TRANSIT

June 13/2012

THE WEST COAST BOAST

Part 2

They say travelling creates a sense of feeling homesick. Friends, family, and your surroundings become a part of your character. Your personality. As such, you long for that feeling given your absent presence. A trip of more than three thousand kilometres away from my Toronto roots, I embraced the west coast with open arms. Everything from the hundred-foot evergreens to the grey sky. Though most of all, I was happy at the fact that I was indeed, surrounded by quick, efficient and readily accessible transportation.

My first observations upon riding the SkyTrain were consistent with many other TOD (Transit Orientated Development) projects in other North American cities including Pittsburgh and Seattle. As the picture above indicates, the rail corridor within Burnaby ran parallel to higher residential density in comparison with the remaining landscape. Running approximately forty feet above ground, the architectural design of the SkyTrain rail corridor seemed to assimilate into the west coast city terrain almost perfectly. I was given previous indication by some good friends that live in Vancouver that the train vehicles run automatically, without the assistance of a driver or operator. This automation is known as SELTrac IS, a fully moving automatic train control system originally developed by the Standard Electrik Lorenz company, hence the SEL acronym. Although the Scarborough RT line in Toronto uses similar technology (SELTrac LS), it pails in comparison to the SkyTrain’s productivity of meeting its daily ridership needs.

Using the SkyTrain as a means of total dependency for travel, the experience within the vehicles themselves remained me of the JFK AirTrain and their rail operations. Smooth manoeuvring on the rails allowed for increased acceleration between stops (faster travel times) and clear intercom announcements regarding departure and arrival information as well as the opening and closing of train doors. Passengers seemed comfortable (even during rush hour), especially those in the front seat of the train vehicle, with a clear, windshield view of the outside landscape. It was like passengers in the motor vehicle, minus the driver seat, minus the steering wheel, and with much more space. It did not take me long to understand the zone fare boundary rules, with clear maps indicating each zone’s location and fare regulations. I noticed the presence of transit enforcement officers at some stations (more concentrated in the downtown stations, zone 1), and I knew this was as a direct result of fare evasion, given the SkyTrain’s open payment system. However, not once did I see someone caught without a fare, giving me the overall impression the majority of Vancouver’s population abided by the fare regulation policies.

What most excited me on this trip (aside from a particular BC plant lol) was the opportunity to take a very unique method of travel. Given the MVAs (Metro Vancouver Area) direct proximity to the Pacific Coast, I looked forward to travelling on BC Ferries’ ship vessels, mostly because I wanted to see how efficient it really was in terms of carrying commuters between the island and the mainland. Missing the last bus at Bridgeport Station for the 3pm Ferry to Swartz Bay (ship port closest to my Victoria, BC destination), I was able to split a cab ride with another fellow in the same predicament (hence the picture out of cab window, bottom left, above). A mere ten Canadian dollars was all that was needed for my one-way ticket onto Vancouver Island via the Spirit of British Columbia ship vessel. Boarding the ship was pretty routine, with a ticket collector standing just before you walk out onto the blank walkway leading into the ship. As I crossed the railing-secured walkway, I noticed the motor vehicles simultaneously boarding the ship’s lower entrance via a massive road ramp. This made sense. Aboard the vessel, hundreds of seats awaited both passenger-only and vehicle-accompanied travellers, mixed in among TV flat screens, cafe food shops, private lounges and library-like study studios for those interested in isolation for work purposes.  The ship left ten minutes after its scheduled departure, slowing emerging from the harbour and eventually gaining momentum into the vast sea.

The view from the deck was amazing, confirming that staying in Vancouver (despite the conference’s Victoria location) was a good choice. What I find one of the top priorities in public transit travel is the overall experience of one’s journey. In a motor vehicle, you can adjust your seat as you please, listen to openly-played music as you please, and travel almost nay desired road route as you please. Such luxuries are not offered when travelling via public transportation (generally speaking), and as such, other means of comfort must be provided. As I sat on the ship’s outer deck with a steady breeze of wind passing through and above my SnapBack, I was most certainly relaxed in my journey, as I pleased. The view of the many different islands along the ship’s route was picturesque; sure to lift almost any depressed soul. The Wi-Fi connection aboard the vessel was intermittent at best, but with the view I was getting through my sunglasses, it didn’t matter. What became important to me in thought was how other modes of transit that did not have this scenic luxury (i.e. Uptown section of the Yonge Subway Line, Toronto) could emulate this amazing experience. CCTV is already present on the new Rocket Subway cars, but what if a live location-specific camera feed could by provided to passengers more than fifty feet below? A real time view of their current location above ground? There are real solutions to the inefficiencies of public transit and this journey was helping me explore a few ideas. 

