Agreement Reached Between Toronto and Ontario on City’s Transit Future

» After a strong push by new Mayor Rob Ford, the extensive planned network of surface-running light rail lines will be replaced by a light rail subway to be funded by Ontario. The city argues it can fund another subway extension project itself.

In 2007, Toronto looked to be pioneering a more cost-effective way of providing major new transit infrastructure: Rather than investing huge sums on short segments of new subways as it had done in the past, the city would construct dozens of miles of street-running light rail, connecting far-off parts to the city without breaking the bank.

The “Transit City” effort, pushed by Mayor David Miller, eventually garnered the support of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who agreed to use C$8.2 billion in provincial funds to complete 35 miles of rail on four lines, most of which would be above ground.

After the fall election of Rob Ford to the mayor’s office, however, the world of Toronto transit decision-making has turned upside down thanks to Mr. Ford’s insistence that no new transit lines be built within the street right-of-way, which he argued represented a “war on cars.” Today, Mr. McGuinty heeded that advice and announced that Ontario will fund just two of those lines — the replacement of the Scarborough RT with elevated light rail along the existing guideway and the construction of a crosstown light rail subway underneath Eglinton Avenue for a total cost of C$8.2 billion, both to be completed by 2020 as a unified line. That would be a total of about 15.5 miles of new transit for the same cost as 35 miles of Transit City projects.

Mr. Ford, who argued extensively during the mayoral campaign for extensions to the 3.4-mile Sheppard subway west to Downsview (C$1.4 billion for 3.4 miles) and east to Scarborough Center (C$2.75 billion for 5 miles), has dedicated the city to building that project. Funding would come from public-private partnerships that would fill the C$4.2 billion gap. Other previously proposed lines, including along Finch Avenue in the northwest section of the city, have relegated to future “express buses” whose service quality remains undefined.

In some ways, Toronto will benefit from this revised plan: Commuting times along subway lines are likely to be quicker than on street-running light rail, which even in reserved rights-of-way must deal with traffic intersections. And along Sheppard Avenue, the decision to extend the subway rather than force commuters to transfer to light rail will save people time and effort. But are those improvements enough to justify effectively doubling the cost of the construction program? Does putting the entire 12-mile Eglinton line underground — versus just 6 miles as planned before — justify eliminating plans for expanded service to an underserved part of the city?

Mayor Ford’s insistence on putting transit lines in subways was a response to his concerns about reducing space for automobile users, so the question is whether the increase in costs that it would require to put the corridors underground would produce a corresponding increase in benefits for all users (including those who will not receive new transit lines). Lacking complete data from a cost-benefits perspective, I’ll leave that an open question. One thing it is likely not to do is reduce congestion, since in big cities like Toronto road capacity is absorbed as soon as it is provided.

Removing street space from the purview of automobilists and dedicating it to transit users has produced resistance throughout the United States and Canada, but Toronto’s change of policy is particularly dramatic because construction had already begun on one of the lines, the Sheppard Avenue East light rail. Mayor Ford was elected on a platform of replacing the light rail plan with subways, so this change should have significant electoral support; nonetheless, the lack of funding for significant improvements in the northwest sections of the city will undoubtedly be controversial.

Most problematic is the financing plan Mr. Ford has put forth for the Sheppard extensions. During the election campaign, the candidate suggested that the C$4 billion subway be built mostly with Transit City funds. A limited sale of development rights would produce C$1 billion, of which 30% would be distributed to complete that project’s financing and the rest be devoted to road improvements.

Under the new project, however, almost all of the Transit City dollars would be spent on Eglington and Scarborough lines, leaving a maximum of C$650 million in Ontario funds for the Sheppard line. Would the City of Toronto be able to raise more than C$3 billion from development rights just along the Sheppard corridor? Does it even have that much land to sell?

For a point of comparison, Hong Kong’s newest subway lines use such development rights sales to aid in their financing — but they still require significant public aid to complete the funding package. And that’s in a far denser city where land values are much higher than in Toronto.

