Ontario Toronto Transit

How YRT service cuts at York University demonstrate a failure of regional transit

York University Subway Station, opening day

On Sunday, December 17, 2017, the TTC opened the long-awaited $3.2 billion Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension to York University and the City of Vaughan. The extension of Line 1, which included six new stations, opened over two years behind schedule largely due to construction-related delays. It was the first subway to extend beyond Toronto’s boundaries; York Region is now pushing for another subway extension up Yonge Street to Richmond Hill.

Unfortunately, fare integration between the TTC and suburban transit agencies was never completely worked out, despite many years’ notice that this would be an issue once the subway extension was opened. A new GO Transit terminal was built at Highway 407 Station, meant to handle GO Transit’s many buses currently serving York University. York University and York Region Transit (YRT) signed an agreement that YRT would remove its buses from campus after the subway opened. There was an assumption that transit riders destined for York University would simply transfer to the subway, but measures to prevent those riders from paying a second fare were never worked out.

And now York Region is withdrawing its buses from the campus as of September 2, 2018. While Brampton Transit won’t be withdrawing completely from York University, it will reduce some of its service. For now, GO Transit will not be making any changes to its bus routes serving the campus, and will continue to serve the York University Commons.

Many YRT passengers will have to pay the whole $3.00 each way, or be required to make a new transfer and/or walk a farther distance from the north terminal at Pioneer Village Station.

The fact that there’s no fare agreement to allow YRT passengers to ride the subway from Vaughan Centre to York University without paying a full TTC fare is indicative of the failure to fully coordinate regional transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. And York Region’s complete abandonment of what used to be one of its most important hubs is indicative of that region’s lack of commitment to funding transit operations adequately, despite its ambitious capital spending and lobbying for subway extensions.

History Infrastructure Transit Travels

Subways don’t always last 100 years

Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford liked to claim that subways would last one hundred years, while other “inferior” forms of transit, like light rail systems, would last only thirty.

At the time, Ford was pushing for a subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre that would replace the Scarborough RT. The SRT opened in 1985 and nearly thirty years later, the line needed a major rebuild, including new equipment. The City of Toronto planned to replace the aging system with a modern LRT route, including a three kilometre extension with two new stations at Centennial College and at Sheppard and Progress Avenues in Malvern. The line would have been fully funded by the province, and the rebuild would have reduced the cumbersome transfer from the subway platforms.

Of course, Rob Ford was wrong about subways lasting 100 years. While Toronto’s subway system is over sixty years old — the original Yonge Subway opened in 1954 between Union and Eglinton Stations —  only the tunnels and station structures themselves remain from that era. The Yonge Subway is on its fourth generation of vehicles. Each of the stations have been renovated with new turnstiles, tiling, signage, and elevators. The TTC is also working on a new automated signalling system, and track replacement is an ongoing program.

Had the Scarborough RT been built as originally planned as an LRT route, there would only be the need for ongoing maintenance and new replacement vehicles. Extensions of the line would have been much easier and cheaper. The problem was that the planned route was converted — with pressure from the provincial government — to an Intermediate Capacity Transit System, a novel technology which was then being developed by the Province of Ontario. The rolling stock — nearing 30 years old — had to be replaced, and Bombardier, the successor to the provincial Urban Transportation Development Corporation, no longer built vehicles that could fit a tight turning radius between Ellesmere and Midland Stations. That’s why, after 30 years, the SRT needs a replacement.

But you don’t have to travel far to see proof that subways don’t last a hundred years. In Rochester’s case, that city’s subway lasted only twenty-nine years before abandonment.

IMG_7219-001High Falls, Rochester

Rochester, New York is an interesting city. It’s best known as the home of Kodak and Xerox, with a few attractions that make it a worthwhile place to visit, including the George Eastman Museum and estate, The Strong Museum, and the most easterly of Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Prairie Style houses.

It also has America’s only fully-abandoned subway system.

The Rochester Subway was one of three subways planned and built in mid-sized American cities after the First World War. All three, coincidentally, were designed to permit streetcars to run under city streets using abandoned canal beds.

Cincinnati’s subway was the first to begin construction. Work began in 1919 on the path of the old Miami and Erie Canal, which once linked the Ohio River with Lake Erie at Toledo. But costs increased and construction was never completed. Today, the Cincinnati Streetcar runs on top of the abandoned subway route along Central Parkway.

IMG_5599-001Central Parkway in Cincinnati in January 2015, where new streetcar tracks run above the abandoned subway line

Rochester was the second city to build a subway line in a disused canal bed. The Erie Canal was rerouted around Downtown Rochester in 1919 and the new subway line — of which less than three kilometres was below grade — was built along the old waterway. A new downtown roadway, Broad Street. was built above the old canal. Service began in 1927 and was abandoned in 1956, as streetcar service in Rochester came to an end. Suburban growth along with population decline in old central city, and the prioritization of new interstate highways, put an end to rapid transit in that city.