Vancouver Island is beautiful. A pleasant forty-five minute ride aboard a double decker bus into Victoria confirms this (in case you have any doubt). One key attribute of the road landscape that I noticed since the first day in Vancouver was that curb side parked vehicles had their own lane way, providing a non-disruptive traffic flow of cars and bicycles in bike lanes. The first image on the left hand side indicates this exactly along highway 17 into the British Columbia capital. Muti modal transit at its best. BC Transit seemed to operate its bus fleet with precision and timing, with all the buses that I took throughout my trip coinciding exactly with the transit times provided via Google Maps on my iPhone. Kudos. The downtown landscape of Victoria resembled that of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, but more ocean-like. I got a beautiful view off the island’s coast at the CFB Esquimalt Base, just ten minutes outside of Victoria. The Fairmont Empress Hotel was nice, conveniently attached the the Victoria Conference Centre where the CUTA Conference was taking place. What I took away most from the Victoria sub-trip was the quiet, vintage swag commercial districts combined with a seemingly peaceful coastal lifestyle. Going forward, I recommend an integrated fare payment system between Translink in Vancouver, BC Ferries and BC Transit on Vancouver Island. I mistakenly used a free transit pass issued to all conference attendees to board the Ferry back to Vancouver the first night, resulting in my absence aboard the last trip back to the mainland. This spawned an unexpected night in a Victoria hotel lol. Oh well, lesson learned.

In summary, great trip. I loved inhaling the fresh BC air. I loved the evergreen surrounding. I loved travelling on their transit. What we can learn from their approach to public transport is that the key to success in all of this is consistent, efficient transit accessibility. While operational costs in a transit commission are always a priority, capital funding for growth, expansion and increased development for transit usage amongst commuters remind just as important. Vancouver has been ranked third in the past three years by the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) in terms of world’s best liveable cities, and now I see why. I encourage all who have never been to travel to Vancity and enjoy the west coast experience. Oh, and if you’re thinking about renting a car? No need. They make it clear that public transit is the epitome of future travel.  

Peace,

$MARTIE.

May 23/2012

THE WEST COAST BOAST

Part 1

Photo Credit to ·júbilo·haku· (flickr)
Image Title: SkyTrain: 22nd Street, Vancouver, BC

In our quest for perfect transit sustainability and economic growth, we find comfort in finding like characteristics in a place often overlooked as one of advanced transportation. Amidst the cool Pacific Coast air, mountainous outer terrain and riverbed landscape, lies a city with six individual modes of travel within their public transit network. More commonly known as the Canadian coastal seaport, it is their unique integration of multimodal transport within their greater metropolis that has made Vancouver (aka VanCity) one of the world’s most liveable cities according to the EUI (Economic Intelligence Unit).

The stereotypical consensus that Vancouver is known as a scenic, nature-friendly, woods trail of a city can be countered by its intensely efficient public transit network. Hybrid-diesel-electric buses, automated electric-motor light rail trains and fuel efficient diesel-engine ferries make up the majority of the transit fleet, providing commuter access between ten inner cities. Translink (the transit authority for the Metro Vancouver Area) has conveniently divided their transit coverage into three fare zones, with special fare guidelines for those travelling both in and out of Vancouver YVR-Airport zone. This has helped to moderate fare increases over the years as well as provide affordable pricing for children, students and seniors. See the diagram below.

Despite the productive functionality of the fare zone system, many question what is in store of the future of public transit in Vancouver. Most recently, a new light rail route (Canada Line) was incorporated as part of the SkyTrain network in 2009 in preparation for the Winter Olympics that were held in early 2010. At a cost of roughly $2 Billion, the Canada Line has been both praised, and criticized for its role in the local economy. While many citizens have embraced the new automated light rail technology others have disregarded the project entirely, upset with the airport taxation costs associated with the new line as well as the use of P3 (public-private-partnerships). Despite the opposition, the addition of the new line has so far proved to be a success, meeting weekly ridership goals of 100,000 commuters roughly three years ahead of schedule. It is key to take note of this progression, given the fact that Translink is currently in the works of developing even newer expansion to the SkyTrain network. This year, Translink plans to spend an approximate $441 Million on new capital new projects, including the newly proposed Evergreen Line, connecting Port Moody and Port Coquitlam with the remainder of the SkyTrain network. See below for a diagram of the proposed new line.

The proposed alignment of the new Evergreen Line, with an expected completion date of 2016.

 Although believed that this extension will improve the local economy surrounding Port Moody and Port Coquitlam, it is still unsure as to whether this extension will spark an increase in ridership similar that of the Canada Line in 2010. Currently, residents who do commute from this city into Vancouver use a regional rail line referred to as to the West Coast Express. However, this only provides access to VanCity’s downtown core, not to the remaining regions. What should be looked at in greater detail is the demand of access to both Richmond, Surrey and Victoria, BC (via Delta) as this is where Translink’s ferries depart from on Vancouver’s side enroute to Vancouver Island. With much in store for the growth of public transportation in the Metro Vancouver Area, I will be exploring much of the development myself next week during my trip to both Vancouver and Victoria, BC. I will continue to explore both existing, as well as new possibilities for growth within the west coast region, and present my findings in a continuation of this post next week. As I bid you adieu, I leave you with a compelling time-lapse of the SkyTrain on the Millennium Line to which i found online the other day. Watch fullscreen if possible; enhances the experience.

