Archive for June, 2009

Richmond Hill Subway On Hold

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Back on March 27, I stated here that there would be no funding for the Yonge Subway extension to Richmond Hill. Today’s issue of the Richmond Hill Liberal has a story that starts on the front page about how this project has had its brakes slammed on because of lack of funding.

Hopefully, this will give the chance to reconsider how best to serve York Region by looking at LRT as a viable option that can meet the needs of the Yonge corridor and at the same time reach a far greater area, and people, for the same money.

This subway extension was being touted as the first subway project in the province to go through the new EA process. The level of zeal by the municipal politicians was akin to children jumping in excitement about getting a train set for Christmas. One of the telling quotes that suggests this is from York Region chairperson Bill Fisch. The City of Toronto placed some caveats on its support for this extension that were related capacity issues of the Yonge subway. Fisch commented, “I think they went overboard.”

If this does not show the “Wow! Once we have our train the world will be wonderful” attitude, then tell me what does. Does he not realize that a system that is bursting at its seams in its core cannot simply be extended further and further out and expect to attract more people. Does Fisch think that the system will magically just handle more?

The TTC has received funding to upgrade its signalling system. This is needed over the next few years because the current system is getting harder to repair, but this has been cited as being the panacea to increase capacity by decreasing head-ways. This will increase capacity, but not by as much as one might expect. Current rush hour head-ways are about 150 seconds and it is said that the new signalling system can bring that down to 90, for a capacity increase of about 66%. The trouble with that is, that leaves no room for any minor delay (think of that guy who grabs the door because he just has to get on this train). Minor delays of even 15 seconds will drastically effect the entire line’s operation. Let’s say to account for such problems, the headway can be brought down to 115 seconds. That gives us an increase in capacity of 29%. One problem with that: terminals such as Finch and Downsview require close to 140 seconds to turn a train around. The way around this is to short-turn trains, but that means that the ends of the line will not be used for its full capacity, even though it costs just as much.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said he understood the approval (of the funding for the signalling upgrade) would lead to a green light for the subway, but now wondered if that money could have been better spent elsewhere. News to Frank: this upgrade is needed without the extension.

The new Toronto Rocket subway trains, that will begin to operate later this year, will add about 3% to the capacity of the line. This is mostly due to the space between each car that may be occupied by passengers, but it is partly due to the ability for passengers to spread out throughout the entire train. There is a possibility, though not funded yet, of adding a 50-foot trailer car to the middle of  a train to add some more capacity. This would add another 11% capacity.

Capacity of the trains themselves is not the whole issue. Can the stations downtown receive a significant increase of people arriving on trains? The simple answer is ‘no’. The Bloor-Yonge station alone is bursting at its seams. The TTC has plans of renovating this station to increase passenger flow and capacity, but this may not be enough. Worse yet, some parts of those plans may not be physically possible as the north end of the Yonge line platform sits within the foundation posts of the Hudson’s Bay tower. Many of the other stations lack a second exit as required by current fire code. Imagine an emergency need to evacuate with 20% more people on the system? Imagine it now!

Federal Funds for Streetcar Contract

Friday, June 19th, 2009

The big issue with the streetcar funding that is being announced today is that the federal government is not there to chip in one third of the total. Toronto applied for this money under the federal Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, and the feds are saying that this project does not qualify (see this Globe and Mail article for more details).

Should the federal government contribute? Yes. Should it be under the stimulus fund? No.

The federal government has a vested interest in a contract like this going to a Canadian company over a foreign company. Furthermore, the economic benefits of this contract will reach into Manitoba and Quebec, giving it a scope that is beyond the province.

That said, the city applied through the stimulus fund for this money. There were clear rules about the type of projects it was intended for, particularly for the creation of jobs in the area of the applicant. While there will be some jobs in the GTA that come directly and indirectly from this project, the overwhelming majority are not in the GTA. That is enough to disqualify the application.

There is another argument about timeline that I don’t buy. The streetcar order will continue to 2018, which is well beyond the two-year timeline of the stimulus program. I don’t accept this argument because these cars will have some special engineering work that is needed to meet the specifications of Toronto’s legacy network. It does not take much creative accounting to show that one-third of the entire cost will go into this, and this will be completed well within the two-year deadline. So, I believe this argument is bogus, but the first argument is more than enough to disqualify Toronto’s application.

