MIXED SIGNALS:Toronto Transit in a North American Context

Posted on: November 20th, 2018

Low Funding and Lack of Dedicated Revenue Sources Put Toronto Transit at Risk

Toronto has an overly-simple rail network and the lowest overall subsidy (30.4%) in North America, and has no dedicated revenue sources, unlike most peer transit systems both older and younger, which leave our network uniquely vulnerable to political obstruction.

 

TORONTO, ON, November 20, 2018 Today at City Hall, non-partisan transit advocacy group CodeRedTO released
Mixed Signals: Toronto Transit in a North American Context (PDF), a report which contrasts Toronto’s fares, network design, operating budget, and governance structure with seven other peer cities across North America. In this report, we find Toronto’s strong transit ridership and reputation were achieved despite the lowest subsidy rate of any North American city, no dedicated revenue sources, overly politicized administrative structures, and a bias toward suburban tunneled extensions over core network complexity.

CodeRedTO releases this report after the campaign period to allow both the public and legislators to review meaningful comparator city data at this critical moment,

when proposals are circulating from governments and civil society about how to address structural issues affecting transit in the GTHA.

“Toronto and Queen’s Park are proposing change which will not resolve key vulnerabilities in Toronto’s transit: its low level of subsidy and lack of dedicated revenue,” said Cameron MacLeod, Executive Director of CodeRedTO. “Nothing is more crucial than resolving decades of underfunding and poor network design. Tangible increases to service levels, improvements to passes and fares, and funding to build a more complete network all demand our immediate attention.” Patricia Wood, a co-author on the report, added, “Local transit is starved for operations funding in the GTHA. Better governance could help, but a complex ‘upload’ isn’t the answer. Metrolinx needs to be more accountable to the region, and Toronto should be represented on its board.”

Eighteen months in the making, this report brings together research, design, and subject matter expertise from outside transit agency and political party structures, allowing data to be used to inform policy discussions for all.

This report is released under a Creative Commons license, allowing free access to use and adapt its contents in any way, as long as any derivative work is similarly released. This will increase the ability of all transit advocacy groups and interested parties without favour. The report can be downloaded at www.CodeRedTO.com.

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About CodeRedTO

CodeRedTO was founded in 2011 as a consciously non-partisan, non-profit, volunteer-run advocate for local and regional public transit. We promote more and better transit options for more residents; using all available technologies where appropriate; creating better information for better decision-making; completion of efficient and approved plans; and increased, predictable funding for public transit expansion and operation. CodeRedTO is funded through personal donations and grants from non-profits, and directed by an advisory board with no financial interest in any transportation projects or agencies. Learn more at www.CodeRedTO.com and follow us @CodeRedTO.

For further information:
Cameron MacLeod
Executive Director, CodeRedTO
info@CodeRedTO.com

Seven Years

Posted on: September 20th, 2018

Click for full-size

“if you are very fortunate you are a minority, and the way we transform a city with public transit is not to appeal to minority tastes”

Posted on: April 27th, 2018

The March 30th, 2018 episode of the informative and wide-ranging StreetsBlog podcast featured Human Transit author and educator Jarrett Walker, discussing how to communicate transportation and planning concepts to the public. The discussion included several fundamental conflicts that appear when discussing public transit, such as the completely rational difference urban and rural perspectives, differing definitions of safety, and why Silicon Valley reinventing the bus is not necessarily improving on the goals of public transit.

In one exchange, Walker points out that rural politicians are not subject-matter experts on collective government services in dense urban environments:

…Many things that are government services in the city are your own responsibility at low density. If you live on a ranch, on a 100-acre ranch, the water department is your well, the sewer department is your septic tank, the police department is your gun, and the fire department is the pond! And of course you feel self-reliant, and of course you feel like you don’t need much government, because you don’t. …This whole notion that we should be having a debate about how much government is enough is silly because the answer is obviously it depends on the density you live in. So we have this stereotype in America that liberals are concentrated in big cities and they like more government, well of course – there’s simply more that has to be done collectively, more that a citizen can’t do for themselves, has to trust a collective to do, when you’re living at high density. It’s just a spatial, geometric fact.