A Translink Farewell,  

 

$MARTIE.

May 2/2012

EAST SIDE ACCESS (NYC)

Tunnelling of the MTA’s East Side Access, one of the Capital Construction projects currently underway, photo credit MTA Photos (flickr)

March 11/2012

WORLD TOUR – PT. 1
The London Underground Tube System

As I leave the issues of Toronto behind for now, I must bring up one epic flaw in our city’s history: we’ve never really been big on transit. In fact, the entire GTA is lightyears behind in major transit expansion, which begs the question: what went wrong?
To get this answer, we need to take a look at other major cities and how they utilize mass transit.

On that note, let’s take a look at one of the most comprehensive subway systems in the world, the London Underground. With 11 lines, 270 stations and nine fare zones, it can get pretty confusing and ominous navigating through London England.

Let’s first look at the number of subway lines. The city of London has been building subways since the 1850s, and expanded early and often. With their latest line being opened in 1968, it’s easy to see why London is a hotspot for transit commuters. The more that you build, the higher your ridership. The earlier you build, the cheaper it is to expand. Could you imagine if London tried building what they had today? It would probably cost them at least £20 billion.

Compared to Toronto, London has an 100+ year head start on us. Instead of building subways when it was much cheaper, Toronto has struggled to build, expanded and maintain two subway lines.

March 6th/2012

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING – EPILOGUE
Light At The End Of The “Tunnel”

If we look to the north of Toronto, we see what has mostly been a success, transit wise. The YRT’s bus rapid transit service, VIVA, has been around now for 7 years. With the addition of the this new service, the YRT has a great increase in ridership (nothing close to the TTC, but still substantial). And as with everything, VIVA has it’s quirks. Because it’s a proof of payment fare system, people try to sneak a free ride (if you get caught, it’s a $150 fine, not worth it). It currently runs in mixed traffic, so it’s not really “rapid”.

VIVA Rapidway

But VIVA has so much potential. The YRT has recently started to utilize the Presto Card (a regional Smart Card fare service). York Region is currently building what they like to call VIVA Rapidways (a dedicated bus lane). They have already finished an small part of it on Enterprise Rd, between Warden and Unionville GO Station (really insignificant, but it works), and they continuing to build on Hwy. 7.

Meanwhile, if we look to the northwest of Toronto, in the city of Brampton, we see the brand-spanking new Zum (pronounced “zoom”) BRT. Brampton Transit only set up the first route last year, so there is no dedicated bus lanes… Yet. But they do use the same Presto Card system that the YRT uses. And bus lanes are in Zum’s near-future.

And west of Toronto, we see Mississauga. MiWay, Mississauga’s transit service, doesn’t have a BRT service (yet). They have more of what the TTC has: express bus services that travel along a particular route. But unlike the TTC, the 3 express routes that MiWay has were created with the express purpose that they would be upgraded to BRT services. Now Mississauga’s BRT won’t be in the middle of the road, like in Brampton or York Region, but off the to the side (significantly more money than building in the centre of the road, but way less disruptive). AND, like the other two transit authorities, MiWay uses Presto.

But here is the best part: Both MiWay and Brampton transit are preparing to build an LRT along Hurontario/Main St. And the YRT is considering building LRTs. These car-heavy areas are doing what is right by not only transit riders and car divers, but those cities on a whole! And meanwhile, in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, we can’t agree to upgrade our current services, let alone build an LRT or subway.

My point is this: the executive expert panel is due to report back next week on what works best on Sheppard Ave, one whole week earlier than expected. It’s no secret that although Mayor Ford wants subways in Toronto (and really, who doesn’t want more subways), the committee will most likely report in favour of LRTs. Now it may not be the popular choice, but it’s the smartest by far.

The complaint is that if we build LRTs, we’ll have another “St. Clair fiasco”. For those of you who don’t know, when the TTC first started to build the St. Clair dedicated streetcar lane, it wasn’t received well. Construction was intrusive and some businesses suffered. HOWEVER, what no one remembers to tell anyone, is that when it was finished, St. Clair was busier than ever. It actually made St. Clair Ave more viable. But one thing people have to realize is that A) The St. Clair streetcar is NOT an LRT, and B) There are lessons to be learned from both St. Clair and Hwy. 7.

We learned that the design concept used for the St. Clair streetcar line works, whether you like it or hate it. It just works!
We learned that based on that concept, it can be utilized by any method of surface transportation, such as LRT or BRT, most notably VIVA.
We learned from the mistakes made on St. Clair that construction of these lane can be less intrusive and in some cases (like the MiWay transitway) not intrusive at all.
And we’ve also learned the obvious: we can’t please everyone.

But let’s be real. If Toronto is forward thinking like York Region, Mississauga and Brampton, we will build what is BEST and MOST AFFORDABLE for us and that will serve the MOST AMOUNT OF PEOPLE possible.

