Unanswered questions about Toronto’s next subway extension

IMG_4677-001.JPGPioneer Village Station under construction, August 2016

Note: I posted an update to this article on October 4, 2017 

By the end of next year, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Line 1 subway extension to Vaughan will finally open, two years later than originally planned. The line will provide relief for thousands of York University students and employees and improve service to transit-starved northwest Toronto. It will terminate at Highway 7 in Vaughan, at the ambitiously (and in my view, ridiculously) named Vaughan Metropolitan Station, posing a challenge to cartographers and designers everywhere.

When the $3.2 billion subway extension begins operating in December 2o17, it will be the first new major subway project since the opening of the five stop Sheppard Subway in 2002. It is also the first subway line to cross the City of Toronto boundary. (Coincidentally, this subway extension will cost the same as the proposed one-stop extension of Line 2 to Scarborough Centre.)

Aside from the delays, the big price tag, and the silly Vaughan station name, there are two more issues that will arise, and which have yet to be completely figured out: how four separate transit agencies will re-route their buses once the subway opens, and the necessary question of fare integration once that happens.

Right now, four transit agencies serve the bus loop at York Common at the university campus: TTC, GO Transit, York Region Transit, and Brampton Transit. For years, York University has wanted the hundreds of daily buses out of the Common, and the subway was meant to achieve this. The TTC will be able to eliminate the busy 196 York University Rocket, an express bus between the campus and Downsview Station (which will be renamed Sheppard West), while buses on Jane and Keele Streets will terminate at Pioneer Village Station on Steeles Avenue, north of the main university grounds.

The York University subway station on campus, near York Common, will have no bus facilities and all bus routes will have to terminate elsewhere.

TTC Subway Plan.pngTTC’s proposed Line 1 Subway Extension bus changes (source)

GO Transit’s buses will stop at a separate station at Jane Street at Highway 407, convenient for GO’s operations, avoiding heavy traffic in the Steeles and Keele area. Its passengers will be expected to transfer to the subway to get to York University, replacing what is currently a one-seat ride to campus.

York Region Transit is similarly looking to restructure its route network to take advantage of the subway extension. Among the planned changes (according to a 2014 report) is a new Viva Silver route, operating between Vaughan Centre and Richmond Hill, serving Vaughan Mills, Maple, and Mackenzie Health hospital. Other routes will serve terminals at Vaughan Centre and Pioneer Village stations, with several routes looping around York University’s ring road. YRT will also take over several routes currently contracted to the TTC.

yrt-subway-planYork Region Transit’s Draft Operating Plan for when the subway extension opens in December 2017. (From YRT’s 2015 Annual Service Plan, transit plan, page 142.)

Brampton Transit also serves York University; 501 Züm Queen is that agency’s busiest route. The YRT map of routing proposals shows Route 501, which follows Highway 7 in Vaughan, terminating at Vaughan Centre, while Route 501A, an express branch which uses Highway 407, terminating at 407 Station, looping via Keele and Steeles. Having each branch terminate at separate subway stations isn’t helpful for Brampton-bound passengers (the 501 and 501A have alternate departures at York University; each branch operates every 30 minutes evenings and weekends).

Happily, I asked about this issue and came away satisfied. The response from David Stowe, Supervisor of Planning at Brampton Transit, was that the plan presented by YRT was preliminary, and that higher customer demand was expected due to the direct subway connection. The shorter running times could allow for investment in more service on the corridor. More details will be available once the 2017-2018 transit service plans are presented to the public in April.

An even more pressing issue is fare integration for GO, YRT and Brampton Transit passengers. Many of these agencies’ passengers currently enjoy a one-seat ride to the heart of the York University campus, but will be forced to transfer to the subway in December 2017. GO Transit passengers who currently travel to the York University GO Station on the Barrie Line, and then transfer to a free shuttle bus, will also be affected, as GO will be moving the station to a new integrated station at Downsview Park.

Right now, there is no fare integration between the TTC and GO Transit, or any of the suburban transit agencies. Metrolinx continues to work on a recommended fare integration strategy, but has yet to present its proposal. New TTC subway fare gates are designed to require farecard tap-outs as well as tap-ons, either with Presto cards or with disposable RFID-enabled tickets. Tap-offs would allow the TTC to either implement a fare-by-distance scheme on the subway, like that in Washington, DC, or police transfers to surface vehicles. Tap-off capabilities could also allow passengers transferring from GO Transit, YRT, or Brampton Transit to travel a short distance to York University without paying a TTC fare, or pay a reduced fare.

But no one seems to know what the situation will be for York University-bound passengers once their bus no longer goes to the campus and a new subway transfer is required. It’s up to Metrolinx and the TTC to clarify this, soon. Thousands of transit riders deserve to know what will happen with their commute next year.

 

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