Thus the deal today does not actually guarantee the completion of the Sheppard Avenue subway extensions — it only assures the Toronto public that the funded Eglinton Crosstown Line and the renovations of the Scarborough RT will be completed by 2020. A few years ago, that might have been enough to make anyone happy. But after Transit City was announced, funded, and had begun construction, it feels just a little disappointing.

59 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • What’s the advantage to making the Eglington line a light-rail subway, as opposed to a heavy-rail subway compatible with the other lines, or, given that it will be connecting to the existing Scarborough RT, a Bombardier ALRT line? Is light rail still that much cheaper even when it’s fully grade separated in a tunnel? Are they aiming for flexibility on future expansion outside the city center? Also, will it use the same new LRVs they’re developing for the streetcar network?

    • Leo

      The advantage is that we’ve already bought the light rail vehicles for quite a bit of money. The design for low floor stations for the central section of the route is close to completion. Also, converting Scarborough RT to heavy rail is not possible, and there are benefits to not having too many different fleets.

      The Eglinton line will be using off-the-shelf Bombardier Flexity 2, rather than the customized Flexity being adopted for the downtown streetcar routes. Note that the new downtown streetcars will be single-ended with doors on one side. Also, the existing streetcar and subway routes have a unique TTC gauge, while the Eglinton line will be standard gauge as is the existing Scarborough RT.

      • Argh, one would have presumed that they would go with double sided doors for the opportunity to upgrade their streetcar network in the future, and to eliminate the need to have loops. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Toronto, but I’m amazed that they haven’t followed the principles of the German Stadtbahns and attempted to bury some sections of their streetcar network downtown.

        • Adirondacker12800

          They did, they called it the subway when they were done.

          • But there’s still decent number of lines still running at surface in the core. FWIW, I’d argue that they should consider funneling the Queen and King Street streetcars into a tunnel downtown with improved surface running in other areas…

            • Adirondacker12800

              Multiple modes are a characteristic of dense cores. Extreme example is Market Street in San Francisco which has buses, cable cars, streetcars, a subway with light rail and BART.

        • Joey Connick

          I believe that although they’re starting with single-sided doors/one-ended cars, the intent is to move to double-sided ultimately (sometime in conjunction with/after the switch to a useful, all-door boarding electronic fare system). I’m not exactly sure why they’re bothering to start with the inferior configuration, though.

  • Justin Bernard

    I live in Toronto, and the Eglinton Corridor can fully support surface rail without the need for a costly tunnel. There is enough space to accomodate LRT without any loss in auto space.

  • Tom West

    The Sheppard LRT was going to result in some road widening so that the number of vehicle lanes wouldn’t be reduced. Toronto is now going to build 15.5 miles for the price of 35 miles.

    I wish the province has stuck to its guns and said that putting all of Elginton underground would be a waste for its money.

  • Benjamin Smith

    It should be noted that on the original plan, the “LRT” (with the exception of Eglinton) would have stops about every 1/4 mile in a moderately-low density suburban setting. Imagine the T line in San Francisco, and transplanting it into a suburb of Detroit. While in a high density area that kind of stop spacing makes sense, in areas of lower density rapid transit lines tends to have stop spacing around every 0.5-1 mile.

    Just wanted to clarify that this is more than simply changing the infrastructure to something more expensive, it is also about changing from an over-ambitious local plan to a true rapid transit one, which is what Toronto really needs.

  • Nathanael

    At least Toronto’s getting an Eglinton line and rebuilding the Scarborough line to be compatible with it.

    I can’t say anything else good about Mayor Ford’s transporation “policy”, but at least Toronto’s getting *some* of Transit City, albeit for twice the price.

  • Nathanael

    Nothing is being done to relieve the overcrowding on the main subway line, of course. The Sheppard extension remains idiotic given that the line is overcrowded downtown. I’ve seen a few proposals for how to deal with that (ranging from substantail enhanced service along the GO routes to put the commuters from the outer edges of the subway into “reverse peak” trains at Union, to a whole new subway line downtown) but none have been seriously considered as far as I can tell.

    • GRL

      If memory serves, some of the local complaints about “Transit City” involved the fact that the DRL (to use the local argot) would be sidelined until afterwards, rather than be given any level of priority.

