Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

A sudden drop in transit usage across the Toronto Region

IMG_6299-001Last week, I wrote about how several TTC routes were facing overcrowding, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and a severe drop in system-wide ridership since early March. I shared this analysis on Spacing’s website, and Ben Spurr at the Toronto Star reported more about the story this week.

Though detailed ridership data is not freely accessible, I wanted to see how ridership on the TTC, GO Transit, and other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit agencies was faring. Helpfully, the team behind the Transit app, a trip-planning smartphone tool, made their usage data available to transit agencies, journalists, and data nerds to track transit demand during the pandemic. Although there are some limitations to using this data (more on that later), it’s an excellent metric for tracking transit ridership for dozens of major transit authorities across Canada and the United States, representing nearly every major metropolitan region.

The numbers used to determine transit ridership demand is based on usage of the Transit app. (While Transit is one of several apps that can be used to plan trips, including Metrolinx’s own Triplinx app, Transit is my favourite). Normal usage is defined by Transit as app sessions observed on the same day of the week one year ago, averaged over three weeks and corrected for yearly growth in the corresponding transit agency. Hence, a rapidly-growing system, such as Brampton’s, can be represented accurately by the app.

Data was available for every transit agency in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, apart from paratransit services (e.g. Wheel-Trans, Transhelp, DARTS, etc.) and Milton and Caledon Transit, the smallest fixed-route services. The graph below shows the how the usage of the Transit app fluctuated based upon the expected value, reflected as a percentage.

GTHA Transit app usage from Feb 15 2020
Transit app usage compared to expected for GTHA transit agencies, February 15 to April 6, 2020 (click for larger image)

Note how the actual Transit app usage dropped by over 40% for every transit agency on Monday, February 17, which was Family Day, a provincial holiday in Ontario. Most transit services were operating on a weekend or holiday service, while students and many workers did not take transit. This was likely compared with normal Mondays, hence the one-day drop.

It wasn’t until the second week of March that ridership began to decline as the number of COVID-19 cases began to surge in Canada and the United States, and governments began announcing new measures to reduce the rate of infection. On Thursday March 12, Ontario announced that public schools, scheduled to close for March Break, would stay closed for two additional weeks (the shutdown has since been extended). That day, the National Basketball League suspended the season, followed quickly by all other sports leagues. Employers began to implement contingency measures, such as work-from-home arrangements. By Monday the 16th, all restaurants were closed to sit-down clientele, and most entertainment venues closed.

By the week of March 29, transit demand was down by 75 to 82 percent across the Greater Toronto Area. Although many workers were either laid off or were sent home to work, employees in the healthcare, personal care, logistics, essential retail service (i.e. grocery workers), and food manufacturing industries remained on the job. This is evident in the difference between the demand for the subway (-81%) and the surface network (buses and streetcars, -76%) as they serve very different employment centres. Transit’s numbers are comparable to the TTC’s own ridership estimates.

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Map depicting estimated drops in transit demand for GTHA transit agencies compared to expected use for week of March 29 to April 5, 2020. Data from Transit app.

Brampton Transit had the lowest estimated reduction in demand, at -75%. This could be for the same reasons that several bus routes in Toronto saw crowding despite a system-wide drop in ridership. Brampton’s population is relatively lower-income than many other suburban municipalities in Halton, Peel, and York Regions. Brampton also has many large food processing employers, such as Maple Lodge Farms, and many warehouses and distribution centres, including two major Amazon Fulfillment Centres. Brampton Transit connects to other major manufacturing and logistics employment areas in Mississauga, Vaughan and Toronto, including Pearson Airport.

Oakville Transit had the greatest drop, which can be explained by two factors. The first is that Oakville, is a relatively more affluent municipality, with fewer logistics and food industry employers. Secondly, its bus network is designed entirely to connect with GO Transit’s Lakeshore Line, which feeds Downtown Toronto. Therefore, the ridership dependent on Oakville Transit is more likely to be working from home than Brampton’s.

It must be noted that Transit’s figures are not the same as detailed ridership numbers collected by each transit agency. For example, Metrolinx cited a 90% drop in ridership across the GO Transit train and bus network, compared to Transit’s 79% estimate drop. Nonetheless, Transit’s data is a valuable metric.

