One of the things that I find disturbing in Toronto’s debates around transit is the degree to which timing, and order of construction issues are simply ignored. Deserving carries a lot more weight than needed or functional.
While I firmly believe that radically improved GO/commuter rail is required for region, and that will eventually mean electrification, I do not believe that this can or should replace capacity for riders closer to the core. Until we are prepared to, and can actually get agreement to “abandon” from mainline railway use for conversion to rapid transit, the GO routes cannot reasonably hope to act to take on much of the inner 416 ridership either.
If Toronto is going to continue to grow at a reasonable pace, it needs to make significant allowances in its transit system. GO rail carries 200,000 riders daily, and TTC carries 1.7 million. We need to ask ourselves what represents real increases in capacity in order to make this system work. If we simply assume that the TTC will see a ridership growth of 2% that is 34,000 more each year. If you assume Yonge subway will experience 2% growth that would be nearly an additional 16,000 per day each year.
The more important question is where we need that capacity to grow. Peak hour that would mean 1,000 riders added every day at peak each year on Yonge, south of Bloor, except that well that capacity is not available. Adding additional load to Danforth does not get to the core. Riders starting at say Lawrence and Victoria Park, or Eglinton and Don Mills, are not going to ride the GO.
If we want the transit system to support additional growth, while not creating an even longer rush hour, or stagnation: peak hour capacity has to be created. This capacity has to be present before we continue on with projects that will increase the demand where there is already a bottleneck. Extending rapid transit in Scarborough is required, however making it a single subway line; means the connection to core is improved, while alternate employment centers are poorly supported. Further that subway line, cannot really provide the sought after connection to the core, if there is a serious bottleneck at Yonge.
The entire debate around the Scarborough effectively presumes a link with excess capacity on Yonge from Bloor south that simply does not exist. The argument with regards to downtown already has service, focuses entirely on lines on a map, and ignores the entire question of capacity. A subway like a pipe can only carry so much load.
The entire debate needs to focus on the notion that GO rail capacity needs to allow for 4,000 additional riders per year, and TTC needs to allow for 34,000. While SmartTrack may allow for additional capacity, it is only promising 4 trains per hour on Stouffville, where there are already 2 or 4,000 additional peak hour riders, or 8,000 round trip. While this sounds like a lot, I would expect that given the development around Toronto, for a lot more of the population growth to now be focused in York region, and this means that is where capacity will need to grow. That would mean this 4 trains per hour may be enough to accept Markham to core ridership growth for some time, it will likely not be leave much for the 416 area growth. Adding 4,000 peak hour riders, would be enough to satisfy growth on the Yonge subway for argument sake for 4 years, which means it would relieve a little of the latent demand (backed up load).
Toronto needs to add real capacity on or parallel to Yonge in order to keep transit moving. If the Yonge line was extended to Steeles, and turning capacity was increased in order to make a headway of 105-110 seconds a possibility, it would be enough to substantially increase capacity, and not make some of these other projects seem so ridiculous, but it would likely not be enough capacity to relieve all the issues long. Assuming that you could get to 105 second, that would represent a 30% increase in capacity. However, based on current growth and a reasonable service improvement in the buses that would mean about a decade would be bought. Let us be careful we do not allow the politics to dominate the reality of demand. Rapid transit is require across Toronto, but a fair amount of that demand is also core bound. We need to make sure it can get there.