On Building The Wrong Type of Transit

An interesting item from Toronto; maybe some TransLink types should read this, or even regional, provincial and federal politicians as well.

Investing massive sums of money on dubious subway “vanity projects” pretending that that any investment in public transit is good investment, is a fools game. It is time to design consumer oriented transit, transit the the transit customer wants and will use.

In simple terms, design affordable transit solutions, that the transit consumer will use.

The costs are in US dollars.

Now Toronto

Sheppard subwayAi??The 5.5-kilometre stub running east from Yonge to Don Mills serves just 48,250 trips on an average weekday (6.6 per cent of what the Yonge-University line gets), only 2,530 of which take advantage of Bessarion – it’d be the TTC’s least-used station if not for Ellesmere on the Scarborough RT line. Like every transit project in Toronto, its genesis was convoluted, but it was the darling of former North York (then Toronto) mayor Mel Lastman, who managed to keep the dream alive even as the Mike Harris government kiboshed other lines. “Without [Sheppard], we might as well go out of business,” Lastman said in 1995. When, the next year, Metro council surprised even itself by voting to spend $130 million to dig tunnels without stations or tracks, the Star ran one of those perfect Toronto transit headlines: Chaos As Council Approves A Train To Nowhere. Luckily for Metro, the province considered this a demonstration of sufficient commitment and gave them the rest of the money.

Toronto-York Spadina Subway ExtensionAi??The density around Downsview Park, York University and the line’s terminus in York Region didn’t, still doesn’t and may never support a subway. So why are we getting it? “A senior TTC official describes the planned Spadina subway extension into York Region as purely political, adding an expletive describing horse excrement for effect,” reported the Globe. The line was the baby of former provincial finance minister Greg Sorbara, a York alumnus whose Vaughan riding would be at the route’s edge. Originally announced with a 2015 opening at a cost of $1.5 billion, it’s now set to be finished at the end of 2017, at a cost of a billion more.

Union Pearson ExpressAi??Not a subway, of course, and barely even public transit, the UP Express remains a tribute to bizarre transportation priorities. Envisioned as a private project called Blue 22 to be built and run by SNC-Lavalin, the train was announced in 2003 with an opening date of 2008. It would cost $20 for a 22-minute ride from Union Station to Pearson Airport. That didn’t happen. By 2010, the province wanted something ready for the Pan Am Games and decided that it should be a public project instead; they handed responsibility to Metrolinx, which spent $456 million on the service, including – as the Star revealed -Ai??$4.5 million to commission branding that would “lure choice riders.” It opened earlier this year, with a $27.50 fare for a 25-minute trip (cheaper if you get on or off at Bloor or Weston).

The train is officially hitting its modest ridership goals, but there’s a very long way to go before it could possibly break even on its operating costs. In the meantime, we can dream about how half a billion dollars could have built transit for underserved Torontonians rather than the premium class of business travellers who are now saved the embarrassment of taking a cab.


The problemAi??The Yonge subway line is crowded, especially during rush hour and especially south of Bloor. Holy crap, is it crowded. In peak periods, it’s actually running 11 per cent above its current capacity of 28,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd).

The bigger problemAi??A number of short-term solutions are being implemented to squeeze in more capacity (including automatic train control that will allow the trains to run closer together), increasing it to 36,000 pphpd in a few years. The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension will ease pressures a bit, as will the province’s Regional Express Rail (RER) plan to run trains along GO corridors more frequently. But with expected population growth, the Yonge line will once again be flirting with disaster by 2031, and there won’t be any quick fixes left.

The false solutionAi??SmartTrack may have its merits, but it wouldn’t relieve pressure on the Yonge line to any significant extent. Metrolinx looked at the effect that an enhanced RER (essentially SmartTrack) would have and determined it’d pull away only 400 southbound riders per hour in the morning peak.

The real solutionAi??A proper relief line downtown. The city is studying a subway that would connect King or Queen (and maybe St. Andrew or Osgoode) to Broadview or Pape station on the Danforth. Metrolinx estimates such a route would suck 6,000 passengers away from the Yonge subway and another 6,100 from the Bloor-Danforth line during the morning peak. And if the relief line continued past Danforth all the way up to Sheppard and Don Mills, that’d divert 11,600 riders off Yonge.

The bigger problem, part 2Ai??A relief line would cost $3.5 billion if it connected downtown to the Danforth or $7.8 billion if it went up to Sheppard. And there’s no money for the project, despite its officially being a top priority for the city, TTC and Metrolinx. At the moment, it stands behind both the Scarborough Subway Extension and SmartTrack in the funding line. Given how long it takes to build a subway, we have to get this shit sorted out soon.