With the sudden drop in ridership, there’s also a sudden drop in revenue. While many systems, including Brampton Transit and GO Transit have made service reductions, they have been careful to ensure enough capacity remains to safely meet demand. Every system has also increased vehicle and station cleaning, and most have stopped collecting fares to protect both passengers and operators. Just like laid-off employees, students, and freelance workers, transit too will need a bailout of some kind to rebuild lost ridership and maintain safe and healthy services.

Transit projects such as the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, the new relief transit service for central Toronto (be it the Relief Line or Ontario Line), and GO Transit expansion must go on, as does the progress made in building ridership at suburban systems such as Brampton and Durham Region.

Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

The TTC needs customer buy-in, not a campaign of scolding its passengers

IMG_7472-003Imagine any retail store welcoming its customers the way the Toronto Transit Commission does these days.

This week, at least two TTC streetcars were wrapped with messages promoting the transit agency’s new aggressive anti-fare evasion campaign. Any passenger caught by fare inspectors or special constables without a valid fare is subject to a fine of up to $425.

As a regular, fare-paying passenger, I am sympathetic to the TTC’s need to balance its books — it relies on transit fares for 68 percent of its $2.14 billion operating budget — but the more aggressive fare enforcement program — including advertisements inside vehicles and stations and hiring 50 more fare inspectors in 2020 — is insulting to its customers.

Typically, businesses and public services strive to welcome their clientele and promote themselves to potential new customers. At one time, the TTC even ran television commercials, with a particular focus on promoting off-peak ridership.

Not anymore.

Customer notices on posters and on the PA system are restricted to subway closure notices, reminders about etiquette, and now warnings of $425 fines for not tapping a Presto card. Riders are no longer thanked for using the TTC. Instead, we’re subjected to poor and inconsistent service, streetcar shortages, regular weekend subway closures, fare hikes, and repeals of recent fare integration measures, along with lectures on fare payment.

Other transit and municipal politics writers, including Steve Munro, Matt Elliott, and Ben Spurr have written about the TTC’s push for stricter fare enforcement as well as the problems passengers have when paying, including malfunctioning Presto readers and fare payment machines, and overcrowded vehicles. Fare payment machines do not accept bank notes, debit, or credit cards. Though the TTC estimates that 5.7 percent of all riders engage in fare evasion, the rate on streetcars, where passengers board from all doors and tap or pay on board, is 15.9 percent.

There has been an inconsistent approach to fare enforcement, with inspectors commonly found at streetcar terminals at subway stations. There are reports and credible accusations of racial profiling by fare enforcement officers.

A friendlier and more wholesome approach would be addressing the technical problems, including the reliability of fare machines, and replacing generic Presto cards being used for child fares that other passengers — such as York University Station — are illegitimately using. There should also be a friendlier education campaign, enforcement discretion, and less aggressive behaviour towards customers, would make far more sense. If the TTC is truly interested in “disrupting” negative behaviour, it should adopt a customer service model, and address the distrust towards its officers from racialized and economically marginalized communities.

Putting aside the bad optics of the crackdown on fare evasion, transit ad wraps are an insult to transit riders. Furthermore, they are a detriment to the brand. Toronto’s streetcars are an icon of this great city; this is cheapened by gigantic ads for Starbucks, Sephora, or Scotiabank.

Inside, the large panoramic windows are obscured by perforated vinyl sheeting that is difficult to see out of. Though the vinyl wraps leave a sliver at seat level, the view is obstructed for anyone standing on a crowded vehicle.

IMG_5204-001A typical streetcar advertising wrap

The current 12-year, $324-million contract with Pattison Outdoor brings in a total of $27 million a year. The contract includes interior and exterior transit advertising (traditional placards, posters in stations and vehicles, and wraps). In total, advertising in all forms represents 1.1 percent of the entire TTC budget, with wraps representing a small portion of that. These wraps, commissioned by the TTC itself, are part of the contact.

Messages on the newly wrapped TTC streetcar

The streetcar wraps that scold, rather than welcome, riders are even more of an insult. What message do they send to visitors to Toronto? And what message do they send to potential riders?