I believe that there is hope and light at the end of Toronto tunnel… and whether it is a Subway tunnel or an LRT lane remains to be seen.

This concludes my rant on the TTC… for now. Next week, I start a world tour, starting in London, England.

Peace!

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me matt.l.allman@gmail.com.

Feb. 28th/2012

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING – FINAL CHAPTER
Still A Whole Lot Of Nothing

I was so shocked at what came out of the Transit debate on February 8th that I couldn’t post… Actually, I was just too busy to actually comprehend the outcome.

First of all, in my humble opinion, even though City Council voted 25-18 in favour of Karen Stintz plan to  revive most of Transit City, her last minute change to defer Sheppard until the end of March gives uncertainty to TTC riders. More annoyingly, it ultimately gave Rob and Doug Ford the leverage to keep their supposed subway plan alive.

And this war of transit ideas does not come without casualties, as now, former TTC Chief GM Gary Webster was railroaded (pun intended) by 5 city councillors who sit on the Commission (they were loyal to Ford). How DOES the TTC, or the City of Toronto for that matter justify paying someone 2 years salary ($0.56 million)?? That is INSANITY!

And as if things weren’t bad enough, Premier Dalton Mcguinty has made the following statements:
“The province is “obligated” to follow the will of council.”
And, “We’re coming to the end of our rope. We’re running out of patience.”

It sounds to me that the province is trying to find an excuse not to cough up $8.4 billion for transit.

What kills me is that Ford thinks that council is irrelevant. How does he expect to gain any support with comments like that? And he says that Dalton Mcguinty is committing political suicide….

At the end of the day, it comes to this: it really doesn’t matter if we build LRTs or subways. It doesn’t matter who’s politically correct or not. It doesn’t matter how many polls you do.

What matters is this: GET OFF YOUR COLLECTIVE ASSES AND BUILD SOMETHING! We, the people, are now fed up!

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me matt.l.allman@gmail.com.

Feb. 7th/2012

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING – PT. 4
All Or Nothing

The stage is set. The line in sand is drawn. Tomorrow, the fate of Toronto transit expansion will be decided, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. In one corner, we have Rob Ford pushing the subway plan – an $8.4 billion underground Eglinton LRT project, and an unfunded $4.1 billion Sheppard Subway extension that is suppose to be funded by the private sector (but isn’t as far as we know). In the opposite corner, surprisingly Karen Stintz pushing Transit City – the $8.4 billion dollar LRT project, which includes Eglinton (above/underground mix), Sheppard East, Finch West and the retrofit of the Scarborough RT.

Again, the jury is out on this one, but I must give credit where it’s due. Karen Stintz FINALLY grew a set, and is risking her job at the TTC to challenge the Brothers Ford. But the issue ISN’T political (although it seems that way), it’s about TRANSIT!

From 1954 until now, Toronto has only managed to build 2 subway lines (I don’t count Sheppard). Meanwhile, our bus and streetcar fleet has had to bare the bulk of the transit load, and service has degraded for the most part. There’s hardly any cash to improve what we do have, and with the system falling apart at the seams, an upgrade is needed, AND QUICK!

Which ultimately leads us to the question that no one can agree on: Do we build subways or LRTs?

Ideally, subways would be the better route to take – subways hold more people and are not in the way. However, subways are NOT cheap. In Toronto, it costs $275-$300 million/km to build a subway… WITHOUT the trains! That’s also not including special work, like tunnelling under the DVP. To put that into perspective,  to build a subway on Eglinton from Kingston Road to the airport would cost over $11 billion.

Toronto Rocket

Then you have LRTs. LRTs don’t hold as much people as a subway can, but it makes up for that shortfall by being able to effectively replace buses on the routes that they run on. When separated from traffic, they are able to run almost as fast as subways (LRTs max speed – 70kph, subway max speed – 90kph). You can run them above or below ground easily, whichever is more convenient. And in Toronto, the cost for LRT per KM is $55-70.6 million at grade, and $256 million underground, OR approx. $9.6 billion for the Eglinton LRT from Kingston to the airport.

LRT

The simplest choice would be to go with LRTs, but it’s not that simple. As I said earlier, the situation has become political. Mayor Ford says that the taxpayers want subways, and that’s what he’s gonna do! He says that an LRT (or streetcar as he put’s it), down the middle of the street will cause chaos. And he’s… right… sort of. While the LRT lines will not disrupt traffic once built, they still need to be built. And construction can and will cause disruptions. But the same goes for subways. Even if most of the construction happens underground, there is still a fair bit of construction that occurs above ground, especially at intersections.

Either way you can’t win, but one thing is for sure. One way or another, after tomorrow, transit in Toronto will never be the same.

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me matt.l.allman@gmail.com.

THE NIGHT SHIFTS.

Feb. 3/12

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING – PT. 3
A Sad Realization

This one is a bit late… I really don’t know what to say.

