Earlier this spring, our Executive Director spoke to a new podcast called The 6ix Fix about all things transit, and you can listen to the high-energy and entertaining episode below. Follow them on Instagram or Spotify.
Research collaboration group StudentMoveTO is holding a two-day symposium and seminar event June 3 at York University and June 4 at Toronto Metropolitan University, on student travel in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). This event will feature conversations, presentations, debates, and panel discussions from a diverse body of researchers, academic leaders, policy makers and advocates, to discuss insights from the StudentMoveTO study and their implications for creating better transportation services in this region, and improving student well-being. CodeRedTO will be moderating a discussion panel on June 4th, on linking learning to mobility and vice versa.
This event is open to anyone interested in transportation planning in the GTHA. Researchers, students, urban planners, policy makers, transportation advocates, and the broader public are welcome to attend. Registration is free – space is limited.
Early in 2022, CodeRedTO was approached by a provincial political party for our advice on selected transit topics. As a non-partisan advocacy group, our advice is available to all, and our responses can be found below.
The growth and operation of our public transit systems across Ontario depends quite heavily on the provincial government’s choices and priorities. Those priorities frequently change as is shown below, leading to delayed improvements, increased congestion, and increased emissions.
As a review, here are the new transit promises and changes to existing plans in the winning party’s platform in each of the last four elections. Changes announced outside of election campaigns are excluded.
Below are the questions provided to CodeRedTO, and our responses. We hope this information is helpful for all candidates.
“The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is projected to be the fastest growing region, with its population increasing by 2.9 million, or 40.9 per cent, from 7.1 million in 2020 to almost 10.0 million by 2046.” – Ontario.ca
It is vital to recognize that there is no room for more cars. Simple geometry tells us that a 40% increase in the number of cars on the road is not tenable. Therefore the first priority must be a massive change in the transportation mode share, moving trips from personal vehicles into shared vehicles, mass transit, and active transportation. There is no room for any policy which even just maintains the existing structure of subsidies for car drivers.
This shift is not a gentle one. Significant changes to driver costs and incentives are required, and significant changes to the transportation network itself. This will include fewer car lanes and more protected bike lanes,, more restrictions on and higher costs for car travel, including reductions in space for parking, lower costs for transit, and eventually closing entire sections of urban centres to private vehicles so that emergency vehicles and active transportation have enough space to move smoothly.
A second key priority is improved and predictable operations funding to provide more frequent and reliable transit service Historically, provincial priorities have focused on network expansion, leaving cities to fund operations. But as residents move across city boundaries for school and work, this creates a mismatch between the tax base and the required transit network for future goals. This is visible as an example in the high quality construction of York Region’s Viva Bus Rapid Transit, which even during afternoon peak at Highway 7 & Highway 404 has a schedule of only five buses per direction per hour, or fewer than 800 riders per hour.
Public transit is not a directly profitable endeavour. Transit is a service which enables economic activity, investment, and education, and operates at a loss in many parts of the network, but removing transit from low-ridership areas would create negative impacts due to increased private vehicle congestion and household costs.
Annually, transit agencies and municipal councils must assemble sufficient funding to address the shortfall between desired transit service and cost recovery from fares and advertising. This annual scramble impacts transit service levels, which can decrease attractiveness of transit and therefore reduce ridership, again leading to congestion and higher household costs. These in turn impact economic growth such as the location of new retail and office employment.
Stable, predictable, and increased operations funding allows transit providers to provide attractive and high-performance routes to build ridership and reduce car usage across the region. It also allows long-term strategies to be implemented without fear of damaging budget cuts negating previous work.
One of the most confounding challenges we face in implementing these priorities is the damage of COVID-19. It goes without saying that foremost is the damage to individuals, families, and the health system. The economic damage both to the private sector and the government’s budgets, and the public transit damage due to shifting work patterns and shifting mode share cannot be ignored.