He also discusses the problem we all have of assuming our need is a common and important need:

…If you are in a relatively fortunate position in your society, if you have substantially above-average income and/or substantially above-average education, you are going to be tempted to think about your personal tastes as being a good guide to what would work for everyone. The fundamental fallacy at the heart of it is when people tell a transit agency you’d have more ridership if you just did this thing that’s convenient for me. Transit agencies hear this all the time, it’s called stated preference, we know it’s meaningless. But this desire that everyone has to believe that deep down everyone else has the same tastes as they do and has the same priorities that they do. So when fortunate people make this mistake and start designing transit services for themselves or as though they were the design customer they end up designing things that don’t scale to the mass of people that we actually need to be serving and that aren’t actually hitting the right balance between price and quality that is appropriate to the mass of people that we’re serving, and the result is failed transit projects.

Even millionaires in Silicon Valley are good at making this assumption:

Much of the tech industry’s …fundamentally arguing that what’s wrong with transit is that we are not sufficiently responsive to the tastes of savvy tech people with six-figure salaries. Well no, we’re not, because that’s not where we start. Transit agencies spend a lot of time listening to lower-income people. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that transit services are heavily used by low-income people. The way we make transit relevant to wealthier people is not to pivot away from low-income people as I’m seeing some studies suggesting now, instead we treat the low-income people as the early adopters, and we use the service that they support and build upon that to gradually make the service more and more useful in such a way that more and more people find it useful until finally you get to the point where we have the millionaire riding it.

Walker stresses that the way we build transit is with common riders, not rare ones:

Elite projection is the mistake very commonly made by fortunate people… It’s the mistake of forgetting that if you are very fortunate you are a minority, and the way we transform a city with public transit is not to appeal to minority tastes. We are trying to get a basic product out there that a huge spectrum of people find useful, and that’s going to be very different from what the elite would design for themselves.

The full 45-minute podcast is well worth your time, as are Walker’s site and book, if you’re interested in learning more about public transit and planning issues, and how we can improve our skills in thinking about and communicating about shared goals.

King For All

Posted on: February 5th, 2018

CodeRedTO is proud to join a coalition of organizations, community groups and residents to show support for the King Street Pilot Project.

The coalition includes CivicAction, the Liberty Village Residents’ Association, TTCRiders, Cycle Toronto, Walk Toronto, 880 Cities, and many more.

Improved transit helps all parts of our city and region, and supporting the pilot project to ensure it works efficiently for all is part of that improving process. Show your support here: http://weloveking.ca, and by visiting business on and near King Street and telling them how you arrived!

Promising signs from the King Street Pilot

Posted on: January 19th, 2018

After 2 of 12 planned months in operation, the King Street Pilot is showing significant positive effects for riders of the 504 King streetcar, who make up a very large proportion of the users of King Street, both during and outside peak. It is also showing effects, proportionately smaller, on car drivers.

What do we know so far? (Torontoist’s Steve Munro)

  • Streetcar travel times across downtown are faster than before the pilot, although the averages reported by the City are smaller than improvements cited by riders who praise the faster service.
  • Demand on King is up as riders left behind by full streetcars can attest, but the TTC has published only one numerical before and after comparison.
  • Route capacity is limited by the number of available TTC vehicles, although larger new cars appear one by one as they arrive from Bombardier. However, the capacity actually operated is still below the level of early 2017.
  • Traffic and transit speeds on adjacent roads, notably on Queen, have not been affected much by the pilot itself, although they are still subject to the effect of construction projects.
  • Enforcement of the new traffic regulations remains spotty, after an initial blitz, and problems remain at key intersections where cross-street traffic can block King thwarting the benefits of the pilot.
  • Some pedestrian scale improvements such curb lane expansions of the sidewalk will not occur until better weather.

We also know from City traffic counts that streetcar riders make up the majority of the people moving along the full length of King Street, commonly cited as 65,000+ (TTC statistics from before the 514 was introduced), or 72,000+ (Ben Spurr, Toronto Star), as compared to approximately 20,000 cars containing on average 1.08 people.

There have been calls in the media by some business owners to make significant reductions to the pilot’s scope, due to unverified claims of significant drops in business. It is entirely possible for street changes to impact retail business, both positively and negatively. The City of Toronto is gathering credit card data from global payments operator Moneris to check impacts both within the pilot area and in comparable unchanged areas, as part of their pilot evaluation process. This evidence will be very helpful to evaluate the improved transit performance and the overall King Street neighbourhood impacts.