Newark was the last city to build a new subway system in an old canal bed. Opened in 1935, the Newark City Subway was built between the Pennsylvania Railroad Station (which now serves Amtrak, NJ Transit commuter trains, and PATH subway trains to New York City) and northwestern suburbs. The City Subway, which operated PCC streetcars until 2001, later became the core of New Jersey Transit’s Newark Light Rail System.


In Rochester, several sections of the abandoned subway remain visible to the public, including both tunnel portals. Stairs leading down from the Broad Street Bridge, which spans the Genesee River and once carried the Erie Canal, allow the general public to get a glimpse of the tunnel (it is also accessible from the Genesee Riverway Trail next to Blue Cross Arena without stairs), and all the graffiti lining the walls.

IMG_7238-001A public walkway from the Genesee Riverway at the Broad Street Bridge allows visitors to get a glimpse of the abandoned Rochester Subway

Election Maps Politics Toronto

Why Doug Ford’s plan for 25 Toronto wards is an attack on local democracy

Ridings and 47 Wards.jpgMap of Doug Ford’s proposed 25 wards and the City Council-approved 47 ward boundaries

Late last week, the newly elected Ontario Progressive Conservative government announced that they would be imposing a new electoral map on the City of Toronto, a decision that would eliminate the new 47 wards approved by Toronto City Council, replacing them with the same 25 boundaries used by the federal and provincial governments.

It’s very clear that Premier Doug Ford’s plan, which requires a new piece of legislation, ironically titled the “Better Local Government Act,” is vindictive and mean-spirited because it only affects the City of Toronto, which rejected Doug Ford’s 2014 mayoral bid. It quashes the hopes of many young, racialized, and progressive candidates looking to change the make up of a council that has generally supported Mayor John Tory’s agenda. It is unfair to candidates that ran in good faith, started campaigns, raised funds, and spent money hiring staff, purchasing materials, and renting campaign offices.

But most of all, Ford’s actions are an attack on local democracy because of the haste with which they are being made, at the end of the nomination period for those approved 47 wards. They ignore the years of study by independent experts and several rounds of public consultations. They also benefit Toronto’s suburban areas, which are growing at a far slower rate than downtown Toronto, North York Centre and Etobicoke’s waterfront area, which will be disproportionately affected by this arbitrary decision.

Each new ward was designed to have an average population of 61,000, with a population range of between 51,800 and 72,000 (+/- 15%). They were designed to last for four election cycles, to be re-drawn before the 2034 election.

It is worth noting that the independent experts looked at using the 25 federal/provincial boundaries twice. In the first study, they were rejected early on because they would not “meet the tests of effective representation.” The federal boundaries, which are also adopted by the province of Ontario, are based on population counts from the 2011 Census, and are already seven years out-of-date, while the consultants were tasked with developing new ward boundaries to last 16 years. Even a 50-ward solution (which mimics the old 44 wards based on the 22 federal ridings that were established in 1996 and came into effect with the 1997 federal election) would result in severe variations in population.

Ridings and 2026 pop variation.jpgHow the 25 ridings, if used for Toronto’s ward boundaries, will vary in population by 2026

After Tory’s Executive Committee tasked the Toronto Ward Boundary Review team to re-examine options that would see fewer than 47 councillors elected in 2018, they re-examined using the 25 ward boundaries. They found that in 2026, three of those wards — Toronto Centre, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and Spadina-Fort York — would have populations over 30% higher than the ward average in 2026. Willowdale and University-Rosedale would also have had much larger populations than the city average.

The review team also looked at a 26-ward option that mostly maintained the riding boundaries but added a new ward downtown out of the Toronto Centre and Spadina-Fort York constituencies and adjusted boundaries in southern Etobicoke. Even then, Etobicoke Centre and Etobicoke-Lakeshore would still have populations over 20% higher than the city-wide average. Despite making some adjustments for population growth, this option would have not have corresponded with some ridings, and was also not recommended.

26 Wards and 2026 pop variation.jpgHow the modified 26 ridings, if used for Toronto’s ward boundaries, would have varied in population in 2026

For those reasons, and to support local representation, the 47-ward solution was once again recommended, and was approved by City Council in November 2016. Councillors Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) and Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7) then appealed the new boundaries to the Ontario Municipal Board, but they were dismissed. The 47-ward solution has survived despite it all.

Mayor Tory may have brought back decorum to the mayor’s office after an embarrassing period under Doug Ford’s brother Rob, but he has pushed an austerity agenda, and has failed to show leadership on police reform, wasteful infrastructure spending, and safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists. His initial reaction, to call for a referendum on Ford’s plan to cut Toronto’s council, was a characteristically weak response; he was later pushed into supporting a legal challenge by an angry public. Meanwhile, some of Tory’s allies, like Di Ciano, David Shiner, and Glenn De Baeremaeker, support Ford’s actions.

Ford’s attack on local democracy is an insult to candidates who have already put their names forward for election and launched their campaigns. It undermines the City of Toronto’s legislated responsibility to decide its own ward boundaries. And it will only exasperate existing disparities in council representation.