Early-pandemic fears of public transit as an especially-dangerous space have proven unfounded. In fact, due to the modern ventilation systems and strong filtration, and its frequent air- and rider-exchange, public transit vehicles are in some ways safer than other indoor spaces. Public health protections such as properly-worn masks and avoiding large crowds remain appropriate as in all indoor spaces, and the vital role of mass transit in enabling our mobility also remains.
However, many riders have adjusted travel patterns and spending choices to avoid public transit. The sunk cost of car ownership, estimated at well over $10,000 per year (compared to an annual TTC pass at $1,700), and the perceived immediate gratification of instant access and custom travel paths, can easily drive personal decision-making away from more efficient and lower-emission public transit. Not everyone can make this choice, but the choices create more congestion and damage mobility for everyone across the region.
As we (hopefully) move out of COVID-19’s largest impacts, the repair of this mode shift is urgent. If public transit remains infrequent, crowded, and unreliable, riders will stay away. This will reduce transit revenue, increase congestion, and reduce economic recovery in a damaging negative-feedback loop. The only path to a positive-feedback loop is public transit which is attractive due to accessibility, affordability, frequency, and comfort. In short, more transit options for more residents sooner.
The best prioritization comes from transparent evaluation of costs and benefits by an independent organization not beholden to voters nor to a single jurisdiction. Elected MPPs have different incentives when considering transit projects as compared to transit planners and transportation engineers.
Historically, transit projects in Ontario have often been selected, modified, or canceled to serve political goals rather than regional mobility and development goals, or despite seemingly lower-priority ridership projections. Controversial decisions, each of which has positives and negatives, include:
There will always be public pressure and political concerns around selecting projects. Our history of advancing one project at a time by definition pits regional neighbours against one another, but transit must be considered as a network that requires advancement region-wide.
Projects which could have a large impact on ridership and network resiliency could include:
Metrolinx was formed to create a regional governing body for public transit. It was reformed years later to reducethe involvement of elected municipal officials in decisions. However, the decisions themselves simply moved to the provincial cabinet table. Recent announcements on transit initiatives owned by Metrolinx have been issued directly from the Ministry of Transportation or the Premier’s office, rather than the ostensibly-independent agency. This undermines trust in transit planning decisions, and reduces transit’s effectiveness by privileging popular projects over effective ones.
If a new water main is required, political parties don’t argue over it during an election. When engineers describe the type of pipe required for that new water main, the government doesn’t override the requirements and place a larger pipe in a different location instead. But transit planning and decision-making is not treated the same way.
Voter oversight over public funds is important. Elected representatives are best placed to determine overarching goals and funding structures on the advice of staff, while professional engineers and planners are best placed to recommend the area and technology, and to prioritize projects within limited funding envelopes.
Hand-in-hand with independent advice is transparency in decision-making. Any and all staff guidance, inputs, weighting, conflicts, ministerial mandates, and outputs must be public.
Hidden deals, thumbs-on-scales, and a lack of a full cost/benefit analysis of all possible options damage public trust. Decisions contrary to professional advice due to a preference for a certain style of train, or for a certain end-point within a different riding for political purposes, reduce public support for vital transit funding and growth if we are to grow as a region and meet emissions objectives.
Having stable, predictable, long-term operating & capital funding gives professional planners and municipalities the ability to make strategic changes to build transit network capacity and popularity. Improved operations funding must be prioritized, urgently, as this enables significant economic and educational mobility, housing accessibility, and decreased emissions.
Secondly, an enabler of transportation mode-share shifting is improved local “last mile” service in the GO service area. As the 905 municipalities continue to grow and expand their urban cores, regional congestion from private vehicles will also grow. It is vital that all residents have flexible and frequent transit within their local area, not only parking garages beside GO stations. When building highways we build on- and off-ramps; regional transit needs the same thing. A shiny new station with only a parking lot does nothing to build for the future of that community, especially in urbanizing areas.
Finally, the other widely-known tool for building regional transit strength is fare integration which simplifies and rationalizes transit choices for riders without inadvertently punishing any transit agency due to the reduced farebox revenue. Transit may be a reasonable choice for a larger group of riders through gentler fare escalation enabling more or faster travel options.