  • eldondre

    it”s be 25 years before you know if they made the right decision. Philadelphia still heavily uses it’s subway surface routes which seem a good approximation for the light rail subway. is there a reason the at grade extensions could be built later, operating underground?

  • Andrew

    The reason that the Eglinton line can’t use the same type of subway cars as the other lines is that the Scarborough RT has very small curve radii near Kennedy station and between Ellesmere and Midland which long subway cars can’t handle. To avoid rebuilding that line at great expense LRT-type rolling stock will be used which can easily accommodate very small curve radii.

  • The idea of putting light rail underground reminds me too much of San Francisco’s Central Subway.

    So does the cost of this venture, for that matter. Ford’s plan costs C$8.2 billion for 20.5 miles of subway (not 15.5 – you’re forgetting one end of Sheppard), which is $250 million per km. This cost is normal for European subways, but those typically go under many older lines and dense urban infrastructure. Something that looks like Sheppard would cost less, perhaps $150 million per km. (The orbital line in Paris is $200 if I remember correctly, but the Paris suburbs are much denser than outer-urban Toronto.)

    • From my understanding, the cost is divided as follows:

      C$8.2 billion for Eglinton (12.4 miles) + Scarborough (4 miles), to be paid by Province. That’s C$311 million/km.

      C$4.2 billion for Sheppard both ends (7.4 miles), to be paid by city. That’s C$353 million/km.

  • John W

    Let’s hope they don’t straitjacket themselves with non-extendible platforms the way Vancouver’s Canada Line did.
    Anyone know what the projected ridership figures are (and are they higher than the earlier Transit City version?)

    • Joey Connick

      Actually my understanding is that the Canada Line does have extendible platforms… albeit only extensible from 2-car train length to 3-car train length. It’s still ridiculously shortsighted for a line that is already overcrowded at rush hour. Ah PPPs… that’s what you get!

      • Alex2000

        Well to be fair ridership has been higher than expected. They are at 100k+ per day now. They didn’t expect to hit that until 2013.

        Secondly, you could just run more trains. The skytrain can run with headways of 2 minutes (Theoretically 75 seconds!) The Canada line is only running every 4 minutes now at peak time.

        The Canada Line is designed for an ultimate capacity of 15,000 passengers per hour per direction, based on a frequency of two minutes with 3-car trains.

  • Andrew

    From what I can tell the Eglinton line is basically a fully grade separated subway line using LRT rolling stock so it can negotiate the tight curves of the SRT, and will probably provide capacity roughly equivalent to the existing 4-car Sheppard line if it were run at full capacity (so somewhat more than the Canada line). It’s not like the Muni Metro at all. It will probably sort of resemble the Docklands Light Railway in London.

    As for King and Queen, these need to be replaced with a full subway because ridership will be a lot higher than either Eglinton or Sheppard. Underground streetcars will not do here.

  • One of the real advantages of this plan is the elimination of two transfers: one at Don Mills and Sheppard from the Sheppard subway to the Sheppard LRT and the other at Kennedy from the Eglinton LRT to the Scarborough RT. Presumably after the Eglinton subway is built there will be very few buses left on it; all those buses that currently often get stuck in gridlock on Eglinton – even with the bus lane – will then be able to be redeployed to other routes. The real problem will be overcrowding on the Yonge subway line in the absence of any additional North – South rapid transit corridors.

    We can build a lot of corridors at a very low level, like Transit City, and have them quickly filled to capacity or build a few that can last a long time. The opening of the Spadina Subway station at Finch West can be expected to absorb a lot of the ridership currently on the 36 Finch West route, thereby lessening the need for the Finch LRT. Jane barely had the ridership to justify inclusion in the Transit City plan. Hopefully the busiest part of the Don Mills proposed LRT – from Eglinton to Pape Station, will become part of the fabled Downtown Relief Line.

    After the Eglinton – Scarborough line is built it will be relatively inexpensive to open surface extensions west of Jane and north of Scarborough Center.

    As for constructing downtown tunnels for the Queen, King, etc. streetcars they really function as local routes rather than regional light rail services. Tunneling would remove the ability to hop on for a few stops.