Customer buy-in is about so much more than just paying one’s fare. The TTC should realize that.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Transit Walking

Viva Rapidways: hurry up and wait

IMG_6574.JPGA broken system

When York Region Transit was formed in 2001, it promised great things for the large, growing suburban region north of Toronto. It amalgamated four local transit systems, and took over local services provided by GO Transit, and extended service to outlying communities, including Stouffville, King City, and Holland Landing. In 2005, YRT introduced Viva, a series of limited-stop bus routes along major corridors, offering distinct, comfortable buses, off-board fare payment, and signal priority to speed up service.

Since YRT formed, Durham Region amalgamated its municipal transit systems, Brampton introduced Zum, a similar network of limited-stop bus routes, and Mississauga and Toronto rebranded and expanded their express bus routes. For a while, it appeared that York Region was leading the way in growing transit ridership in the suburbs.

Unfortunately, by focusing on building new Rapidways in the median of Yonge Street, Highway 7, and Davis Drive while neglecting service levels, — even cutting back bus service on Viva routes — York Region has fallen behind. I also found that those Rapidways — meant to speed buses through congested arterials — are poorly designed for pedestrians and transit riders.

Categories
Ontario Transit

Going for a ride on the Bolton Bus

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Caledon, a town of 66,000 located northwest of Toronto, is known for charming villages, fall colours, and horse farms. Its most popular landmarks include the waterfall at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, the unique Cheltenham Badlands, and the vast Albion Hills Conservation Area. Much of the municipality lies within Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt protected areas, with lands set aside for farms, estates, parks, and golf. That’s how many Caledonians like it.

Despite its green reputation, Caledon is urbanizing its southeastern quadrant, filling it up with warehouses, truck terminals, and low-density residential subdivisions, all adjacent to the built-up areas of Brampton and Vaughan. Bolton, once a small village, now has a population of 20,000. New subdivisions north of Mayfield Road are indistinguishable from Brampton’s residential development.

Though two GO Transit bus routes ran through Caledon, it had no transit system of its own. This was becoming more of a problem as new warehouses employing thousands of workers opened GO Transit’s buses were scheduled to connect with trains to and from Downtown Toronto, not to serve reverse commuters. Though Brampton Transit operated several routes close to Caledon’s borders, it could not extend north of Mayfield Road without an agreement with the town.

Despite Caledon’s historical resistance to public transit, its attitude slowly changed for the better.

In May 2010, Brampton Transit’s 30 Airport Road bus was extended to the AMB (now Prologis) warehouse complex just north of Mayfield Road. This was done at the request of AMB, though the Town of Caledon had to agree to the request for service.

In 2015, Caledon began to study the need for a local transit system, retaining consultants from Steer Group to evaluate and develop options for new transit services, including routes, operators, and service hours. In April 2019, the report to council recommended starting with a route on Kennedy Road in Mayfield West (contracted by Brampton Transit) and a route connecting employment areas in Bolton with Brampton Transit and YRT at Highways 7 and 50 (contracted to a third party), with a demand-response service within Bolton and an extension of a future Brampton Transit route along Mayfield Road provided within a second phase.

Meanwhile, GO Transit announced the abandonment of Route 38 in June, citing the planned new local transit service as justification for the cut, even though it wasn’t yet setup. Though GO partially restored the service (two daily round trips to Malton GO continue, for now), it remains a short-term solution.

The Mayfield West service — Brampton Transit Route 81 — began in September, connecting with the 502 Züm at Sandalwood Parkway. On Monday, November 11, 2019, the Bolton Route began service, contracted to Voyago. Both routes operate on 30 minute frequencies, weekday peak hours only.

IMG_4900-001.JPGNew Brampton Transit stop on Kennedy Road in Caledon

The two separate agreements don’t work that well for creating a unified transit service.

Though Route 81 and the Bolton Route both have a $4.00 cash fare, the Brampton Transit-contracted service operates on that agency’s fare structure. There’s a discount for Presto card users and a two-hour transfer valid on any other Brampton Transit route. The 80 cent co-fare to and from GO Transit also applies (Route 81 connects with the frequent 502 bus to Downtown Brampton). It’s a good deal for residents in west Caledon.

However, the Voyago-contracted buses serving Bolton are only equipped with a fare box, and only accept $4.00 cash fares. There are no free transfers to or from connecting buses at Highways 7 and 50. (Brampton Transit routes 501 Züm, 1, 23, and 36 connect there, as does YRT route 77. It’s a few minutes’ walk to BT routes 31 and 50.)