Example: travel from Ellesmere & Morningside to Queen’s Park
It must become and remain well-understood across the political spectrum and across jurisdictions that car-first transportation is not sustainable, and only mass transit and active transportation can unlock our shared economic, social, and climate goals. The status quo is not an option.
CodeRedTO is available to any political party, agency, or organization seeking non-partisan information and discussion of public transit topics. Email info@CodeRedTO.com any time.
The TTC is seeking feedback on future Line 3 bus replacement service when the line closes in 2023, and would like to share and seek feedback on a shortlist of bus routing options for the Line 3 bus replacement service. Your feedback, along with technical work, will help the TTC develop the final recommended plan that will be presented to the TTC Board in January 2022 for approval. Visit line3bus.ca or see details below to learn more and ways to share your feedback.
October 19, 2021, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Register and join: line3bus.ca/publicmeeting
(or join by phone at 647-558-0588, meeting ID: 863 2651 3488)
Visit: line3bus.ca/survey until October 29th
You can also complete the survey by mail
(call 647-424-2286 or email email@example.com)
October 21, 2021
October 25, 2021
October 28, 2021
CodeRedTO welcomes back Christof Spieler, author of “Trains, Buses, People, Second Edition: An Opinionated Atlas of US and Canadian Transit“, to speak with our community September 27th about lessons Toronto and the GTHA could learn from other cities’ experiences. If we want to learn, that is.
Register to join us September 27th at 8pm via Zoom link.
(Use code CODEREDTO2021 for 20% off preorders at SpacingStore.ca and stick around for some “door” prizes!)
Christof Spieler is an engineer and planner, a senior lecturer at Rice University in the architecture and engineering schools, and spent eight years on the board of Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO). He’s also a member of the American Public Transit Association’s Sustainability and Urban Design Working Group, which drafts national standards on transit and urban design, a contributor to NACTO’s Transit Street Design Guide, a member of the Central Houston Transportation Committee, and a board member at TransitCenter in New York.
Christof Spieler presented at a CodeRedTO event in 2019 and we are thrilled to welcome him back (virtually!) to launch “Trains, Buses, People, Second Edition: An Opinionated Atlas of US and Canadian Transit“, which now covers every rail transit and bus rapid transit system in the United States and Canada!
“For all of their hardcore infrastructure, urban transit networks are essentially human creations, and understanding what makes them successful is essential for building successful cities. Supported by urban histories and incisively presented data, Christof Spieler sets the rules of engagement for effective transit and offers a roadmap for achieving it.” — Janette Sadik-Khan, former NYC Transportation Commissioner
Opinion by Cameron MacLeod
Executive Director, CodeRedTO
In response to losing up to 90% of their ridership and revenue due to Covid-19 last spring, transit systems across North America suspended up to 90% of their service. However, they retained easily 90% of their costs. Resulting budget shortfalls led to dire warnings about the end of public transit as we know it. As 2020 ends, many agencies have restored significant service levels, and governments have provided cash infusions to mostly replace missing fare revenue. These are positive signs, but transit remains at risk.
While the TTC has reinstated most employees, the distribution of their service is dramatically different. That’s a good thing, as they’ve learned more precisely where essential worker and non-car-owning riders travel. In Toronto that means strong ridership in the northern halves of Scarborough and Etobicoke. The largest drops in ridership can be found on routes between wealthier areas in central Toronto and the financial district as those daily commuters now work from home. The TTC could run the subway at half-capacity and it still might not feel as crowded as in previous years, even as they increased bus service elsewhere. Modifying service is normal but does not resolve increasing pressures on operations funding, and expansion choices.
We know transit funding and service before COVID was not sufficient. The TTC regularly cut service in one area to address greater needs elsewhere, rather than adding more buses driven by operators they couldn’t afford to pay.
The funding was also not sustainable, as massive capital expenditures arrived each election without accompanying operating dollars. For example, the Vaughan subway extension is projected to cost the TTC $30 million more per year to operate than it will bring in revenue.
