Categories
Intercity Rail Politics Transit

A need for high-speed rail reality (Updated)

IMG_6258-001VIA Rail train at Brampton Station, on the Toronto-Kitchener rail corridor

Updated Friday May 19, 2017:

Today, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the commencement of an Environmental Assessment on bringing high-speed rail to Southwestern Ontario, connecting Toronto and Pearson Airport with Guelph, Kitchener, and London, with Phase II continuing to Windsor, with a potential stop in Chatham.

Former federal Transport Minister David Collenette was assigned to write a report on building the corridor; it is now public on the Ministry of Transportation’s website. It proposes operating speeds up to 250 km/h, making it a true high speed line (though slower than many lines in Europe and East Asia, which have cruising speeds between 270 and 320 km/h). The estimated cost of the project is estimated to be $21-billion, reducing travel times from Toronto to Windsor to a mere two hours.

figure-es-2-proposed-future-southwestern-ontario-passenger-rail-network.jpgProposed High Speed Rail system for Southwestern Ontario

An option for a 300 km/h HSR service was studied, but found to be even more expensive, requiring more dedicated tracks. The 250 km/h option will allow it to use most of the existing Toronto-London and London-Windsor corridors.

For southwestern Ontario, high speed rail could be a boon. Kitchener-Waterloo is a major educational and technological hub; faster and more frequent rail service will benefit university students, tech workers, and other commuters, perhaps those priced out of the Toronto housing market. London’s economy has taken some hits in recent years, so bringing it within commuting distance to Toronto and K-W gives residents there more options.

Between Toronto and Kitchener, the report assumes two off-peak HSR trains an hour, and one GO train every hour, making local stops. It also assumes that GO RER service will continue to terminate at Bramalea, a poor location to terminate regional rail services; Downtown Brampton is one stop away. Building the “missing link” along Highway 407 will allow many more trains to pass through Downtown Brampton, which would allow for local RER trains to be extended to west Brampton, at Mount Pleasant GO. It would be a shame if the HSR plans (which, in principle, I support) pushed aside regional and local needs.

Statford and St. Marys, which are only served by VIA trains (and no intercity coach service) will also have to be considered, as they will be bypassed by HSR. As well, towns and cities elsewhere in southwest Ontario, such as Simcoe, Tillsonburg, Wallaceburg, and St. Thomas, have no bus or rail access. For less than the $15 million pledged for the HSR EA, the province could fund several years’ worth of basic intercity bus service to connect these communities together.

Unless assumptions change, Brampton residents will see twice as many trains speed by their downtown core than stop, which I think is unfortunate. In the original post below, I was worried that high speed rail dreams would distract from more immediate needs. I’m now afraid that I was right.


Original post dated April 26, 2017

When have I heard this one before?

According to CTV News, the provincial government is looking to build a new high-speed rail line between Toronto, Kitchener, and London. The new plan, to be announced next month, is based on the work of former federal Transport Minister David Collenette.

During his time as Transport Minister under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Collenette backed incremental VIA Rail improvements, as well as VIA-FAST, a higher-speed train service between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Those proposed improvements were cancelled when Paul Martin became prime minister; currently VIA is pushing for a revised version of that previous plan. Collenette also pushed hard for a rail link between Toronto Pearson International Airport and Union Station, a fundamentally flawed proposal known as “Blue 22.” That airport rail link proposal was later relaunched as a provincial project and opened as UP Express in 2015.

Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca was not especially clear about the plans for such as high-speed rail service, saying “…there are multiple definitions for high-speed rail depending on what you’re looking at.” Del Duca cited “geographical limitations,” while hoping that the federal government would contribute funds towards the project.

Interestingly, only a week ago, Deputy Minister Deb Matthews (and London MPP) was downplaying the province’s plans, saying the province only promised to study, but not necessarily build, the high-speed rail corridor.

I worry that high-speed rail is a distraction. In Canada, we have an abysmal record of proposing high-speed rail projects, but never following through. Even VIA’s less ambitious plan for dedicated tracks and new equipment to provide more frequent and reliable service, with somewhat faster travel times, is not yet secure.