Last week, I took the new Bolton bus to get a feel for the new service. The Bolton line operates with two minibuses with twenty seats each and a spot for mobility devices at the rear. Within Bolton, the bus makes a long loop, primarily serving the industrial area in the southwestern quadrant.

I boarded an afternoon bus from Highway 7 at 3:26 PM and rode to Downtown Bolton. I returned on the bus leaving Bolton at 4:30 PM. I was the only passenger each way; I was told by one driver that was typical. By riding the bus, I was able to learn about some of Caledon’s challenges.

Transit options from Caledon council reportCaledon Transit high-priority route options from the April 2019 council report

If the Bolton Line were integrated with York Region Transit and Brampton Transit and made more stops within Brampton. There are several major employers on the Vaughan side of Highway 50, including XPO Logistics, Home Depot, and the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. Additional stops at Major Mackenzie/Coleraine, Rutherford/Castlemore, Trade Valley/Bellechase, and Zenway/Cortrelle would make the bus more accessible and useful to residents and employers. Another stop at Queen Street (Highway 7) and Gore Road would improve connections to Route 50, which serves Humber College.

Those additional stops would likely require a third bus, but the current route struggles to maintain a 60-minute round trip even with the limited stops currently in place. But with fare integration and local service, it could then attract more passengers, defraying the cost of the additional vehicle and operator.

In the long term, it would be good to see more cooperation with Brampton Transit, especially as Brampton continues to develop new subdivisions and industrial lands in the northeast, in the areas bordering Caledon and Vaughan. If GO Transit goes ahead and abandons the remnant of Route 38 an express route between Bolton and Malton GO will still be necessary; ideally, that would would be a partnership between Brampton and Caledon.

Hopefully, Caledon will continue its commitment to building a transit service within its urbanized area. Despite very low ridership at present, the potential is there as population and employment continue to grow. It will take time to tweak the service, improve connections, and build ridership that can count on affordable, reliable transit.

It’s also time for Halton Hills — now the last GTHA municipality without local transit — to step up and follow Caledon’s lead.

Categories
Maps Toronto Transit

A departure from TTC wayfinding improvements

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TTC stops have improved with the addition of route numbers, but this bus stop is deceiving 

In the last few years, the TTC has made significant improvements in its maps, signage, and wayfinding standards. It also introduced new streetcar and subway fleets, retrofitted elevators into older stations (all but one streetcar line and a majority of subway stations are now fully accessible), and opened a new subway extension. Though overcrowding, bunching, and weekend closures continue to be aggravations, it is important to recognize where the TTC has improved.

Specific changes to TTC wayfinding include a new simplified system map, better signage at subway stations, introducing standard signage for diversions, scheduled closures and construction notifications, and revising the classic TTC bus stop.

However, two recent changes represent an unfortunate departure from these improvements.

Categories
Infrastructure Ontario Transit

Ontario’s new ride: ION LRT opens in Kitchener-Waterloo

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On June 21, 2019, Ontario’s first modern light rail transit (LRT) system opened to the public. The launch of ION in Kitchener-Waterloo represents an important milestone for both the region and for the province as a whole: additional light rail systems in Ottawa and Toronto will open in the next few years, while other systems are planned for Hamilton and Mississauga-Brampton.

There are several things that make ION particularly remarkable.

Kitchener-Waterloo’s population is much smaller than other cities that have adopted rail transit in Canada and the United States. In 2016, the combined population of the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo was less than 350,000, making Kitchener-Waterloo the smallest urban area in North America to boast such a system (Waterloo Region, which also includes the City of Cambridge and three rural townships, has a population of nearly 550,000). Kitchener and Waterloo were connected by streetcar until 1946, then by a trolley bus until 1973. Kitchener Transit, then Grand River Transit (GRT) continued to serve the two cities.

Despite the small population, LRT makes sense here, as many of the region’s trip generators line up along a single corridor, including Downtown Kitchener, Uptown Waterloo, the University of Waterloo, several high schools, and the main hospital. It is also within walking distance of Wilfrid Laurier University. ION is also fully integrated with the connecting bus system, which was re-organized in conjunction with the opening of the new LRT to provide more direct routing and better connect with the rail service.