It seems as if no one cares enough about transit to actually sit down and talk about it… IN DEPTH! No one wants to try to improve our already dying system that we can’t pay for (thank you Karen Stintz for proving my point). No one cares about what’s needed.

This is sad…

We are probably going to end up with nothing, should we continue down the route we are going. The TTC will fall apart. The city will not survive this…

OR

For once, we can take a good, long look at the needs of the entire city, and not just one area. For once, we can approve a transit plan without the fear of having it being cancelled. For once, we can build a great, interconnected city.

But for all that to happen, something crucial has got to occur first… Everyone needs to get over themselves. Until then, we will be stuck in the sad realization that transit is going no where.

I won’t sound off on all the different headline just yet. I want to have a better grasp on the entire situation, and how it affects not just me, but the entire city and GTA at large.

I also want to hear from you guys. I want to know your opinion.

Again, this is not about one idea vs another, it’s about what is best for the ENTIRE CITY OF TORONTO.

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me matt.l.allman@gmail.com.

Jan. 25/2012

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING – PT. 2
How Transit City Should Have Been 

"Compromise"

Today’s paper featured an interesting article. Karen Stintz, chair of the TTC, finally admitted Rob Ford’s “transit plan” may not be so great after all… HOWEVER, in order to save herself from the pending wrath of Toronto’s mayor, she suggested the city compromise.

Her idea (can be found on thestar.com) is to build the Eglinton Crosstown LRT as originally planned – a mix of grade and underground – and use the savings to put a busway on Finch Ave. and extend the Sheppard Subway to Victoria Park Rd. A compromise means EVERYONE wins/benefits from a situation. With Ms. Stintz idea, the only winners are Eglinton.

Now, I believe that the wise course of action is to go with the revised original Transit City plan… however, as I stated 2 weeks ago, there was a lot of room for improvement.

Since Eglinton is still officially on the table, I’ll  start on that one first:

Eglinton Crosstown LRT Improvements

First of all, the line should run separate from the Scarborough RT, but still have a connection to it (as originally planned) so that trains can connect to that line for a transfer-less trip.

Second, see as how there most likely be only one shot at this, I would continue the line east to Kingston Rd. (part of the Scarborough-Malvern LRT line from the original plan). It would create a true rapid transit option from east end Scarborough to potentially the airport. This way, the TTC can run buses more efficiently, since Kingston Rd would be the new terminus. The 86 Scarborough and 116 Morningside buses would run from Kingston and Eglinton and run on a shorter schedule. And best of all, if the money became available, extending the line would be MUCH easier.

Finally, I would build on one side of the road, so that riders would have easier access to the LRT and drivers would be able to make whatever turns they wanted. EVERYONE WINS!

Nothing Wrong With LRTs In The Middle Of The Road

Sheppard LRT/Finch West LRT Improvements

It will be clear why I’m doing these two together in a moment.

Starting with Sheppard, the first thing I’d do is either build all the way to Meadowvale, or build down to U of T. Stopping at Morningside doesn’t make any lick of sense. AND by extending the line to U of T, you once again set the table for an easier extension. I would also find some way to put the Sheppard East Station platform underground or out of traffic somehow… that would be quite the task.

Next, as a future extension, I would shut down the Sheppard Subway and convert the whole thing to an LRT. I would then extend the line west to Downsview Station (cheaper to do it as an LRT).

Now for the Finch West LRT, I would build from the future Finch West Subway Station and west to Humber College or Woodbine Mall. Finch is also one of those streets where you can build the LRT to one side of the road, keeping out of the way of traffic as much as possible.

Then I would extend it east to Dufferin/Allen Rd, and south to Downsview Station, connecting it with the Sheppard line. One seamless transit line that you can run separately or as one line.

Simple!

Scarborough RT Improvements

Said it before, I’ll say it again: ANY changes to the SRT would be an improvement! That being said, I would build it to Sheppard East Station, then to Malvern Town Center as planned. Then I’d have it run north to either Morningside and Finch (most likely underground so it’s not in the way) or just leave it.

Don Mills LRT Addition

This line was on the original Transit City plan. I liked it because Don Mills is a very crowded corridor. The original line would have run from Steeles Ave to Pape Subway Station.

Here are my tweaks: you can run the LRT in the middle of the street the best in this case, so I’d leave it running as such. From south of Eglinton, I’d run the line underground to East York Town Center (it would give them an excuse to renovate).

So there you have it. A feasible solution to something that shouldn’t have been a problem. And the real joke is, I explain these same ideas to TTC drivers and other city workers, and they ask me why I don’t work for the TTC? Then I tell them that I wouldn’t want to report to 2 people who don’t know a damn thing about transit in Karen Stintz and Rob Ford.

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me matt.l.allman@gmail.com.

Jan. 18/2012

100 STEPS BACK
Toronto Operating Budget 2012

20120118-020529.jpg

I almost didn’t want to write anything because of this. I’m actually disgusted on how things went down on both sides of this farce of a budget meeting.

