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.
- Yonge North Subway expansion to Highway 7
- Increasing speed and reducing emissions by electrifying the GO Lakeshore line and expanding capacity on all GO lines
- Expanded express bus service across Highway 407
- Two rapid transit lines across Hamilton
- Toronto’s full seven-line Transit City LRT network
- full-day two-way GO service on all corridors
- GO refund for delays of 15 minutes (in service)
- Expansion of GO all-day, two-way service, including regional express service every 15 minutes, and electrification on all lines starting with the UnionPearson Express (some elements under construction)
- Expansion of GO service to Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph (in service)
- Brampton Queen Street Rapid Transit (in planning)
- Dundas Street Bus Rapid Transit (in planning)
- Durham-Scarborough Bus Rapid Transit (in planning)
- Hamilton Rapid Transit (funded, in planning)
- Hurontario-Main LRT (under construction)
- East Bayfront LRT (unfunded)
- Relief line (rebranded Ontario Line by later government, funded, begins construction in 2022)
- Yonge North Subway expansion to York Region (in planning)
- Line 4 Sheppard extension
- All expansions to Crosstown will be underground only
Below are the questions provided to CodeRedTO, and our responses. We hope this information is helpful for all candidates.
What priorities do you want to see the next provincial government implement when it comes to transit for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area?
- We must move away from a car-first orientation.
- We must move away from short-term budgeting.
- Repairing the damage of COVID-19 cannot wait.
“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.
Do you have a priority list when it comes to new transit projects?
- Projects which could have the greatest impact on ridership and network resiliency will aid us in catching up to the unmet ridership needs across the GTHA. Previously-studied projects with completed Environmental Assessments can be launched and completed on a shorter timeframe.
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:
- Relief Line removed from 1985 plan in 1990
- Eglinton West Line cancelled mid-construction in 1995
- Vaughan Metropolitan Centre added to Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension in 2006
- Kirby and Lawrence East GO stations planned in 2016
- Scarborough Centre LRT from Kennedy to Malvern approved in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012, and cancelled in 2010 and 2013
- Scarborough Subway Extension approved in 2013, and expanded in 2018
- Eglinton Crosstown West LRT modified in 2018 to be fully-underground
- Ontario Line replacement for former Relief Line proposed in 2018 as partly above-ground
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:
- More buses, in dedicated lanes, everywhere, now. More transit riders use buses than use rail both in Toronto and across the GTHA, and improved bus service is a fast and affordable way to improve mobility for the largest number of people.
- Waterfront East rapid transit, to support existing development in progress. This project completed its Environmental Assessment in 2010, but remains unfunded while new buildings continue to appear along its studied alignment.
- Ontario Line (a.k.a. Relief Line) to Eglinton or farther, to reduce pressure on overcrowded segments of Line 1 and the Bloor-Yonge interchange.
- GO Expansion (a.k.a. Regional Express Rail) across the GTHA, and new non-Union Station service, to increase network resiliency and travel speed for regional travel and reduce average travel distance on local services and subways.
What are your recommendations for the relationship between the Province of Ontario, Metrolinx, and local transit agencies?
- Separate voter oversight from project competition
- Mandate project and policy decision transparency
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.
It’s well known that governments are eager to fund (parts of) projects but pay less attention to programs and policies. What should a new government’s most important non-project priority be?
- Sufficient capital and operations funding for strategic planning to build network capacity and ridership
- Reliable and frequent local service linking residents to rail and rapid transit throughout the region
- Improved integration of regional network by removing “double fares” when crossing boundaries
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
- TTC + GO + TTC: $9.13, 57 minutes
- TTC alone: $3.25, 80 minutes
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.