One commonly voiced complaint in media is a perceived lack of people. Without an official cordon count, it is very difficult to quantify this, but some have suggested other significant differences which would be a factor:

Weather (Measured high temperatures below zero degrees)

  • Dec 2016 to 18 Jan 2017: 14 days below 0 and 0 days below -10
  • Dec 2017 to 18 Jan 2018: 29 days below 0 and 7 days below -10

Theatre Activity:

  • Royal Alexandria Theatre dark twice as many November-December days as in 2016
  • 2016’s soon-to-be Broadway hit Come From Away, contrasted with 2017’s family production of The Lorax

Another commonly-cited but inaccurate concern is a lack of parking. Approximately 7,800 spaces exist within a few hundred metres of King Street, but only 180 spaces (2.3%) were removed. For comparison, the average parking space at Yorkdale Mall is about 100 metres from its nearest entrance.

CodeRedTO strongly supports improved transit in principle, and supports maintaining the integrity of the King Street Pilot such that a full year of conditions can be assessed. Road construction, TIFF, summer storms, and more are still to be evaluated. Minor adjustments to the pilot area, as the City has already completed in multiple instances, are a reasonable approach to ensuring that the overall goal of dependable and higher-performing transit 24/7 is retained.

Tell your City Councillor your opinion on making public transit faster and more reliable by calling 311, or follow these links to find contact information for your councillor and the Mayor.

Familiar Challenges Face New York City’s Subway

Posted on: December 31st, 2017

Many of the significant and costly challenges facing the MTA, and its new President Andy Byford, will ring familiar to those following Toronto’s transit development and roadblocks:

  1. Stations built for smaller volumes of people
  2. Ancient and failing signaling systems
  3. Ancient and failing vehicles needing replacement
  4. Transition to a new fare collection system
  5. Trying to increase funding and reduce administrative costs
  6. Convincing its workforce to accept role modernization and revolution

 

The GTHA’s Last Kilometre Problem

Posted on: December 18th, 2017

For reasons that are slightly mysterious, there is talk of big changes to transit governance in Ontario. One idea floating about is to upload all transit systems to the province because there are 11 separate transit systems in the GTHA. Which is supposed to sound like chaos, or something.

There have been some good critiques of this proposal: I recommend reading Cherise Burda and Jennifer Keesmaat on this.

But one big problem with this governance talk is that regional cooperation and coordination are not the biggest transit problems in the GTHA.

I’m in favour of better regional transit. Where it isn’t entirely absent, what we have is, in many areas, pretty terrible, uneven, and unresponsive. I would like to see service expanded and improved.

But the biggest transit problem we have in the GTHA is inadequate local transit.

Read more from CodeRedTO advisor Tricia Wood, in Torontoist

King Street Pilot Initial Results

Posted on: December 4th, 2017

Strong return on investment for the #KingStreetPilot according to data analyzed by the University of Toronto. Thousands are saving time daily.

“The King St. pilot project has caused dramatic improvements in travel times and reliability on the TTC’s busiest streetcar route, according to data analyzed by University of Toronto researchers.

The statistics show that during the evening rush hour period of 4 to 7 p.m., the mean travel time for westbound streetcars in the pilot area has been cut by 24 per cent, to 17.3 minutes, from 22.8 minutes before the pilot began. The mean travel time for eastbound streetcars has been reduced by 20 per cent, to 16.4 minutes from 20.6 minutes.

The figures suggest a remarkable return on investment in terms of transit service for a project that cost just $1.5 million to implement.”

King St. pilot project has slashed streetcar travel times, statistics show (Toronto Star)

Upcoming public meetings

Posted on: September 26th, 2017

For those interested in SmartTrack and/or Regional Express Rail (RER) development in Toronto and the GTA, early October has several public meetings that may be of interest to you.