  • Brendan H

    It’s worth noting that the map above doesn’t entirely reflect the new plan. The new line is going to terminate at Scarborough Centre, not McCowan. And there are only going to be 26 stops on the entire combined line, meaning three stops from the original plan are going to be dropped. It’s anyone’s guess which three though.

  • KL

    Transit City was a socio-economic exercise. It was concerned with mobility. It was concerned with sending LRT lines to underperforming areas in the hopes that the billions in LRT would somehow turn these areas around. That’s what made the plan severely flawed.

    The new plan is not necessarily better. But at least it starts to recognize core concerns that residents have: mobility. Namely, crosstown mobility.

    Transit City prioritized local travel over the most important transit experience of any resident’s day: their commute. This plan (to some extent), addresses their biggest concerns. Getting across town.

    That’s not to say, all is well. Obviously, the Sheppard financing plan is flawed. And by merging the Eglinton line with the Scarborough RT residents, riders along Eglinton East will be left literally out in the cold.

    But there are benefits. The Eglinton line is preserved. And those portions losing out on rail will suffer a penalty of a handful of minutes more on a bus, compensated by a faster ride in the tunnel. Finch West is a loss. But the justification there was always a tad weak. Same goes for the Morningside, Don Mills and Jane lines. Even the much vaunted Sheppard line has always had a weak case, east of McCowan where the corridor is literally dominated by the backyards of single family homes with no hopes of intensification. A re-think on Sheppard is not a bad thing. And years from now, I have a feeling, regardless of what happens, people will be grateful they didn’t waste money on LRT to the Zoo (they didn’t even push for a spur to Scarborough Town Centre).

    The biggest loss in my opinion, remain the total lack of consideration for a Downtown Relief Line, the lack of anything higher order on Eglinton East and the lack of a SRT extension into Malvern (given that this corridor is not being replaced by heavy rail).

    • John W

      If they had announced planning for a DRL, I’d have been looking for the April Fool connection. Will it ever happen?

      Has there ever been a counterproposal to achieve some of the same goals by ramping up a couple of the GO Train lines to S-Bahn/RER type service levels. I’m thinking the line to Richmond Hill and on the west side as far as York U or maybe Rutherford to intersect the BRT. Through-running at Union Station. Possibly add a few more stations (but with passing tracks so long-distance commuters don’t get bogged down), especially interchange stations with the subway and LRT. Or even just have this service on the portions of the lines south of Eglinton. Just add a few more DMUs to the airport line order.

      • I sincerely doubt any such proposal exists, or could work given present regulatory structure. Canada has the same rules for mainline trains as the US, and to top it off the lines are owned by freight companies. This makes it impossible to run lightweight DMUs at high frequency. While Canada is much better than the US at granting waivers with time sharing, e.g. in Ottawa, such an arrangement can’t work on the lake shore lines, which carry a large amount of freight.

        • John W

          I was thinking of the Barrie and Richmond Hill lines, which roughly parallel the Yonge-University-Spadina subway. The former is owned by Metrolinx but the latter is CN (though I’ve no idea how much freight it carries, or if there’s much freight along the part closest to the city centre).

          • PSC

            The Bala sub (Richmond Hill GO) is CN’s main freight connection from Toronto to western Canada. There has been much twin tracking from the Doncaster diamond north to the GO terminus, but south (and particularly through the Don Valley) it’s single rail.

            Upgrading the line to allow GO to run all day service would require grade separation at Doncaster and rebuilding of over a dozen bridges along with the extra track to twin track the remainder. Budget $500m for it and you’d be in the right ballpark.

            Still cheaper than the subway extension, though.

        • Actually GO owns some of the track. But it seems they don’t really understand the value of EMU, fixed schedule operation, and apparently don’t really wanna deal with FRA regulation issues, at least if their electrification study is any indication.
          link

          • Adirondacker12800

            They are in Canada, they don’t have to deal with U.S. regulations. The FRA covers American railroads.

            • Canada has basically the same regulations as the US.

              • Adirondacker12800

                True.
                But if the Canadians decide tomorrow that the passenger lines around Toronto and Montreal have to install ERTMS and can then use anything UIC compliant the FRA doesn’t have anything to say about it…. Makes me wonder what they are going to install on AMT’s ALP45DPs.

