Staff released 369 pages worth of studies on Thursday night ahead of requesting council endorse a new multibillion dollar plan to build out a transit grid.
Jennifer Pagliaro and Tess Kalinowski
Some key information is expected to be provided to Toronto council just two weeks before they are set to approve a multibillion-dollar network of new transit. Photo: MARCUS OLENIUK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Toronto city council is being asked to endorse a network of new transit lines worth billions of dollars without essential information needed to justify those plans.
On Thursday night, city staff posted 369 pages worth of studies about the new network which mostly deal with how many people are projected to ride those lines.
But the studies consider a transit map that’s already been redrawn. Updated numbers aren’t expected until June — just two weeks before council will be asked to approve building that map, to be built out over the next 15 years, and long after public consultations have already wrapped up.
Councillor Josh Matlow said it’s not good enough that those numbers will be provided at the “11th hour.”
“That’s not a responsible way to plan transit, to spend billions of dollars, and it’s not fair to councillors or the public we serve,” he said.
The city’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said they are stressing that the modelling “will continually evolve.”
“Given the longer than planned time to build the new model, ridership results are catching up with the rest of the project evaluation criteria,” she said in an email.
Among the tangle of studies are new ridership numbers for the Scarborough subway extension, a project that has been controversial since council, under former mayor Rob Ford, voted to cancel a fully-funded, seven-stop light-rail line.
Ridership numbers, one critical tool used to determine what type of transit to build and where to build it, have been at the heart of that debate after increased ridership numbers were used to barely justify the existence of a three-stop subway. Critics, including Matlow, questioned those numbers, which Keesmaat has since admitted were born out of a “problematic” and “rushed” process.
With a new plan on the table now — a one-stop subway and 17-stop LRT that Keesmaat says can be built at the same cost as the three-stop subway — both Mayor John Tory, who until recently vehemently backed the three-stop subway, and Keesmaat have tried to downplay the importance of ridership.
“I think the notion that we become obsessed with that as the sole basis upon which you should decide either where transit goes or what kind of transit you should build is a mistake,” Tory told reporters Wednesday.
The Star looked at what can and can’t yet be determined from the newly-released ridership numbers.
Two lines, same riders
During the mayoral campaign and after his election, Tory dismissed concerns that his heavy rail SmartTrack plan and the three-stop Scarborough subway would steal each other’s riders because the stops were too close together. The numbers released Thursday show Tory was wrong. The report claims almost 4,000 subway riders travelling in the busiest direction at the busiest time — almost a third of the ridership — would be lost if SmartTrack trains run alongside it every five minutes.
Who will ride a one-stop subway?
The trouble is, it’s hard to know how that cannibalization will play out on a one-stop subway, with less station duplication but the same distance between the lines (staff believe the one-stop subway should also run along McCowan Ave.). Those numbers aren’t available yet and won’t be until June, but Keesmaat confirmed they expect the ridership to be lower than the three-stop subway.
What about the Sheppard LRT?
The Scarborough subway ridership numbers are based on a Sheppard LRT being built, connecting the current Sheppard subway into Scarborough’s city centre. But completion of the Sheppard LRT is far off, with construction delayed until after the Finch LRT is built. And it remains unclear whether it will proceed as an LRT at all. New city plans identify the line just as “Sheppard RT” or “rapid transit” which raises the question of whether a bus rapid transit route could be considered.
Frequency of trains
Planners say the TTC has budgeted for enough trains to maintain the same frequency of service on the Scarborough subway extension that currently exists on the Bloor-Danforth line — which would see a train come about every two minutes during morning rush hour. However, if every other train turned back at Kennedy station, which would see trains come about every four minutes, ridership during those peak morning hours drops off by 16.7 per cent on the Scarborough extension. Figuring out that frequency also matters for costs — if trains loop back at Kennedy, a tail track will be need to be built to turn them around.
Subway versus subway
Rush hour ridership for the Scarborough subway (9,800) is actually higher than that of the relief line subway (7,300) with SmartTrack running every five minutes, according to the new study. Despite the Scarborough subway running through a much lower density area, Keesmaat said, because the transit network is “much more developed” around the future relief line (proposed to run from Nathan Phillips Square to Pape Station), riders are spread out across more surrounding transit options.
The trouble with ridership
Questions remain over how Scarborough subway ridership projections of 9,500 grew to 14,000 in the midst of the 2013 debate — just barely enough to justify a three-stop subway. Keesmaat has defended that 14,000 number, saying it is based on updated modelling. The July 2013 report where the 14,000 number was first introduced said the updated model reflected a “more current transit network” that assumed the downtown relief line would be built by the time the subway was running. But the study posted Thursday, which also put ridership in that range — 13,700 — assumed the relief line would not be built. It’s not clear how those numbers can be the same. “There continues to be many moving parts,” Keesmaat said.
What the ridership numbers say
A report released by city staff includes new ridership projections under various scenarios.
Scarborough subway vs. SmartTrack
That data suggest Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan would absorb riders of a Scarborough subway extension. The more SmartTrack trains, the fewer riders there will be on the subway.
- 115,600: Anticipated daily riders of a three-stop Scarborough subway extension along McCowan Rd. — a plan that city planners have already rejected in favour of an alternative one-stop subway option.
- 109,800: Daily Scarborough subway riders with 15-minute SmartTrack service.
- 88,200: Daily Scarborough subway riders with 5-minute SmartTrack service.
- 714,000: Approximate daily riders on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway.
How do new transit lines spell ‘relief’?
Either a relief line or SmartTrack could bring Yonge subway ridership levels within the projected 2031 capacity of 36,000 riders per hour. However, by 2041 only the combination of the relief line and SmartTrack will keep the Yonge line within capacity, the city says.
- 125,500: Daily riders projected for 2031 for a relief line built along the city’s preferred Pape-and-Queen St. route without SmartTrack.
- 133,100: Daily 2031 relief line riders when 15-minute SmartTrack service is added to the network.
- 98,800: Daily relief line riders with 5-minute SmartTrack service.
- 3,600: Reduction in hourly Yonge subway morning rush hour riders south of Bloor if a relief line is added to the transit system. It would bring down the total number of south Yonge line riders to 36,100 in the peak hour.
- 2,300: Hourly riders diverted from the south end of the Yonge subway by 15-minute SmartTrack service but with no relief line. That would still leave 37,300 peak riders on the Yonge subway.
- 6,600: Reduction in hourly south Yonge subway ridership due to 5-minute SmartTrack service with no relief line. That would leave 33,000 peak hour riders on the Yonge line.
Pushing people down the line
Planners have to consider whether building new transit lines does more harm than good if it pushes more riders to the crammed south end of the Yonge line.
- 39,600: Hourly riders on the Yonge subway south of Bloor once the Scarborough subway extension is built but without SmartTrack.
- 25,500: Hourly riders on the Yonge line in the morning rush travelling in the peak direction in 2014.
- 7,130: Net new daily riders on the Yonge line with the Scarborough subway but no SmartTrack.
This article can be found in its original form at: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/transportation/2016/03/04/toronto-council-lacking-critical-transit-information-ahead-of-key-decisions.html