and comments once these appear.

Eglinton Crosstown LRT Chronology (Updated)

Updated February 21, 2020 at 11:00 am:

This update includes a reply from Metrolinx detailing the nine-month contractor delay he cited in his announcement of the 2022 opening for the Crosstown, as well as additional information on delays to the project.

Metrolinx Metrolinx Media Relations provided additional information on the status of work at this point in an email on February 20, 2020.

Based on CTS’s original schedule, 30% design packages for the majority of stations (the first step in the final design process) were to have been completed and approved by December 2015/January 2016.

With the exception of Keelesdale station, none of that work was completed until March 2016 or later, and in the case of Eglinton station the 30% design was rejected due to design deficiencies.

It’s also important to note, that other key aspects of design, such systems design components, were also delayed significantly.

Despite the known delay at this point, this was not mentioned in public reports in following months.

While the update explains some of the issues CEO Phil Verster referenced in his announcement, it does not explain the reason why the in service date continued to be cited as September 2021 well after Metrolinx knew that this was not likely or possible. The opening date has been cited publicly and is included in TTC’s 2021 budget and bus fleet plan.

Internal Metrolinx status reports from September 2019 show that the problem at Eglinton Station was already a known issue as were problems with ground water at Avenue Station and a conflict with CPR at Mount Dennis, among other construction-related delays. The estimated substantial completion date was already in 2022, and it continued to move later in the year to at least May 2022. It is not clear whether “substantial completion” coincides with opening, or merely with the point where commissioning of the line can begin, a process that is several months long and during which other problems that could delay revenue service might arise.

Moreover, the claim by Minister Mulroney that proposed legislation would have accelerated this project by three years remains completely unsupported by the actual project chronology.

Updated February 21, 2020 at 7:00 pm: Metrolinx has confirmed that “substantial completion” includes commissioning so that revenue service can begin.

Original article:

On February 18, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney introduced the Building Transit Faster Act which is intended to speed up progress on the four key Ontario transit projects in the Toronto area: The Ontario Line, the Eglinton West LRT extension, the North Yonge subway extension to Richmond Hill, and the Scarborough Subway extension to Sheppard.

The day before, February 17, the Star’s Ben Spurr reported that the Crosstown line’s opening would be delayed until “well into 2022” according to Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster. This delay had been rumoured for some time, but was denied by Metrolinx until now.

Metrolinx published a statement on their website including photos showing unexpected conditions discovered on the Yonge Subway tunnel structure at Eglinton Station that were responsible for part of the delay.

The statement also includes a claim that the consortium building the project, Crosslinx Transit Solutions started work “nine months later than planned after contract award in July 2015”. This does not align with actual events as shown later in this article. I expect to receive a clarification from Metrolinx on this matter soon.

During her press conference, Minister Mulroney claimed that the Eglinton Crosstown project would have opened three years sooner had the provisions of the Act been in place. This claim is hard to believe considering the nature of the delays we know about, the types of delay addressed by the legislation, and the actual chronology of the project.

Eglinton and other projects have faced numerous hurdles, but these have overwhelmingly been political and financial.

To sort this out, I have assembled a history of the Eglinton Crosstown.

Continue reading

GO Transit Expansion Plans & Meetings

Metrolinx will conduct a series of public meetings at various locations to present information about their plans for the GO Transit network.

Location Date and Time
Markham Village Community Centre
6041 Highway 7
Markham, ON L3P 3A7
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Southshore Community Centre
205 Lakeshore Drive
Barrie, ON L4N 7Y9
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Aurora Community Centre
1 Community Centre Lane
Aurora, ON L4G 7B1
Monday, February 24, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Scarborough Civic Centre
150 Borough Drive
Toronto, ON M1P 4N7
Monday, February 24, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Evergreen Brick Works
550 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON M4W 3X8
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Central Recreation Centre
519 Drury Lane
Burlington, ON L7R 2X3
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Metropolitan Centre
3840 Finch Avenue East
Toronto, ON M1T 3T4
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Lucie & Thornton Blackburn Conference Centre
at George Brown College
80 Cooperage Street
Toronto, ON M5A 0J3
Thursday, February 27, 2020
6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Vaughan City Hall
2141 Major Mackenzie Drive West
Vaughan, ON L6A 1T1
Saturday, February 29, 2020
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Abilities Centre
55 Gordon Street
Whitby, ON L1N 0J2
Saturday, February 29, 2020
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

For the full set of documents, go first to the list of “participation opportunities”, then click through to an individual project page, and finally select the “Important Documents” tab. The same set of documents appears on every project’s page.

An important note here is that electrification is still officially an important part of the overall plan. The provincial flirtation with Hydrogen Trains seems to have disappeared at least for the projects on the major GO corridors that Metrolinx owns.

This is intriguing because Metrolinx has been sidestepping the decision on technology by saying that the private sector partners in the expansion plan would make that choice. Now, their literture is full of electrification including one document about effects on vegetation along the rail corridors to provide clearance for the infrastructure, and another on electromagnetic fields.

Several key documents are online as I write this on the morning of February 18, 2020.