Sources: Metrolinx, City of Toronto, TTC

Don’t miss:Ai??Train wreck: Why Toronto doesn’t get the transit it deserves


4 Responses to “On Building The Wrong Type of Transit”
  1. Rico says:

    Like building a tram on the BCE right of way from Langley to Chilliwack? A mainly low density area with few destinations? A route that will have faster travel times for most destinations with buses (because those routes are relatively straight)?

    Zwei replies: Two different things altogether. The fear of the SkyTrain lobby is pure and simple, they are deathly afraid that the Leewood/RftV project would attract more NEW customers, with a lower cost per revenue passenger than SkyTrain. Remember over 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take the bus and are not new to the system. The fact is, SkyTrain’s ridership merely follows the increase in population. This is one reason no one builds with SkyTrain anymore, for all its high costs, it has proven not to attract more ridership than at grade and much cheaper transit systems.

  2. John Richards says:

    It’s important to understand that Hong Kong and Singapore have high density to justify building subways.

    Zwei replies: Exactly, when ridership demands, then a subway must be built, but no transit route in Vancouver has the ridership to demand subway construction. The result: TransLink suffers severe fiscal problems.

  3. Rico says:

    It is very safe to say that the Leewood/RfV proposal will not have a better cost per revenue passager than Skytrain. First Skytrains cost per revenue passanger is extremely low, second the RfV proposal would have a ridiculously high cost per revenue passanger. I would assume the ridiculous cost per revenue passanger is why it gets dropped as soon as anyone looks at it. It is hard to have a low cost per revenue passenger when you don’t have many passengers…and it is hard to have a lot of passengers when there are not many convenient to the line, or many destinations on the line…or if other modes are faster and more convenient to those destinations for those people.

    The next points have been made before, bus transfers are a good thing, park and rides are less so. You want to have people transfer to the low cost high capacity transit and use buses as feeders (see any transit system anywhere, including Portland).
    Do you really want to get back into ‘Skytrain has been proven not to attract riders,’ which would lead to your ,’Stats Can is not a valid source/all research is part of the Skytrain lobby,’ rant. Fact is Vancouver transit has been one of the most effective transit systems in the English speaking world. In fact even the Canada line had a pretty big impact,transit in Richmond/South Delta went from 9% of trips in 2008 (pre Canada line) to 11% in 2011 (post Canada line). Transit mode share has consistently grown in regions serviced by Skytrain. No one but you argues Skytrain has not attracted riders. At 14,000 to 16,000pphpd on the Expo line and probably the lowest operation and maintenance cost of per revenue passenger of any rail system in North America (and because of the number of passengers one of the lowest capital costs per revenue passangers after Calgary and possibly Monterey) everyone but you is probably pretty glad the line is grade seperated, non-grade seperated transit would still work now…barely…but…apparently we do have the requirements to have ‘metro,’ after all.

    Zwei replies: Rico, you perpetuate the myth that SkyTrain’s cost per revenue passenger is low, it isn’t, in fact the cost per revenue passenger is about one third higher than Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.

    As well, TransLink does not apportion fares from bus to SkyTrain (and to bus again), nor does TransLink factor in the $300 million annual subsidy to operate the mini metro.

    Fact is Rico, SkyTrain is very expensive for what it does and why no one wants the damn thing.

    Lies and deceit Rico, that all the SkyTrain Lobby has to offer, logical discussion is non existent because logic defeats your argument.

  4. Haveacow says:

    For now guys the real problem with the Skytrain technology is the maintenance costs. Your own maintenance staff have said how complicated the procedures have to be compared to other rail technologies. I was told by a Translink maintenance person whom feared for his job when the company I worked with toured Skytrain’s maintenance and operational facilities a few years ago, “considering the small size of these units (compared to other rail vehicles) they sure are maintenance pigs. It doesn’t matter, new or old, the technology requires more people per unit to work on it, then many other rail systems and requires tolerances in its track and propulsion gear that simply make the job harder and more time consuming.”

    This was confirmed for me, when we had a track-ware expert visit and give a talk at the local historic railway society I belong to. Wheel or “flange-wear” had become a problem on both the Mark 1 and Mark 2 cars operated by Translink. Their solution was a complex asymmetrical rail grinding regime that if done properly would reduce the wheel wear problem.

    The basis of the issue was pressure from the moving joint in the steerable trucks used by the Skytrain technology.
    The increased pressure forces more downward force on the axels and bearing covers on curved track, these covers are called “journal boxes” on historic freight railway vehicles and certain modern passenger units. They aren’t boxes anymore but small flat rubber or covered bearing rings that allow some type of fluid to pass through internal channels to keep the bearings properly mounted and lubricated, while the axels spins. The excess force from the joint forced the flanges (wheels) to develop flat spots at a far greater rate than normal. Bombardier then changed the steel in the flanges to a harder variety so that, the flanges regardless the forces involved would have a lower chance of developing flat spots in general. This increased track wear problem and forced an even more complex asymmetrical rail grinding regime.