For those who were expecting me to write about how I was going to improve Transit City, that’s probably going to wait until later this week. Today (or rather yesterday, since I’m doing this at 2 AM), city council approved Rob Ford’s budget. Now I’m not saying it was an entirely horrible budget, just really unreasonable.

I’m not gonna get into all the specifics, but I one of the most disputed issues of this budget was the TTC budget cuts. The TTC was forced into cutting 10% of its operating budget.

What did that mean for riders? For starters, a 10-cent fare hike (not entirely bad). Cuts on 37 bus and streetcar routes (originally 65), and most of those are high volume routes. So the picture up top will most likely become the norm over the next little while, until the TTC can grow a set and actually say enough is enough!

I know I said that I’d try to be as politically neutral as possible, but Rob Ford is the DUMBEST conservative I know. Thanks a lot for taking a shotgun to the head of TTC pulling the trigger.

It’s said we should learn from our mistakes, and this apparently has been a multi-billion dollar mistake so far for Ford, as far transit is concerned.

BTW: Not a good look for those protesters who got arrested at city hall.

A few days later, and…

Now that I had a day or two to actually look over the details or the city budget, I must say that it was a pretty crap deal for the TTC. Surprisingly it’s Karen Stintz, and not Rob Ford who now holds future of the TTC (for the next year) in the palm of her incompetent hands.

Our mayor, in an effort to save face, actually gave the TTC $5 million to go towards the 65 TTC transit routes that were scheduled to be reduced next month. Instead, the TTC chair is deciding to commit the funds toward Wheel Trans in an effort to give an assist the dialysis patients who rely on it, while also effectively deciding to leave 1.5 million riders out in the cold.

This has got to be the ultimate no-win scenario. Ms. Stintz has now pitted daily transit riders against those who require the use of Wheel Trans. As a transit rider, I’m pissed off royally. But before I get labelled as a heartless monster, I really don’t see how the TTC can make up an extra $5 million without help.

Having said that, this should not have been an issue! Karen Stintz has proven that she she will do anything to stay in Mayor Ford’s favour, while playing spin doctor for the TTC, giving us riders false hope for transit improvements.

Allow me to explain. The TTC has recently been promoting the “better future” of the TTC. Here’s one in particular:

20120122-185903.jpg

Better transit runs on better funding.

  • Fares don’t cover the cost of every trip, so as ridership grows, the TTC’s costs grow
  • The TTC gets less financial help than any other major North American transit system – only 84¢ per customer from Toronto property taxpayers
  • Montreal gets $1.28 per customer from city and provincial governments
  • Chicago gets $2.64 per customer from local, state and federal governments
  • More help from provincial and federal governments will allow the TTC to meet Toronto’s growing transit needs

Given Karen Stintz’s recent stance on how to utilize the $5 million, the above promo is a farce at best.

We will continue to be cursed by politicians who don’t give a rat’s ass about transit… that’s just a natural fact of life

Packed Bus

Now back to my regularly scheduled blogging.

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me matt.l.allman@gmail.com.

Jan. 13/2012

TECHNOLOGY X TRANSIT = ONE STEP CLOSER TO A LIFE OF STABILITY

Jan. 12/2012

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING – PT. 1
Transit City

Before I start, I want to get something off my chest:

Karen Stintz

THIS is why I can’t take Karen Stintz seriously… AT ALL! Now for my post…

Back Story

December 1, 2010 was an interesting day. Rob Ford officially became mayor of Toronto, and the first thing that came out of his mouth was “The war on cars is officially over!” Ford was obviously referring to the Transit City LRT plan, a network of Light Rail lines that would have spanned from the heart of Toronto into the suburbs, where improved transit is desperately needed. His reasoning for shut down the project (which work had already been started on)? Mayor Ford continued preach that he campaigned on building subways and that no one wanted “streetcars” running down the middle of the road.

“The private sector will fund the subway extensions,” Ford insisted. Apparently that was enough to change Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty’s mind, as he sided with Ford and decided to go along with change of direction, with the stipulation that the Eglinton LRT be built. Ford agreed, but still gun-ho about no “streetcars” in the middle of the road, he demanded that the line be 100% underground (I’ll explain later).

That was in April… fast forward to May/June, and thing get interesting. Where a condensed version of Transit City (again, will explain later) would have cost $8.42 billion for 4 transit lines (Eglinton, Sheppard East, Finch West and the Scarborough RT), it was revealed that not only Rob Ford’s idea to bury Eglinton would cost the same amount, but that Toronto would be on the hook for finding the funds to build Rob Ford’s Sheppard Subway extension (another $4.3 billion endeavour). And to add sauce to the goose, it was reported that the private sector would not be giving any real cash to any subway extension on Sheppard (I don’t blame them).

That was summer… fast forward today. Rob Ford thought he had taken a shotgun to Transit City and killed it a year ago. But with Ford demanding 10% cuts from everywhere, including the TTC, and with the TTC raising fares AND cutting services – among other reasons – Transit City seems to be limping back from the grave.