By operating on dedicated corridors and alongside regular traffic, the ION route also demonstrates the flexibility unique to light rail systems. Where it runs on private rights of way, crossings are protected by railway-style lights, bells, and gates. Where it operates in reserved lanes at street level, there are dedicated signals and transit priority at most intersections. This isn’t just a streetcar.

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ION LRT route map, from the GRT website

Torontonians may be forgiven for confusing LRT with traditional streetcars; ION uses Bombardier-built light rail vehicles similar to Toronto’s new low-floor streetcars, and the TTC has marketed streetcars on Spadina Avenue, Queen’s Quay, and St. Clair Avenue as “streetcar rapid transit” before. The difference, though, is that ION LRT stops are spaced further apart than local streetcar stops in Toronto, they take advantage of signal priority, and they partially run off-street.

LRT, of course, fills a wide spectrum. At its slowest and simplest is the typical streetcar, such as Toronto’s legacy street railway, or some of the new streetcars being built in the United States, such as Detroit’s QLine or the Atlanta Streetcar. Streetcars in private right-of-ways, such as on Spadina or St. Clair Avenues in Toronto, provide additional reliability and speed. On the other end are metro-style LRT systems completely separated from traffic, often featuring tunnels or elevated structures. Ottawa’s Confederation Line, once it finally opens, will be an example of LRT built to the highest standards. The Ctrain in Calgary comes close to this standard as well, though trains are forced to crawl through downtown on a congested Seventh Avenue transit mall.

I had the opportunity to ride ION twice in the opening week: the first time, on Monday June 24 (on the way home from a weekend in Stratford) and again with a few friends on Saturday June 29. Trains were consistently packed; GRT reported that over 73,000 passengers rode the LRT during opening weekend.

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ION train at Charles and Benson Streets, wrapping around Oktoberfest headquarters

Operations were not yet perfected. On Saturday June 29, there were noticeable gaps in service, with workers doing switch repairs at the northern terminal at Conestoga Mall. This caused long waits at the northern end of the line. The automatic train control system was disabled, reducing speeds along sections of track where operators had to operate by line-of-sight.

The schedules could also be a little faster, with reduced station dwell times. Trains must also crawl through tight corners in Downtown Kitchener, Uptown Waterloo, and at Haywood Avenue. But it was nice to see transit priority working: trains ran through many intersections without having to stop, and speeds were impressive (up to 70 kilometres per hour) on the off-road sections of track.

1-IMG_2199ION train on Duke Street in Downtown Kitchener

Along the entire corridor, travel times have improved only slightly over the old express bus, the Route 200 iXpress. Between Conestoga and Fairview Park terminals, the scheduled bus time ranged from 45 to 59 minutes, depending on the time of day. The LRT has a consistent 43-minute scheduled travel time between the two terminals. But it still promises to be more reliable.

The greatest improvements in travel time are between University of Waterloo and Conestoga Mall, Uptown Waterloo, and Downtown Kitchener, where travel times have been reduced by 5-7 minutes.

A promised second phase will extend ION LRT south to Cambridge. For now, an express bus serves the planned corridor.

There is certainly room for improvement,  though these at least can be made slowly and incrementally. Hopefully, as passengers and drivers get more used to LRT operations, travel times can be tightened up a bit. But the system will be successful if it attracts more riders (without turning away existing passengers with overcrowding or longer travel times due to transfers from buses), and encourages higher-density, transit-oriented development along the route.

I will return to Kitchener-Waterloo later this summer once ION is “broken in” and the novelty wears out. Offering free fares during the opening week was a nice way to encourage residents to check out the new service, but overcrowding and inexperience were problems.

I am hopeful that ION helps to change local attitudes towards light rail and encourages other mid-sized cities and suburban municipalities to follow Waterloo Region’s example.

1-IMG_2391-001ION train approaching Fairway Terminal. The speed limit on this section of track is 70 km/h.

Categories
Ontario Transit

Mind the gap: as Waterloo’s light rail line opens, other connections close

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ION LRT service will finally commence Friday June 21

Early in 2019, I had the opportunity to take a trip on Wroute, a new service that connected Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington. Wroute was an interesting concept, a privately-operated option with characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tried to fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. Unfortunately, Wroute ended operations on Thursday May 2.