Finally, the funding is unpredictable by choice. Toronto City Council provides the TTC with about $790 million of its $2.1 billion operating budget, debated and contested each year, and often accompanied by fare hikes greater than inflation. Queen’s Park used to make a substantial contribution to the TTC’s operating funds, but now focuses solely on expansion. The lack of predictable funding from dedicated revenue sources complicates any long-term planning and service consistency to keep people moving efficiently.
Network expansion pressures also change, as we see a greater need for reliable rapid transit for essential workers which cannot be addressed with costly tunnels alone. We know a relief line (whatever its name or technology) from the east into the core will be needed in 10-12 years when it opens, but we will also need the Jane LRT, the Eglinton Crosstown East (to UTSC and Malvern) and West (to Pearson Airport) extensions, and Waterfront East LRT to the rapidly-developing Port Lands.
When we are back to “normal,” people may be afraid to ride transit if insufficient service makes it overcrowded, and there is a possibility many will choose private car travel. If only 10% of the TTC’s ridership makes this choice, that is roughly equivalent to an entire additional Gardiner Expressway of cars. Losing these rush-hour riders would also reduce the TTC’s efficiency, as the subway’s operating cost doesn’t change much whether empty or full, leading to significant budget impacts.
The competition for funding will likely intensify, as vital health care and vaccination programs will understandably tempt governments to delay or cancel other projects, as seen in previous economic shocks. The Eglinton subway was cancelled in 1995 while under construction, and funding for the Crosstown and Finch lines were delayed in 2009.
We know that public transit is vital to a healthy economy and community, but as federal legislators spend more time on airplanes than buses, federal support for transit tends to be late, conditional, insufficient, and one-time-only. As former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan tweeted in December 2020, “Public transportation carries 10x more people than airlines yet Congress thinks it needs $1 billion less aid. Not everybody rides transit but everyone is dependent on those who do.”
In the post-vaccine world, if we do not invest in transit, ridership will remain low and private car congestion will skyrocket—and transit agencies will put more pressure on city budgets. It is essential that we choose a sustainable future state, and not fall into the old habit of just shrugging and accepting an inadequate transit system.
On July 8, CodeRedTO presented on preparing for future transit conversations, at Councillor Shelley Carroll’s Transit Town Hall.
Click here to download the full presentation.
Over the last six months, CodeRedTO has participated in Sidewalk Toronto’s consultations with stakeholders, community groups, and residents. The new proposal centres the vital and much-delayed Waterfront East LRT.
CodeRedTO regularly participates in transit-related consultations on projects, including the Relief Line, the Line 2 East Extension, and SmartTrack. As a non-partisan source of transit research & data, contributing to mobility projects helps improve transit debate in Toronto.
CodeRedTO has no position on proposal topics outside our area of expertise and research. However, the inclusion of waterfront light rail, directly described to us as a “non-negotiable” element, is inarguably positive. No successful waterfront future can depend on private vehicles.
City of Toronto planners have long deemed waterfront light rail a priority. The choice to follow city planners’ lead on higher-order transit service, and the rapid implementation opportunity which follows when funding is identified, is noteworthy.
This proposal’s focus on sustainable, mixed-use transit-oriented development, use of an existing approved but unfunded East Bayfront LRT plan, and explicit minimizing of private car travel, may also provide a useful reference for many choices soon to be made about our public spaces.
Our future is environmentally, economically, and geometrically tied to public transit. We welcome Sidewalk Toronto’s strong commitment to the City’s plan for light rail connecting TO’s core & eastern waterfront. Too long delayed, this LRT line must be part of any waterfront plan.
This morning Premier Ford and Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek announced a $28.5 billion plan to expand the Toronto transit network, including a Relief “Ontario Line” from the Eglinton Crosstown into the downtown core and onward to Ontario Place. Other projects proposed include more stations on the Line 2 East Extension fully funded by the government, and the Eglinton Crosstown connection to Pearson airport.
CodeRedTO welcomes the announcement of provincial capital investment in the expansion of Toronto’s transit network, and especially the longer Relief Line which provides a higher return on investment and higher level of Line 1 relief.