              • I had the impression that in Canada they just follow what the Americans are doing, and are thus even more conservative – and, for example, will wait and see how Caltrain will work out. Hopefully I am wrong, though.

  • Michael

    People have to remember that the places not getting Transit City, are still served by transit.
    Transit City was really not going to bring in faster transit or anything in that nature. In fact planners from the start said it would take as long the current bus routes.
    So residents in the far flung areas of the city are not really losing out.

    The issue with the farther out areas can be dealt with, with express bus routes, which residents love.
    The Eglinton subway makes a ton of sense, and it is just building what was planned in the Network 2011 plan, which if the Conservative government of the day had not canceled, we would be riding this year :)

  • Will

    Michael, the planners didn’t say that the Transit City routes would take as long as the current bus routes. You totally just made that up. The above-ground part of Eglinton was going to be 8 minutes faster than the current bus (20 versus 28 minutes); putting it underground is only going to save another 6 minutes. The Finch LRT was supposed to save 15-20 minutes from Humber College to Yonge. Not to mention the improved reliability in rush hour from running on a ROW. So yes, residents are indeed losing a lot.

    (And, by the way, there was never a subway on Eglinton East in the Network 2011 plan.)

    • Benjamin Smith

      Will, by going underground/grade separation vs median ROW on Eglinton means the time savings are going from 29% to a 50% time savings. As for improving reliability, in a sense it will from operating in mixed traffic, but if there is an accident along the line then the entire line is screwed as opposed to operating on a separate grade.

  • The through-running between the Eglinton line and the SRT is nothing new. Transit City had these two connecting through Kennedy and it was likely that there would have been some through service anyways. I strongly suspect that ridership between Don Mills and Kennedy will be lower than the rest of the line and under this “new” plan, we will have some trains operating between STC and Kennedy, some between Jane/Blackcreek and Don Mills, and some running the full length of the combined line.

    As for us getting less than half the transit coverage for the money, and the cancellation fees the city will be on the hook for, just remember that this is respect for the taxpayer!

  • Also, the article in the Toronto Star about the poor people on the 36 Finch West didn’t mention the opening of the Spadina subway extension, which will dramtically decline a large number of commutes by allowing passengers to access the subway at Finch West station instead of Finch. Finch West station will dramatically reduce overcrowding on the Finch West bus.

    It was unfortunate that the Sheppard East LRT was the first one to be constructed, since if it was reasonably forseeable that political changes could change the Transit City plan that the Sheppard East LRT was one that could be changed, given the large amount of support for a subway extension in that corridor and the significant inconvenience for passengers having to transfer between the LRT and the subway.

    • Finch West station will not “dramatically” reduce overcrowding anywhere on the Finch West bus. It will reduce some overcrowding between Keele and Yonge as theoretically half of the people boarding along that stretch will possibly head west instead of east, and some of the people west of Keele will exit at Finch West. This only applies, with a few exceptions, to people with a subway destination at or south of Bloor. Who’s getting on the subway at Finch West if they are heading to Yonge and Eglinton?

      The presence of a Finch West station will be attractive to a number of people west of Keele who now find that it is easier to head south to Bloor instead of east to Yonge. This effect increases the further west of Keele one goes, as Islington and Finch is slightly closer to Bloor than Yonge. That makes for more people further out filling up the Finch West bus because it is a shorter bus ride to the subway than heading south.

      Also, a few weeks ago, approval was given to spend an additional $1.45 million on the DESIGN of the Finch West subway station to accommodate buses from Finch. Just wait for the bill to actually acquire land and build these changes!

      As for Sheppard being reasonably foreseeable for cancellation, it is unfortunate that so many people along that corridor favours scrapping all LRT construction over a subway line. For many of them, they don’t realize that a “Sheppard” subway will only be on Sheppard as far east as Kennedy Road. East of there, it will veer off to the south and everyone from that point eastwards will still be waiting for buses to get anywhere. Sheppard was at least one place in this city where a median LRT line would be most effective as it would have been built on a road with reserved space for SEVEN lanes even though much of it is only four or five lanes wide (only west of Pharmacy is this not true).

