The city has some questions for Doug Ford

I’m no trainspotter, but I’ve lived Toronto for long enough to know that the perfect has long been the enemy of good transit—buses get replaced by imaginary subways, replaced in turn by very real budgets, which force the piecemeal return to buses, and LRTs almost never get built.

So when the Ford Conservative government said that they had some really great plans for the Eglinton LRT, I sighed. Ford wants to put the proposed western section of the LRT underground instead of in dedicated lanes—at (at least) twice the price. His plan would also, not coincidentally, bring a subway to Etobicoke, his old stomping grounds.

Eglinton West map
From Metrolinx

The city has some questions about this ‘plan’, and quite a few of them concern Mount Denizens. But oddly, the questions actually aren’t that interesting. They are very basic. That they have to be asked is interesting.

The city wants to know—I kid you not— “How many stations are proposed and where”?  They would mind finding out a few other pretty fundamental things, like:

  • Will the service levels and fare be comparable to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT?
    • i.e. How much is this going to cost?
  • Has the design taken into account necessary facilities for passenger transfers to and from TTC buses and streetcars?
    • i.e. Have you planned stations at all? At all?
  • Metrolinx has previously recommended an at-grade LRT for the Eglinton West LRT; what new information has Metrolinx considered that supports a tunneled option?
    • i.e. Why are you doing this?

I’m going to take the PCs at their word and believe they actually do want to build transit and not just stall it by proposing money holes they know can never be filled in.

If the PCs were being cynical, I’d be in some ways be happier, though. Cynical plans are still plans–but the PCs don’t seem to have one at all.

It’s  depressing that the Ford administration thinks its napkin sketches are better than maps and blueprints drawn by experts in consultation with communities.

It will takes years for the mess to be sorted out. Again. In the meantime, we’ll still have buses.

Weston station faces threats

If you build it, they will go away.

That’s the news Metrolinx delivered this week, when they released “long-delayed” reports that said riders would be so frustrated by Tory’s SmartTrack stops that they would get back in their cars. It’s a conclusion that threatens the Weston GO station, too.

 

Weston has been quite lucky to have both a GO and a UPX stop, but when the Mount Dennis station is finished in 2022, our luck may run out. Like the Weston station, the Mount Dennis station will connect with the GO and the UPX—but in addition, it will have a link with the Eglinton LRT and busses. Will Metrolinx have three GO and UPX stops within 10 km: Weston, Mount Dennis and St. Clair?

This week’s report suggests they might not. Every stop slows down riders and drives them away from the service.

Obviously, there are four options:

  • Closing both the GO and UPX stations
  • Closing the UPX
  • Closing the GO
  • Closing neither

Your correspondent bets that Metrolinx will close the GO station—and would close both if they could. The reasons are clear:

  • GO Trains accelerate and decelerate slowly, so an additional stop causes more inconvenience.
  • Ridership must be down a great deal now that the UPX is cheap
  • Very few people get on the GO in Weston going to Kitchener, and fewer still who would not take the UPX one stop in the wrong direction to Mount Dennis to get on the GO heading out of town.

Two solutions would be an integrated fare or fare by distance, so Westonians could get on the UPX and not be penalized for jumping on another mode of transit at Mount Dennis. Your correspondent doubts very much that Metrolinx will miss a chance to burn Westonians, however.

 

Electrification meeting February 9

Laura Albanese’s office has scheduled a meeting with Metrolinx for February 9 to update the community on the long-promised electrification of the Kitchener rail corridor.

In addition to the intriguing promise of electrification and a connection in Mount Dennis, there will be discussion of another major construction project: a fourth rail line. This, your correspondent believes, may be controversial, raising as it does the possibility of track widening (and expropriations), missed opportunities, and further long periods of disruption in the community.

 

Why you won’t get SmartTrack

The Economist explained this week why you won’t be getting SmartTrack. It’s a sobering read.

In short, Toronto’s transit, as you know, sucks. Making it better requires bold action—and money. John Tory’s proposal, road tolls, would pay for part of the construction, but tolls are unpopular among backwards-thinking people and suburbanites¹, and Kathleen Wynne needs to win both groups over in the 2018 election. Tolls would need her assent.

Tory himself faces reëlection in 2018—it’s been more than two-and-a-half years since his back-of-the envelope plan (which forgot about Mount Dennis) was announced.


¹ And backwards-thinking suburbanites.

The Future of UP Express

 

A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the adjacent GO train platform. (File)
A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the (foreground) GO train platform. (File)

Officials at Metrolinx are looking over their shoulders after the unprecedented intervention by the Premier in forcing a rapid and substantial revision of UPX fares. When the Premier has lost patience in your effectiveness, other questions from the top may follow, such as, ‘Where else are they screwing up?’, and, ‘How many people did it take to make that idiotic decision?’

It doesn’t take much digging to uncover their inadequacies. Whether it’s the inability to coordinate a VIA Rail stop in Weston or their continued insistence that UPX needs to recover its investment, management has shown that they have a tenuous hold on the idea of serving the people (watch the most recent Board Meeting to get the idea) while ignoring the realities of transportation in the GTHA. The lack of a unified fare structure between TTC, UPX and GO and the failure to connect the UPX Bloor Station to the Dundas West TTC Subway station also come to mind.

Even before the outrageous fares were set, the whole idea of a boutique rail line serving business professionals was simply a non-starter. Back in 2012, WestonWeb asked,

Can you imagine captains of industry schlepping their own bags along miles of platform at either end and onto a train?

Captains of industry want to be carried (preferably in a limo) from door to door and don’t care about the cost as long as they get a receipt.

WestonWeb was not alone in predicting a tough time for UPX. Mike Sullivan, the Clean Train Coalition and many others voiced their concerns but the experts knew better. One wonders about the high priced consultants (expert experts) that Metrolinx was tapping into. How did they all get it so wrong?

UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )
UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )

No doubt there needs to be a scapegoat and according to media reports it’s likely to be UPX President Kathy Haley who was given the impossible task of making an unviable service financially self-sustaining. Her cheerleading for the service rang more and more hollow in recent days as evidence mounted that while people would clamour for a free ride, they weren’t prepared to pay more than a TTC or at worst a GO fare. Metrolinx head, Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca bear some of the responsibility for their stubborn expectation of the impossible.

What should be the future of UP Express?

The first should be a recognition that this is truly public transit and like all public transit should not be expected to recoup its cost. There are reports that the service will be pulled under the GO Train umbrella and that would seems likely given the recent fare alignment with GO. Regardless of the overhead, in this day of electronic fares, there are attendants galore and a ticket inspector on every train. Some re-deployment of staff to other GO positions would no doubt cut down on costs.

Will the lower price increase ridership? Probably, but the trains will not be full even at the new fare structure. Many people have suggested that the train be made part of the ever changing SmartTrack plan with additional stations along the way. An obvious site is Mount Dennis where a Crosstown Line station will be located. One problem needing a solution is the high platform of the UPX (see photo above). Regardless, many communities along the line would also welcome a quick commute to Union Station. That is likely the future for UPX but for now, Weston residents can bask in a fast (14 minute) service to and from Union every 15 minutes.