    The point of the story, after years of screaming, it was discovered that, the Translink management had not ordered the maintenance staff to maintain the complex rail grinding regime and really and truly did not understand the need for this procedure. The ongoing problem/issues at some (not all) of the more well used turnouts (switches) on the Skytrain system are also partly a result of this rail wear issue.

    What is becoming more apparent with the Skytrain technology that Vancouver uses is that, Bombardier has no real all around answer for the maintenance problem. By their nature the Skytrain vehicles and technology require more maintenance and therefore more maintenance staff than other rail technologies, LRT included. The simple electric motors used on most major brands of LRV’s only require a single person with a cheap hand pumped forklift, a power wrench and a battery powered smart electrical meter to test and or replace the motor. For example, the new Spirit LRV’s that Ottawa will use are designed with maintenance in mind. Alstom claims that, one single person could switch out every motor, (2 per truck) on every powered truck, (3 out of 5 trucks per vehicle) on not just a single but both LRV’s in the planned 2 vehicle consist, in less time than it would take 2-4 staff and a lot of heavy equipment to replace just 2 LIM Motors on one of your 4 unit Skytrain consists. Since I know the basic procedure for both systems I can honestly say that, they are probably right. Modern LRV’s are just a lot simpler to maintain, sorry guys, there design is simpler and most major LRV models available to North America are designed with maintenance costs in mind. This is just not the case with the Skytrain technology. The new universal Bogie/Truck technology that Bombardier is using with all of its new rail vehicles, except monorails and Skytrains, shows that they want a common platform in 3 basic sizes and a large number common parts, that fits all their vehicle designs. This reduces cost for everyone. The Skytrain bogies/trucks for the Evergreen Line order are gong to be made by a subcontractor not Bombardier, this not only increases the vehicle cost when you buy a new vehicle but the maintenance cost as well.

    Does this mean that LRV’s are problem free, no way! All new rail vehicle designs regardless of class, usually have one or two major issues to work out when they are new. Todays vehicles (ships, airplanes and trains included) are just too complex for the, ready to go, right out of the box capability that our cars have. Toronto’s new LRV’s are having manufacturing woes simply due to their complexity. They, the TTC, knew beforehand that there would be some big teething issues with their new streetcars, regardless of what the Toronto press is trying to make you think. This is the first time a 100% low floor LRV that can turn at speed on Toronto’s tight 10.5 Metre radius curves, has been built completely out side of Europe. The Mexican workers in Bombardier’s part’s plant, fabricating Toronto’s LRV parts simply aren’t used to the exacting standards needed for 100% low floor trams and are to use to the 75% low floor vehicle designs generally used in North America. The 75% low floor LRV’s have a raised floor over the trucks, which leaves a lot of room to mount extra equipment compared to 100% low floor vehicles. People in Toronto are so used to the current CLRV’s and ALRV’s they forgot the huge number of issues these vehicles had when they were new, 30+ years ago.

    Generally most LRV designs as well as the Skytrain, are designed for a maximum curve radius of 25 Metres. This does not mean that these vehicles can’t turn tighter curves than this. However with track curves tighter than 25 metres, the vehicle must slow down significantly (from commercial speed norms, decreasing the line capacity) and the outside of the vehicle will leave the legal track envelope on curves. In North America, if a rail vehicle leaves the track envelope on a curve, you are required to limit access to the right of way at that point. Unless the public are used to vehicles doing this (That’s how TTC got out of that requirement). When TTC Streetcars turn on a tight curve, they have a habit of hanging out over the sidewalk at street corners (ample evidence they have left the legal track envelope). Torontonians are used to this because of continual streetcar operation since 1861 and simply, almost instinctively, back up when a streetcar turns a tight corner in front of them.

    Operationally the tighter the curve, the fewer the number of coupled vehicles in a single consist thus, a higher operating cost because of the need to have a greater number of total trains running at any one time. In Canada and the US, public transit vehicles operating in multi car consists MUST have a distance between them of less than, the space that can be occupied by a single person. This limits the use of couplers with long shanks that would eliminate the turning deficiency when you have long multi car consists. Although the TTC’s new Streetcars are much longer than the existing fleet, they can’t be couple together if the route has a tight curve on it and thus are not equipped with regular service couplers. The TTC streetcars do have mountable emergency couplers stored inside them for when a vehicle breaks down. Usually stored right beside the manual re-railer.