Provincial investment is a necessary part of the City of Toronto being able to engage in recent transit funding offered through the federal government, and it is good to see both the federal and the provincial governments making such significant contributions to transit. Improved and expanded transit is necessary for economic growth in the entire Toronto region, whose success is both a provincial and national economic engine.
While the current TTC Relief Line plan could begin construction in 2020 with confirmed funding, modifications to technology and alignment inevitably create some delay. The addition of a new technology mode to Toronto’s rapid transit network could bring potential benefits in the form of procurement or construction speed, or reduced day to day operations cost. But it also brings risks in the “learning curve” without any existing network off of which to build, and increased costs for duplication of maintenance facilities and spare vehicles. It will be vital to manage these risks to bring the best overall result within the remaining time before Line 1 crowding becomes dangerous.
It is also important to note that all “megaprojects” experience delays and cost increases, some required and some political. In fact, nine out of ten billion-dollar-plus projects go over budget. The research clearly shows that the most important elements of megaproject management are in the planning: evidence-based, transparent process, and a rigorous business case.
Missing from this proposal is the high-priority Waterfront East LRT, which will serve to enable access and transit-oriented development already in progress. Both the City and Province must align on this project rapidly to ensure travel patterns are built appropriately.
We also have concerns about the process to date. As we move forward, we hope the province will engage the city in an appropriate partnership and align on the planning of transit, particularly before making public announcements that have a material impact on existing city plans and spending.
We also hope that partnership results in a provincial commitment to improving the funding of the operations and maintenance of the existing transit system in Toronto. The TTC remains the least subsidized transit agency in Canada and the United States, and it is currently not able to provide a level of service appropriate to its ridership.
According to the American Public Transit Association’s report Open for Business: The Business Case for Investment in Public Transportation, “every dollar spent on public transportation generates $4 in economic returns.” We note that the City has to finance its own share of these capital expansion projects, in addition to the federal and provincial contributions. We hope to see the City revisit its budget and make a serious plan to find the necessary capital for the most worthwhile investments.
2 April 2019
|TO:||Mayor John Tory, Councillor Paul Ainslie,
Councillor Ana Bailão, Councillor Gary Crawford,
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong,
Councillor Frances Nunziata, Councillor James Pasternak, Councillor Michael Thompson
|RE:||Executive Committee Agenda Item
EX4.2: The Future of King Street – Results of the Transit Pilot
To the members of the Executive Committee:
CodeRedTO supports better transit options for more residents across the city and region, using all the tools available to improve economic and personal mobility. This includes mass transit expansion, better performance for existing transit, integrated active transportation infrastructure, and dedicated reliable funding to support community and business transportation needs.
The King Street Pilot program took Toronto’s busiest surface transit route, and converted it from an unreliable, slow, mockery of transit into a rapid, dependable artery which is 81% more reliable for business and community members. Tens of thousands more transit riders began using King Street, and now over 80% of people traveling King Street in the core use transit as part of their journey.
Now that the King streetcar is significantly more reliable and consistent for riders, more hop-on and hop-off decisions can be made to visit local retailers, even during short timeframes like a short employee lunch break. In fact, 76% of King Street users in a survey indicated they’ve visited local retailers just as much or even more since the pilot began.
While personal cars on and near King Street are a minority of road users, the side-effects of transit network development are important to monitor. City Staff measured personal car travel times in nine locations nearly twice daily across two months, and in only one location did travel times increase more than 90 seconds on average, on Dundas. In three of nine locations car traffic was more than 30 seconds faster!
When we consider the increased transit ridership, the increased transit reliability, the limited impact to other road users, the reduced carbon emissions, the improved active transportation potential, and the extremely low capital expenditure, it is clear that the King Street Pilot is a model for transit improvement and should be made permanent immediately. There is insufficient justification to reverse or limit any of the modifications made in the pilot, and CodeRedTO strongly urges City Council to maintain enforcement and to make King Street our permanent model for future transit corridor prioritization.
Executive Director, CodeRedTO