There are three reasons, all relating to fairness, as to why the feds cannot bend the rules for Toronto.

The first is that 2,700 municipalities followed the rules in their application. A number of these municipalities have projects they would like to have funded but knew they did not qualify, so their applications had to exclude such projects.

The second is that anyone that has ever had to deal with Toronto City Hall over some issue, from applying for an on-street parking permit to applying for a park usage permit, knows that Toronto practically wrote the book on how to make applicants jump through hoops. If there is one little thing wrong with your application, Toronto will reject it. Why should Toronto be exempt from following others’ rules?

The third is that the federal government has offered a suggestion and a bending of one rule to them. It has been suggested that Toronto take a look at projects they were planning on spending money on in three or four years and move them up and use them to apply for stimulus funding. Then the city can use the money that they would have spent in three or four years’ time on the streetcar purchase. The federal government will allow Toronto to make this change to their application even though the May 1 deadline has passed. That seems to me to be a good way to get federal funding for the streetcar purchase.

New Streetcar Contract Expected to Receive Funding Friday

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Update: I have reworded the text, as the legacy streetcar order will still have a minimum of 25% Canadian Content, but the first order of Transit City vehicles will be 50%. You can read the economic impact report released by Bombardier here. 

It is being reported today (see the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, and the Globe and Mail) that an announcement will be made tomorrow (June 19) in Thunder Bay by Mayor David Miller and Premier Dalton McGuinty about funding the streetcar contract for the legacy network. It is not known at this time if the federal government will be part of this announcement, but many expect them to contribute one third of the $1.2 billion cost.

The contract for these streetcars has a 25% Canadian content requirement. In a report issued Tuesday by Bombardieron the economic impacts of the contract and the option to purchase Transit City vehicles, the Canadian content of the Transit City cars is a minimum of 50%.

Even though Transit City lines will be built to more flexible standards that would allow purchasing stock vehicles from anyone, having both the legacy streetcars and the Transit City vehicles built by the same manufacturer will save on future operating costs. Operator training will be less costly as both units will have similar, if not identical controls. Maintenance costs will be lower also because of reduced training costs but also due to shared repair facilities and spare parts storage.

The two types of vehicles will be different. Legacy streetcars have to be built to specifications that will enable their operation on the current streetcar network with tight (11 metre radius) curves, some steep grades, and the use of single-blade track switches. This involves engineering and development based on a stock model. One of the most notable changes to accommodate the specifications will be a slightly shorter car with a length of about 28 metres, compared to the 30 metre length of the cars that will be ordered for Transit City.

The other, more noticeable, differences are that the legacy streetcars will be single-ended with an operator’s position at one end only and entry/exit doors on the right side of the car only. Transit City cars will be double-ended with an operator’s position at each end and doors on both sides of the car. The legacy cars will have trolley pole power pickup as most of the legacy network is not usable with pantographs. As wiring is upgraded in the legacy network, it will become “pantograph friendly”, but there is no immediate need so this will take some time. Transit City vehicles will use pantographs from the start. For more details on poles and pantographs, and to see why the legacy network is not compatible with pans, see this page.

Davis Drive Rapidway Public Meeting

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

VivaNext will be holding a public consultation meeting on the Davis Drive Rapidway (Yonge Street to the Southlake Regional Health Centre) on Tuesday June 23, 2009. This will be held from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, with presentation at 7:00 pm, at the Newmarket Seniors’ Meeting Place, 474 Davis Drive.

Don Mills / Leslie LRT Project Public Consultation

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Updated June 18: The display boards are now available online. 

Updated June 12: I have added a route map of the study area to help clarify the description current transit service in the area.

I attended the Don Mills/Leslie LRT Project Public Consultation (PPC) meeting this evening (June 10). This was a first-round meeting where the initial concepts of the plan were being presented. There will be at least two other meetings, tentatively planned for October and December, as the plan develops as additional details (Transit City Don Mills LRT and the Highway 7 Rapidway) become available and public feedback from this meeting are considered.

While there were no signs outside the Hilton Garden Inn at Commerce Valley East and Highway 7, the parking lot was completely full. Given that this location is quite easily accessible by transit, and that says a lot for York Region, the full parking lot ought to have been an indicator of the mood inside. The room was rather small as well, which probably did not enhance the help.