Smart Tracks – can we just move on please

It was fairly clear to everyone who was really paying attention, that ST was not a truly serious proposal from day 1.  The 1st and clearest issue was the Eglinton west portion of the line, heavy rail is not going on the street, and the row beside the roadway had already been partially sold off and developed.

Looking a little harder, it is also fairly clear that very substantial work would need to be done in order to increase capacity at Union Station, and in the rail corridor around it far more than has been contemplated thus far.  The initial talk was of 200,000 riders per day.  When you consider peak and counter-peak ridership, and off peak etc, it would seem that much more than 4 trains/hour would be required at peak.  Also the province already has a very serious proposal on the table for regional electric rail.  The question that needs be asked – what real benefit would come from adding a lot of extra stations to this line.  The logic is that electrification will speed the acceleration up, so as to allow for the extra stops, but well, would not extra speed also make the line more attractive? Where does it make the most sense to gain the greatest trip advantage?

I am a large fan of looking hard at the benefits of a project now and what can be had later, and what the alternatives to gain these would be.  I am very conscious of the fact that Ontario is not in a position to do everything at once.  Further the more changes you make at once, the lower the probability you can reasonably model it correctly. especially if you are working from a poorly resolved and limited dataset.  I am not convinced myself that we should make the leap to electrification on Stouffville just yet.  Double track the line, yes, add an extra track set to Lakeshore east, yes, electrify Lakeshore East and West – yes.

I happen to believe that the city should focus its efforts on local transit, and making a real push in areas that will have a far more dramatic impact on the city.  There is a long list of priorities, that the city should be pushing the province on, and yes integration with the GO system should be one of them.  Making sure that all GO trains actually make stops at all existing Toronto stops sure.  However, LRT that connected to these stops should also be on the agenda.  LRT on Kingston road running through to Kennedy subway, could connect to Guildwood, Eglinton and Kennedy GO stations, along with the subway, the Crosstown LRT, the Lawrence bus as well as bus routes beyond.  A Sheppard LRT could also serve the Agincourt GO, as both a destination and source for riders.  However, the major focus needs to be making an extensive investment in out of traffic local transit, not more stations along the GO lines.   Fare integration does not require running city trains on these lines, just a closer cooperation with Metrolinx.

If we are looking to improve the transit network in Toronto, it needs to be done with a careful eye to the fact that we will only secure so many dollars to do so, and that we will have to operate it after.  This is true whether a portion is being operated by the city, or the province.  The investment needs to make sense and be cost effective both in construction and operation.  We should not spend massive dollars to build subway that will serve many fewer people, than LRT or create a much larger increase in the cost of operations.  We should be looking to design a system that can improve service increase capacity, and operate with at of cost recovery similar to or better than the current.  If operating a bus route now requires 50 buses at peak, and 50 operators, and we can provide an LRT every 5 minutes, and run a faster service with more capacity with say 15 operators, well, that would mean we get better service for fewer operating dollars.  The faster running time bringing better service, with fewer operators.  If you can deliver these riders to a faster trip on a GO corridor, then well that is still better service.

Toronto is obsessed with subway, and that needs to end, however simply becoming obsessed with another mode is not any better.  Toronto has a need to improve service over a very large area, and that means looking at how to improve the network.  How to make better use of operators, provide smoother more reliable transit, that permits relatively direct trips to destination.  That means whatever mode makes sense to serve the trips, not ego.

Longer distance trips, to a highly focused area, make a good deal of sense on the existing rail network, how do we collect and deliver the riders there.  Local trips between points in the lower density areas, make sense on bus, unless there happens to be a large number of riders that are all going to end up travelling in the same direction at once, like where they are going along a line with a major destination, or a station to a heavier mode that goes to one.  However, a moderate density area, with wide roads, is likely better served by a couple of LRT than a single subway line.  Driving more people to subway, make no sense if the balance of the line does not have the required capacity.

So basically yes, please, let us make use of the GO rights of way, with GO on them.  However, Scarborough needs the Sheppard, Malvern, and RT replacement LRTs.  Rexdale needs the Finch West LRT – all the way to an Airport Hub.  Both require frequent GO at all stations.  The Crosstown needs to extend to an airport hub as well, and tie to frequent GO, and we still need a DRL.  So please, the city should spend its 2.6 billion, and the federal money should go towards a DRL or LRT that do not cause overload on the current subway, but instead make better use of existing and developing GO service.  We can achieve quite a bit in terms of improving service to the region, with ongoing improvements to GO, and slowly building out LRT.  Toronto, only requires a couple of subway projects, a small extension to Yonge – strictly for capacity reasons, and a line from Eglinton and  Don Mills, through core to a point that would enable a western satellite station for GO and a Waterfront west LRT.   We do not have the resources to create proper service by building out subways, nor does it make sense.  We need to create service that will be cost effective to operate, which means designed to support the load it is likely to face, while respecting the trips people want to make.

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