Proposed new stations for GO and SmartTrack: (source report PDF)

LOCAL MPP PUBLIC MEETING:
Metrolinx Lakeshore East Expansion in Toronto-Danforth

(Hosted by Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns)
Wednesday October 4th, 7pm to 8.30pm
Ralph Thornton Centre, 765 Queen St. East
CLICK HERE TO RSVP

SMARTTRACK PUBLIC MEETING
(Hosted by the City of Toronto and Metrolinx)
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 10

Scarborough Civic Centre, 150 Borough Drive
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Presentation begins at 7:00 pm

SMARTTRACK PUBLIC MEETING
(Hosted by the City of Toronto and Metrolinx)
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 11
Riverdale Collegiate Institute, 1094 Gerrard Street East
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Presentation begins at 7:00 pm

SMARTTRACK PUBLIC MEETING
(Hosted by the City of Toronto and Metrolinx)
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12
Bloor Street Collegiate Institute, 1141 Bloor Street West
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Presentation begins at 7:00 pm

GO Transit Electrification and Impacts to Regional Transportation

Posted on: August 17th, 2017

Guest post by CodeRedTO volunteer Thomas Dybowski

With a goal of improving regional transportation in Ontario, Metrolinx has introduced the GO Transit Electrification project which focuses on upgrading the GO rail system throughout the entire Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). The electrification process consists of transitioning away from presently diesel-powered GO trains towards the use of direct electrical supply as a new power source.

Some of the benefits offered by the electrification process include a rail system which has improved speed while also offering services in a wait time of 15 minutes or less. This includes fewer interruptions in addition to travel being enabled both ways throughout the entire day. In addition to the improvements, a potential development of 12 new stations may take place across the region, including 8 new locations in Toronto which would serve towards improving commuter access and convenience. These positive attributes may also serve as a way of mitigating some of the effects of congestion in cities by offering alternative travel choices. Additionally, electrification directly benefits the city’s environment and health through improvements towards air quality as a result of lower emissions being produced.

Proposed electrification of corridors in the GO rail network [Source]

Additionally, on June 15 the Ontario Government has introduced another option, of using hydrogen as a potential fuel source, describing it as a potential alternative based on its popular use in other metropolitan areas of the world. Hydrogen is explained as a safe and clean alternative which serves as an improvement from current practices towards both people’s and the environment’s health. With a goal of selecting the best course of action when improving the GO rail system, consideration for the use of hydrogen as a potential source will continue during the electrification project. Studies will continue to explore the source and its benefits in the later months of 2017.

Currently, the project is in the Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) which identifies the impact different aspects of developing the project may have through its development, while also focusing on implementing technical approaches to provide solutions towards issues. A series of 28 public meetings have already been held in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and are entering into their third round of discussions. This involves two phases already taking place during 2016 which focused on the different physical requirements associated with implementing the changes and the influence these changes may have on the local environment. Presently, consultations are in their third phase of the TPAP, which basis a review of all the information already heard from the public as well as more feedback with the purpose of generating an Environmental Project Review (EPR) which will then undergo public review.

To accommodate the Go Transit Expansion, additional implementation of infrastructure such as barriers would be used to shield areas which are visually impacted by the project, while also providing greater pedestrian safety from the rail system in places such as overhead crossings. Additionally, the project involves replacing bridges which are unfit for the new infrastructure, which would undergo construction to accommodate the necessary height clearance and barrier designs.

Some frequent issues discussed by the public involve the concern over the requirement of clearing a 7-meter distance of vegetation from the rail corridor, which intends to prevent any hazards towards the rail system. This includes problems which arise from the required removal of trees from resident’s private properties. Additionally, a frequent point of discussion involves the noise and vibration coming from the electrified trains, including issues with the train’s impact on people’s livability; especially in areas where corridors pass residential areas. One possible strategy proposed involves the use of 5-meter tall walls as shields to prevent noise disruption coming from the trains.

The project’s next steps involve focusing on completing the study by the end of 2017, which includes a public review from October to November and a review by the Minister until December. The goal of the project is to complete the construction process by 2025, whereby then service would become publicly available. The GO Transit Expansion will transform how rail systems operate in Ontario, with electrification working towards creating an improved transportation system for the years to come.

Thomas Dybowski is a student at the University of Toronto in the Urban Geography and City Studies program.

 

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TELL your friends and family that subways are amazing - they really are! - but with limited funding we have to make rational decisions about whether to support more residents or leave people waiting for crowded buses for decades longer.

Did you know: The bus routes on Finch have over 85% of the ridership of the (much shorter) Sheppard Subway, and the bus routes on Eglinton already have over 140%! The lengths differ but the need is common in many areas of the city. We are decades behind and need better transit options for our residents now, not just small extensions that use up all the budget.

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