Now that I’ve gotten the back story out of the way, it’s time to break down what Transit City is (was… whatever), pros/cons and improvements.

Nothing Wrong With LRTs In The Middle Of The Road

The Plan

As I stated earlier, Transit City was a network of LRT lines along major corridors of the city, spanning throughout the boondocks of Toronto. These lines would travel in their own right of way, kinda like on Spadina or St. Clair, but ten times better. But more than that, it was suppose to be a way to connect with all regional GTA transits in a relatively affordable way. The original plan consisted of 7 lines (8 if you include the SRT): Sheppard East, Etobicoke-Finch West, Eglinton Crosstown, Waterfront West, Don Mills, Jane and Scarborough-Malvern. With the province cutting funding, only the first 3 lines and the SRT remained, so I’ll only speak on those ones.

Sheppard East:

Starting at Don Mills subway, this line would travel east along Sheppard to Meadowvale Rd. This was then reduced to end at Morningside Ave. It was a pretty straightforward line, traveling underground to Consumers Rd. and traveling at ground level for the rest of the trip. The LRV (Light Rail Vehicle) storage facility would be at Conlins Rd, just east of Morningside.
Pros:
Sheppard currently had 4 lanes of traffic flow, so adding 2 lanes of LRTs wouldn’t negatively affect that corridor. Also, for the first time, the Malvern area would have a rapid transit that would take them to the subway (yes, the crappy Sheppard subway, but a subway, none the less)!

Cons:
Ending at Morningside makes no sense. Even if it were at a premium, it would be better to extend the line the full length of Sheppard or have it shoot down to UTSC. The proposed Sheppard East Station looks like it could cause some potential traffic problems.

Verdict:
This line should be built as originally planned. A Sheppard Subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre with nothing else going eastbound into Malvern won’t cut it. We’ll end up with a repeat of Finch Station – 1000s of riders being dumped at STC, then waiting for an overcrowded bus.

Finch West:

The revised version of this line would have started from the new Finch West Subway station as opposed to Finch. Humber College would be its final destination (with a possible extension to the Woodbine Racetrack if funding allowed). The storage facility would have been at Norfinch (Jane & Finch).

Pros:
Finch West NEEDS Rapid Transit! This is by far one of the busiest transit corridors in Toronto because of its close proximity to York University and Hwy. 400. And like Sheppard, even though there is currently 4 lanes of traffic flow, the road can be widened enough to support 2 LRT lines.

Cons:
This is where I will sort of agree with Rob Ford (this WON’T be a habit). The Finch West LRT doesn’t have to be smack dab in the middle of the road. It would be better suited to be placed on the north side of the street because most of Finch West is either commercial, or the houses for the most part face away from the main road. You can’t really get away with this on Sheppard, even though the thoroughfares are similar.

Verdict:
Again, Finch West NEEDS Rapid Transit. For those who remember what happened over 15 years ago when Eglinton West was screwed out of their subway (this is why the Eglinton LRT had to be built), this is a similar situation. The promise of “Enhanced BRTs” are pretty much a pipe dream at this point, and it’s anyone’s guess how the city would ever afford to run those buses with the way they’re making cuts.

Eglinton Crosstown:

The Transit City version of this line would have started from Kennedy Station in Scarborough to Jane St. in the west end. Phase two of this line would see it extended to the airport, finally giving the city a rapid transit connection from the airport to the rest of the city. Eglinton would be a mix of ground level and underground travel. Between Kennedy and Leslie, and between Black Creek and the airport would be ground level. Between Laird and Keele would underground. The storage facility would be at Black Creek Drive. The Eglinton line would also indirectly connect with the SRT (if they ever needed to run a train or two on the line. This one costs $4.2 billion to build (without going to the airport… That would cost another $3.2 billion).

Rob Ford’s version would be 100% underground, end at Black Creek and directly connect with the SRT. This one costs $8.42 billion… for only one line!

Pros:
Either way you look at it – either Transit City or Rob Ford’s plan, Eglinton gets their transit line. We get another East-West rapid transit option other than Bloor-Danforth, and we would have a realistic possibility of connecting to the airport.

Cons:
With the Transit City plan, again, it doesn’t need to be in the middle of the street. The line could be tucked either on the north or south side of the street. And east of Don Mills and west of Black Creek, you have six lanes of traffic flow. This can be maintained with 2 LRT lanes.
Rob Ford’s idea of burying the entire line is pointless and a waste of money. Why does the whole line need to be underground anyway?

Verdict:
Build Eglinton how it should have been built: The Transit City plan! With a few tweaks, this line would be perfect! Throw out Rob Ford’s idea that rapid transit MUST be underground.

Scarborough RT:

Transit City’s original version had this line retrofitted and extended to Malvern Town Centre. The revised plan had this line stopping at the proposed Sheppard East Station.

Rob Ford’s version: continue from the Eglinton line, it would only run as far as the current line, McCowan Station.