    • Nathanael

      The Spadina subway extension, unfortunately, is insane without a Downtown Relief Line or equivalent; what are the crushloads of passengers going to do downtown?

  • Akiva

    1.This article is another example of politics as usual. One new politician can just change over a whole transit plan.2. another north-south transit should be prioritized, as building any new crosstown route, will add an overload on the heavily used Yonge-spadina line. How can an at capacity line just simply absorb more riders from crosstown routes. Toronto should be considering making BRT on other major North-south roads like Bathurst,dufferin etc, in order to relieve the subway.

  • Fantastic article and look at the recent Transit situation. I really enjoyed the straight-forwardness of it, and plain language. Thanks Yonah, I feel I have a better understanding than ever of Toronto’s Transit developments.

    Anyway,
    I trust it’ll all play out well, and there’s a win-win solution for all. Rob Ford has taken some positive steps, whether they were ‘the best decision’ or not, and I can definitely appreciate that.

    I know myself, and many I know have wanted some concerted attention and focus and funds devoted to Toronto’s Transit (which, along with the roads, is the veins and arteries of our city), and as a counter-point to Yonah’s proposal that there’d be no reduction in traffic congestion, I suggest that creating a more powerful subway system is an move that could easily inspire many to abandon their car commute and take public transit to their destinations, possibly in large number + frequency, and instead of ‘opening up space’ for cars, it succeeds by removing the city’s heavy reliance on them in order to commute to our places of commerce.

  • Akiva

    ant6n
    I live in Ny, and reducing headways means more crowded trains, especially during peak rush hour. Reducing headways on major lines is simply not an answer. Removing seats is an idea, although it means less people get a seat. Adding platforms is an idea, but you need new tracks

    • You misunderstood – reducing headways means reducing the interval between trains, i.e. running trains more frequently.

      Adding platforms can be done without new tracks. If each track is adjacent to two platforms, then trains can open their doors on both sides, allowing people to enter and exit faster. It’s called the Spanish Solution.

    • Drewski

      Akiva, I’m glad you made your point. Reduced headway…so a train every two minutes instead of every five…OK, get that–but “reduced headway” means more trains (or buses) on a given line in a given interval. Yes, it’s (established) jargon, but what’s a rider gonna hear–reduced headway, or increased frequency? Increased frequency says more buses or trains. You’re right on the perception issue.

  • Akiva

    ok. i stand corrected. thanks for the clarification. Is the spanish solution similiar to stations in ny that have 3 tracks and a middle island platform?

    • By infrastructure, it is somewhat similar, yes. But by operations, it is different. In New York, even at stations with a middle track adjacent to two platforms, e.g. the express stations on the 7, I believe doors only open on one side, the one with a platform adjacent to the local track going in the same direction. The only exception I know of (and there may be more I don’t know of) is when the B terminates at 145th, because then it doesn’t go in a particular direction.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Columbus Circle on the IND but they stopped using it decades ago. (And the station has been overhauled since I looked closely) Haven’t been on PATH at rush hour in a long time either, 33rd and Hoboken used it. Erie/Pavonia/Newport supposedly does too but they don’t use it.

        PATH uses it all the time outbound in Newark. And the LIRR does a neat trick in Jamaica where you can change trains by using the vestibule of a third train to get from one island platform to another.

  • Max Wyss

    The term “spanish solution” is new to me, but such a situation has been in existence for decades already in München, at several S-Bahn stops (Hauptbahnhof, Marienplatz). The track has a platform on both sides, and the operator opens the right-hand side doors first (for people to get off), and a few seconds later the left hand doors (for people to get on). This creates a much better passenger flow, and reduces the stopping time enough to sustain the very dense timetable.

  • I know the Automated Train Control planned for the Yonge line is supposed to allow for shorter headways that will result in a 10% capacity increase. It would be nice if the stretch of Eglinton between Eglinton West and Eglinton Station of the Eglinton Line could open first, but given the density of the area I bet it will be completed last.

  • akiva

    drewski, thanks for the comment. i feel better about myself. lol. i agree with you. people should say increased frequency. thats the what miami dade transit uses when they increase bus service on a particular bus line. “Frequncy will be increased from 20 to 15 minutes etc..’

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