Transit Urban Planning

Milton’s self-inflicted growing pains

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about Milton’s growing pains. The Town of Milton, which has grown tremendously in the last 15 years, complains that the province has neglected to provide the growing municipality with transit and other infrastructure. In 2001, its population was only 31,471. But In 2006, after finally connected to “The Big Pipe” that brought treated lake water to the municipality, the population increased to 53,939, an increase of 71.4%. In 2011, the town’s population went up again to 84,362; by 2016, Milton’s population will be well over 100,000.

But no one should be surprised by Milton’s growing pains. Milton’s population stagnated for years as its reliance on well water constrained residential and commercial growth. Once all that developer-owned land had access to water and waste water pipes, of course, tract housing, big box stores, and warehouses were going to follow. In recent years, Milton’s housing density has increased in accordance with the province’s Places to Grow Act; with more townhouses and low-rise apartment buildings and houses on smaller lots. But apart from higher densities, land use and planning is still based on automobile ownership and suburban zoning plans.

Milton is outside the continuous built-up Greater Toronto area. It doesn’t have great transit links, apart from the rush hour GO Trains. Apart from two interchanges off Highway 401, it doesn’t have great highway access. If it’s cheap housing you seek, and nothing else, Milton might be the right place to live. But if you want transit, parks, walkable neighborhoods, access to community services, and short drives, Milton isn’t the right place to buy.

Many of the concerns are valid. The local hospital hasn’t expanded to accommodate the growing population. Highway 401 hasn’t been expanded through Milton since the 1980s. And while GO Transit has increased the number of trains (from five to nine outbound and inbound trips in the last two decades) and buses, the parking lot has completely filled up.

But one of the main messages that I read in the article is that there isn’t enough parking. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, parking is the cause of  – and solution to – all of Milton’s problems. Residents and councillors complain about parking at the GO station, such as resident Giles vanderHolt, who says, “there’s a huge need for more GO transit parking and better train service to Milton.”

GO Transit isn’t going to be adding more train service to Milton any time soon. The Milton Line also serves six stations in Mississauga, and is the busiest route outside the frequent Lakeshore corridor. But the Milton line is almost entirely owned by Canadian Pacific, and it’s a busy freight line. GO simply cannot add any more trains, and if it did, it wouldn’t solve Milton’s parking problem.

Surrounding the GO Station, there’s a retail plaza anchored by a Loblaws, and surrounding it, there are several industrial parks and single family houses. There is no transit-oriented development located there, nor is any planned.

Milton GO Station and surrounding areas

I have plenty to say about GO Transit’s reliance on free parking, and I wouldn’t be surprised if GO is drawing up plans for a parking garage at Milton. But to be fair, people don’t move to Milton that are planning to give up their cars. Milton Transit isn’t very good, but it does use the GO Station as its primary hub. Meanwhile, GO has been trying a new ride-booking system for commuters to use to get to and from Milton GO Station. That’s an interesting idea that could be expanded to other outer-suburban communities as a short-to-medium term solution. If GO ever implemented parking charges, it could prove to be a good alternative for commuters where transit links are spotty or non-existent. But Milton could do far more to encourage people to walk, bike and take transit to its station, and develop an urban core.

Milton has been lobbying for years for a university campus, at a site called “Milton Education Village.” But it wants to locate the campus in a greenfield site a 15-minute drive away from the GO Station, distant even from Highway 401. Students from outside Milton will either be dependent on cars to reach the site, or had better hope that transit connections from the west aren’t as bad as they are from the Milton Carpool Lot.

Oshawa made the mistake of building a major campus as far as possible from its downtown core and transit infrastructure. Why does Milton want to do the same thing?

On one hand, Milton is right to complain about poor infrastructure. People live there, by choice or by necessity, and they deserve a proper hospital and other provincial services. GO Transit is doing the right thing by trying out a ride-sharing service to and from the GO station. On the other hand, Milton is a “leap-frog” suburb, with poor urban planning and an auto-centric mentality that has helped to create a lot of its mess. Building some transit-oriented development around the GO station, and improving transit links would be a good place to start turning the page.

0FXZYgd.jpgScreenshot from the classic Simpsons episode “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment”

Politics Toronto Transit

King Street: a mess of Uber proportions


One of the most frustrating things about living and working in central Toronto is having to rely on streetcars for east-west travel. This isn’t the fault of the streetcars; when free of traffic, they’re a smooth, fast and comfortable way to get around. But trapped in the quagmire that is downtown traffic, streetcars are painfully slow. They’re stuck behind left-turning cars and trucks. Cars plugging the curb lane, legally or not, force all traffic into the streetcars’ path. Replacing streetcars with buses isn’t a solution either; not only would more buses (and drivers) be required to match the each streetcar’s superior capacity, but buses would be forced to weave in and out of the curb lane around taxis, parked cars, delivery vans and other obstructions.

Rapid residential growth, both east and west of the downtown core, have overloaded the 504 King Streetcar. With 64,600 daily riders, it’s the busiest surface route in the system. The city has done little to facilitate this highrise boom in neighbbourhoods such as Corktown and the Distillery District in the east, and CityPlace, Liberty Village, Niagara, and Queen/Gladstone in the west. Further west, the highrise condos built at Humber Bay Shores must either rely on a painfully slow and unreliable ride on the 501 Queen Streetcar, take an infrequent double-fare express bus, or ride a bus up to the Bloor Subway.

No wonder then, Uber, the controversial firm that has delighted passengers with cheap transportation, but put the livelihoods of taxi drivers in jeopardy, launched UberHop, a variation of its “ride sharing” service that offers flat $5 rides between neighbourhoods along the King Streetcar and the downtown core. From a purely capitalist viewpoint, Uber is filling a need that’s been left unfulfilled.