Pros:
For anyone who rides the SRT, ANY change is a good change… Nuff said.

Cons:
We would be stuck with buses till the line is built, but that’s about it. With Rob Ford’s version, to keep the line basically status quo is foolish. The SRT is already over capacity, and with or without a subway, Scarborough Town Centre is gonna be rammed!

Verdict:
Can’t you sense the pattern already? Transit City was made to reduce overcrowding. I don’t think Rob Ford realizes this… or cares. Go with the Transit City plan… it works!

Final Thoughts

Pound for pound, Transit City is a much better solution for the city as a whole. My question is when did things like this become a “liberal” thing or to go against Transit City was “conservative”. The fact remains that Transit City would cost the city $0.00. To cancel the project would cost at least $65 million (the full price hasn’t been released yet). The good news is that Transit City is back on the table, and council will have the chance to redeem themselves.

That being said, Transit City is not perfect. There are way to make it much better. Next week, I’ll discuss how I would improve the Transit City Plan (based on the revises version).

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me

Jan. 11/2012

Why is this pic so cool?

Jan. 4/2012

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING (Prologue)

Before I start, I want to make one thing perfectly clear:

I will try my best not to gripe about the politics of public transit in order for me to be as objective as possible… And because I believe that public transit isn’t a political issue (for the most part).

Now, on with the show!

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The year 2011 marked the year of backtracking for the TTC. Technically, December 2010 is when the TTC’s problems started. The mayor, for whatever reason, declared Transit City (the city’s best attempt in years to bring high quality rapid transit to EVERYWHERE in the city) dead in its tracks… no pun intended.

In its place was suppose to be the extension of the Sheppard East subway to Scarborough Town Centre (as opposed to the Sheppard East LRT to Meadowvale or Morningside in the revised Transit City plan), the underground Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown from Black Creek to McCowan RT Station (replaces both the ground level/underground mix of the Eglinton Crosstown, and the Scarborough RT extension to Malvern), and finally, a Finch West bus expressway that would have replaced the Finch West LRT.

However, after spending more time (and money), it was discovered that there would only be enough cash to build the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT (Subway, really).

So we went from this:

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To this:

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To ultimately, just this:

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The sad thing about all of this is that the price tag of $8.4 billion stayed the same…

So the question of the day is: how did we get here?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be analyzing the ups and downs of Transit City vs the ups and downs of ESC LRT, an in-depth look into how the TTC can save money AND improve service, and the implications of having no real rapid transit in the suburbs (with the Pan AM games coming real soon).

Until then, try to stay warm while waiting for a (reduced) bus.

– Matthew Allman
Feel free to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, info… you name it at matthew.allman@getahead.me

Jan. 3/2012

ONCE UPON A TIME…

I feel as though public transit was meant to be a failure from the start. At least here in Toronto. With the launch of the RT line in ’85, everything was on the “up and up.” People were being moved from the outskirts of the city to the inner downtown core in under 2 hours for the first time. Neighbourhoods were being saved from expressway excavation (Spadina) and Toronto was considered to have one of the best transit systems in the world. However, the seemingly dependable transit system were clearly overlooked by its designers, engineers and planners to a point where not enough infrastructure was built to support the growing demand. Like did they really think 25 years later the RT wouldn’t sound like a piece of shit??? For God sakes, it uses Intermediate Capacity Transit (ICT) cars that were invented 5 years before they even entered into service! They couldn’t have assumed that this adequacy was going to be sufficient a quarter century down the road, did they? Well for what its worth, at least they still work. Crammed as they might get, inefficient as they might be, they still work. And to my surprise, maintain their initial high speeds from the ’85 launch (give or take a few km). Despite their functional capabilities, the plugged earbuds, caused from screeching wheels have made it abundantly clear. We need a change. Hence, the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT (see below).

Now, as promising as it looks, funding constraints and political woes give off the impression that this may not go down as smoothly as it appears. The completion of the Scraborough RT section of this route requires the shutdown of the entire line (Kennedy to McCowan) for a minimum of 3 years in order for overhead wiring to be installed, track realignment to be completed and revitalization of each station being kept. This would mean 3 years of intense bus traffic along Midland, Brimley and Kennedy corridors with others feeling the effect as well. Okay. Well if such is the case, I say shut it down now. have it ready fro 2015 when the world comes here and sees what we have to offer. Why would you want the barely-hanging-on-for-dear-life RT around when the Pan Am Games are happening? It seems to me that the conflicting parameter of political leeway have hindered the potential of efficient and progressive transit use here in Toronto. What we need are a close knit team of planners, political key holders and honest consultant firms to figure what is needed
a) the most
b) the least
c) what can be done the fastest

and most importantly,

d) what do the people, the residents of Toronto want the most

A call of action is definitely needed. When? How? Under what terms? I am still not sure. What I am sure of, however, is that without a reinvented look at how to save transit in Toronto, we are most certainly doomed for a unsustainable, decrepit and malfunctioning future of transit.

Smartie.

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