  • Station Overview : Despite its title, this document covers many other topics, notably planned service levels for the GO corridors.
  • Station Studies : The title of this document is misleading because it contains little about actual stations, but a lot about environmental issues and a catalog of “cultural heritage” features which are bridges on the Richmond Hill and Lakeshore West corridors.
  • Infrastructure : This is the most extensive of the documents with information about bridges, stations and yard expansion plans.
  • Don Branch Storage Area Roll Map : The only detailed map of proposed infrastructure online at this point (February 18, 2020 at 5 pm) is a map showing the proposed use of the Don Branch as a three-train storage facility northeast of Union Station. There are no detailed maps for other projects.
  • Vegetation Removal Program
  • Electromagnetic Fields and Interference

Continue reading

The Transit Nest Egg Toronto Won’t Spend

Between the Scarborough Subway Extension, now rebranded as the Line 2 East Extension, and SmartTrack, Toronto has a lot of money sitting in the bank that could be used to fund other, much more deserving projects.

Ontario has taken over responsibility for the SSE/L2EE, and at least three of the proposed six SmartTrack stations compete directly with the SSE or the Ontario Line. A fourth (at Finch East) would certainly be affected by the SSE running north to Sheppard.

My latest for Now Toronto: Why is city council pretending that SmartTrack is still alive?

The Child Pass Problem (Updated)

Updated February 15, 2020 at 10:00 am:

Additional information from the TTC has been added to clarify some issues raised here including:

  • How the number of child card taps relates to the number of rides.
  • Which “average fare” is the one used in loss calculations for fare evasion.
  • The discrepancy between full year child card losses and associated citations as compared to the fare evasion study conducted late in 2019.
  • The difference between evasion rates calculated from tap data on Presto machines as opposed to from in-person observations, and the time periods covered by each.

Changes are flagged in the body of this article for readers who have been here before.

Introduction

The TTC’s Audit and Risk Management Committee met on February 11 to discuss three reports of which two dealt in detail with the problems of fare evasion and revenue loss.

Documents related to this are:

Among many areas covered by these reports was the problem of misuse of Presto cards set up for free travel by children by riders who were anything but.

Although this was flagged as a problem when the reports were published in advance of the meeting, the scale and potential revenue loss only came out in the staff presentation to the committee. To complicate the debate, there were two separate and different estimates of the scale of this problem.

The range of fare evasion losses with Child Presto cards ranges widely depending on how one does the calculation. The root of the problem is that there were only 10 million Child Presto taps in 2019.

In one version, a the TTC concludes that 89 per cent of child card taps are not by children. However, the small total number of taps limits the size of the potential revenue loss to about $12 million, well below the total projected losses of $70 million.

In the other version, the TTC claims that one third of all fare evasion is due to Child Presto abuse, but there were not enough child taps in 2019 to account for this level. It is possible that the level of abuse has been growing strongly and was much larger in late 2019 (when the study yielding the “one third” figure took place) than for the year overall.

Updated February 15, 2020:

The TTC confirmed that there are two separate calculations for Child Presto losses that cover two time periods and methodologies.

  • The estimate of $12.4 million loss was based on estimating the number of rides that do not fit with a typical usage pattern one would expect for children, and it is calculated from all-year card usage and the system average fare of $2.25.
  • Statistics for provincial offenses in court showed that about 13% of cases related to Child Presto abuse. This was based on the full year 2019.
  • The 33.7% overall evasion rate for Child Presto use is based on a study in the final months of 2019. This implies a strong growth in the fraudulent use of Child Presto cards.

Continue reading

Fare Evasion on the TTC

This week’s article for NOW Toronto: Fare evasion storm diverts attention from TTC’s real problems

There are two reports on the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee agenda for Tuesday, February 11 dealing with fare evasion and revenue controls:

These reports contain far more information, and cover more ground than I could fit into the NOW piece, and more details are likely to come out when TTC management presents their reports at the committee meeting.

I will update this article following the meeting.

Metrolinx Declines to Answer, Again

On Monday, February 3, both my recent NOW Toronto article about the Ontario line and my own Q&A with Metrolinx diving more deeply into the issues appeared.

On the same day, Ben Spurr reported in The Star that members of Toronto Council had learned of private discussions between Metrolinx and interested developers about alternative alignments and station sites. These issues are at the heart of many questions about and objections to the OL plans, and in particular the reluctance, if not outright refusal of Metrolinx to entertain alternatives.

With the Star’s article, Metrolinx can no longer claim that they only have one design, or that alternatives cannot be discussed.

At tonight’s community meeting, on February 5, conveniently a few blocks from my home, I asked Richard Tucker, who is in charge of this project from Metrolinx, point blank what alternatives were on the table.

He responded “Is this for media” and I replied “Of course”.

To which, in turn, Tucker said, in effect, I cannot tell you about that.

If I had merely been an interested member of the community unknown to Metrolinx, who knows what he might have told me, but for official consumption, mum’s the word. This is a senior public servant who simply does not understand (or whose bosses do not understand) the concept of openness, transparency and actual “consultation”.

In many ways, Metrolinx is its own worst enemy with its secrecy and refusal to engage in discussions. This is not confined to pesky media, bloggers and community groups. It is commonly reported by members of Council and the Legislature, not to mention privately by professional staff at the city and TTC.

In the absence of any official pronouncement from Metrolinx, I would be happy to receive information from members of Council who were briefed, or via the tried and true “brown envelope”.