Cycling Transit

Dispatches from Durham Region, and Kingston Road tokenism

Two weeks ago, I was out exploring Durham Region, the eastern end of the Greater Toronto Area. While south Durham Region is mostly made up of generic suburban sprawl, there are some interesting historic villages and new urbanist neighbourhoods. North of Highway 7, Durham Region is still mostly rural, though plans for a new airport in North Pickering may change that.

Sadly, Durham Region remains auto-centric in its outlook, even more so than other suburbs to the north and west of Toronto. The provincial government is constructing an eastern extension of Highway 407, with two new connecting highways to Highway 401 either nearly complete, or proposed. Oshawa, the largest city in Durham, is the birthplace of General Motors Canada, but while the auto industry declines, the city has been continuing to make many civic planning mistakes. And in Ajax, a small symbol of change – new bus and bicycle lanes – is still merely a token effort.

Toronto Transit

It’s time for two-hour transfers on the TTC


As of Monday, December 14, all TTC streetcars will operate under a “proof-of-payment” system; allowing customers to enter through the rear doors, as they currently do on 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina, the two routes partially equipped with the new Bombardier low-floor streetcars. All-door loading and proof-of-payment (POP) is supposed to be in effect on streetcars on Queen Street, but in practice, operators inconsistently open the rear doors; sometimes at all stops, often just a few downtown stops, sometimes only at Yonge Street, sometimes not all.

This new policy requires passengers to have a valid pass, transfer, or Presto card on board every streetcar; fares can continue to be paid at the front door on the older CLRVs and ALRVs; at that point a transfer must be obtained.

TTC fare inspectors have been handing out brochures about the new policy to streetcar passengers, informing them about the upcoming change:

The design of the new low-floor streetcars has required POP: they have four doors instead of two doors on CLRVs and three on ALRVs; the operator is in a separated cab, and normally does not interact with passengers, including fare collection and handing out transfers. At this point, at the end of 2015, all streetcars on the 509 and 510, as well as the 505 Dundas and 511 Bathurst routes were supposed to be equipped with low-floor accessible streetcars, but the many delays at Bombardier has resulted in only the twelfth new streetcar, #4413, entering service today.

By the end of the year, all TTC streetcars (not just the new Bombardier LFLRVs) will be accepting payment by Presto Card, one small step towards the elimination of tickets, tokens and paper transfers, a process already complete at many suburban GTA transit agencies.

But widespread adoption of Presto at the TTC will result in a few challenges unique to it, thanks to its outdated transfer policy that dates back over 100 years.

On the TTC, transfers are only valid for continuous one-way trips, no stopovers permitted. But most other major systems in Ontario work on the time-based transfer system, that allows for stopovers, even return trips within a 90 minute period (the policy at Grand River Transit) or 120 minute period (permitted in Mississauga, Brampton, York Region, Hamilton and elsewhere). After boarding the first bus, each additional tap with a Presto card will not result in a new fare deducted until the 90 minute or two hour time limit has passed.

The TTC will have a different policy. Paper transfers will still be required for Presto card holders if they intend to transfer to a bus (Presto readers will not be coming to the TTC’s buses for another year); but transfers to connecting streetcars and subway stations can be done by tapping the card on the new vehicle or at the subway turnstile. If it’s a valid transfer under the TTC’s rules, it will not deduct another fare. Here’s the TTC’s Brad Ross (the TTC’s amazing Head of Communications) clarifying this:

But there’s a hiccup:

If a passenger taps onto another vehicle on the same route, which is quite a common occurrence due to delays, short-turns, and diversions/shuttles, the Presto Card will deduct a second fare.

There is an easy solution: two-hour transfers. It would eliminate confusion, allow for short stopovers and quick two-way trips, and solve such issues such as customers re-boarding streetcars and buses on the same route. Allowing Presto cardholders the same luxury as that enjoyed in Toronto’s suburbs would provide an incentive to passengers paying by cash and token to switch. After all, the TTC already offers a two-hour transfer on St. Clair Avenue, a pilot project left over from the construction of the streetcar right-of-way.

The TTC already considered at time-based transfers in 2014 as it planned for the transition to Presto for fare collection. The Commission estimated that it would cost $20 million in annual revenue (thanks to lost fares stopovers and single-fare return trips), but it would by a lot of goodwill. And I doubt that the TTC would lose $20 million a year as it might attract new riders, especially during off-peak periods.

It’s now time for the TTC to bite the bullet to make it easier to ride the rocket.


GO Transit plans to raise fares in 2016. How about a better fare system?

Note: Updated in February 2016 due to a conflicting chart.

At Thursday’s Metrolinx Board Meeting, the Board of Directors will be voting on a GO Transit fare increase effective February 1, 2016. As has become common, Greg Percy, the President of GO Transit, will be recommending a tiered fare increase, and we should expect that the Metrolinx Board will rubber stamp this proposed fare hike, as it usually does.

Recently, I wrote about the many problems with GO Transit’s fare structure. It penalizes short trips, it does not allow for any fare integration with the Toronto Transit Commission, and many trip pairs (particularly the Barrie, Richmond Hill, and Stouffville Corridors) are priced lower than they should be compared to other stations. In another post, I suggested that GO Transit should seriously consider charging for parking at its lots, as constructing and maintaining parking lots is a major expense that all GO Transit users are paying for, whether they use them or not.

I was somewhat surprised to see that the fare increase will not apply to short trips, those currently costing between $5.30 (the lowest fare possible) and $5.69. This would freeze the one-way ticket price for trips such as between Danforth, Union, and Exhibition Stations. With a slight increase in the “loyalty discount” offered tot Presto Card users when they pay a GO fare,  from 10% to 11.15%, this results in a very slight fare decrease for short trips.

You can read the GO Transit report recommending a fare increase here.