As I wrote in my article for TVO, fares were too high for a regular commuter, costing $20 for a single ride between Guelph and Kitchener, and $28 between Guelph and Aldershot, more than double the equivalent GO Transit fares.

IMG_8407-001Wroute Testla at Guelph Central Station, January 2019

When Waterloo Region celebrates the opening of the ION LRT on June 21, the bus system in Kitchener-Waterloo will be restructured to better connect with the corridor. Despite the improvements within Waterloo Region, links are still needed to surrounding communities. Hamilton and Guelph remain largely disconnected. With a growing employment base in Kitchener-Waterloo, as well large university and college campuses in all four city-regions, filling the gap is more important than ever.

Hopefully this will come done soon.

 

 

Categories
History Transit Travels

The streetcars of Hiroshima: a symbol of resilience

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (A-Bomb Dome), with modern Hiroshima rising beyond. Despite its fame, there’s so much more to the city than the memorials.

My wife and I recently came back from an 18-day trip to Japan. It was my first time visiting the country. We stayed in three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, though we made good use of our Japan Rail Passes and made several day trips as well.

Despite hundreds of years of history, Hiroshima is best known as the city upon which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, in the final weeks of the Second World War. The memorial (originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, but widely known as the A-Bomb Dome) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stands as a reminder of the destructive force and tragedy of modern warfare.

Most tourists to Hiroshima may only visit the Peace Memorial Park and associated memorials, or take a ferry to Miyajima to visit Itsukushima Shrine and its famous floating gate. But what’s remarkable about Hiroshima is the city’s resilience and pride, and there is much more to see, do, and taste. For me, one of those things is the city’s streetcars.

The Hiroshima Electric Railway, known as Hiroden for short, operates Japan’s largest street railway network, as well as many local buses and ferries. While most Japanese cities abandoned their streetcars after the Second World War, Hiroshima made a conscious decision to retain its streetcars; they are a symbol of Hiroshima’s resilience. Though 108 out of Hiroden’s 123 streetcars were damaged or destroyed, seven days after the blast, service resumed on the suburban Miyajima line.

IMG_0264-001Map of the Hiroden streetcar network, with information in Japanese, English, Korean and simplified Chinese

Today, Hiroden operates 271 streetcars, and it has an eclectic fleet. All streetcars are double-ended, and articulated cars operate with both an operator and a conductor. Passengers pay on exit, though customers using a farecard must tap on and off. (The city fare is a flat 180 yen, though an additional fare is charged on the Miyajima Line.)

IMG_0279-001Two newer Hiroden low-floor streetcars pass each other on Aioi-dori. 

Among Hiroden’s assets are two vehicles (#651 and #652) that survived the atomic blast. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hiroshima purchased used streetcars from other cities that were abandoning their systems, including Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, some of which still operate today. New articulated low-floor streetcars augment the streetcar fleet, providing barrier-free transit. A complete description of the Hiroden fleet is available on the local transportation museum’s website.

IMG_0794-001Streetcar #1912 was built in 1957 for Kyoto’s municipal railway. It was acquired by Hiroden when Kyoto abandoned its streetcar system in 1978.

Categories
Infrastructure Intercity Rail Transit

Filling the gap in Southwestern Ontario

9119948871_f1716baa80_oWhile there’s GO train service between Toronto, Guelph, and Kitchener, it’s inadequate for the regions’s transportation demands 

Earlier this year, I took a ride on Wroute, a new service connecting Guelph, Kitchener, and Burlington that has some characteristics of a bus service, a taxi company, and ride-hailing app. With a fleet of Tesla Model X electric SUVs, Wroute tries fill a gap left by GO Transit and other intercity transportation operators in the Guelph-Kitchener/Waterloo-Hamilton Triangle. It’s an interesting concept, but it is not enough to move commuters quickly, reliably, frequently and, most important, affordably.

I spoke with two Kitchener residents — James Bow, author and webmaster of Transit Toronto, and Brian Doucet, Canada Research Chair in cities planning at the University of Waterloo — to find out what the region really needs.

You can read the full article at the TVO website here.

IMG_8407-001.JPGTesla operated by Wroute at Guelph Central Station

Categories
History Infrastructure Transit Travels

Subways don’t always last 100 years

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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.

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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