There is already a Toronto-Kitchener-London service; two VIA trains operate daily in each direction along the entire route, while GO Transit operates more frequent weekday trains to Brampton and four weekday round trips to Kitchener. Before the 1990 Brian Mulroney-era VIA cuts, there were five round trips on this line. In the 1980s, the fastest VIA train between Toronto, Kitchener, and London took 3 hours, 2 minutes; today, the fastest train is 3 hours, 22 minutes.

This Rick Mercer Report video will never get old

All that I want for the Toronto-Kitchener-London corridor in the short-to-medium term is the same as what VIA is proposing between Toronto and Montreal:

  • Dedicated tracks. On the Toronto-Kitchener-London corridor, this means building a new rail corridor, known as “The Missing Link” for freight trains between Halwest (near Bramalea GO Station) and Milton. This new route would divert Canadian National (CN) freight trains that currently pass through Brampton and Georgetown on the Toronto-Chicago mainline. Potentially, Canadian Pacific (CP) trains passing through Toronto and Mississauga could also be diverted, freeing up capacity on GO Transit’s Milton Line. CN freight traffic limits the frequency and speed of GO Transit rail service to Brampton and Kitchener; moving the through freight trains would allow for frequent, electrified, GO RER service beyond Bramalea, as currently proposed. CN is interested in partnering with the province to build this link; CP has not expressed interest.Ibi Missing Link map.jpg
    Map of the “Missing Link” from a 2015 IBI Group report
  • Rail improvements. Between Georgetown and Kitchener, the railway is owned by Metrolinx, and hosts four weekday GO Transit trains in each direction, two daily VIA trains in each direction, and several Goderich-Exeter Railway (GEXR) freight trains. Track is in good shape, but has several slow sections, including a two-kilometre section west of Guelph Central Station where trains crawl at 10 miles an hour (16 km/h).

    Improving rail speeds in central Guelph will be expensive, especially where the railway runs in the middle of residential Kent Street, but it will be worth it.
    Beyond Kitchener, the track is leased and maintained by GEXR, which has allowed the rails to deteriorate. Slow speeds are acceptable by a no-frills short line freight operator, determined to minimize maintenance costs, but not so for passenger rail. VIA trains are consistently late because of the condition of track, especially between Stratford and London. Purchasing the track, installing welded rail, and improving grade crossings will substantially improve reliability and speeds on this corridor.Incremental improvements, such as grade separations, improved signalling, and new passing tracks, would permit frequent, reliable, and faster rail service.
  • A new train fleet. Via Rail’s coaches are nearing the end of their useful lives; among the rolling stock used on the Toronto-Kitchener-London service are HEP-I and HEP-II coaches built in the 1950s and refurbished several times since. GO Transit’s commuter coaches are acceptable for shorter trips, but are uncomfortable for long-distance travel. With the completion of the “Missing Link” and the acquisition of the Kitchener-London rails, it would be possible to electrify the entire corridor. Electric trains benefit from faster acceleration times, especially electric multiple units.

Some of these improvements can be started within the next year, before the 2018 provincial election. If the province wants to show that it’s serious about providing effective rail service to Kitchener and London, there’s no need for another high-speed rail study. Simply continue the work on the “Missing Link,” plan for GO RER to continue west of Bramalea GO, improve the existing rail infrastructure, and acquire the optimal fleet for medium-distance rail services. Once that is complete, planning for even higher speeds, possibly with a new purpose-built alignment, should begin.

Canadians have been teased with high-speed rail proposals that never get anywhere, meanwhile existing rail infrastructure is neglected and intercity services are cut. It’s time to get moving with a sensible plan that can start right now.

Categories
Toronto Transit Urban Planning

Ridership has tripled on UP Express, but we can do even better

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When UP Express — Toronto’s rail link to Toronto Pearson International Airport – -launched on June 6, 2015, the one-way fare between Union Station and Pearson Airport was set at $27.50, or $19.00 with a Presto card. At the time, Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with planning and integrating transportation services in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and the parent agency of GO Transit, expected that ridership would hit 5,000 passengers a day in a year. But after its launch, ridership sunk instead. 

By January 2016, only an average of 1,967 passengers a day rode UP Express, so Metrolinx cleaned house and lowered the fares. The one-way cash fare was reduced from $27.50 to $12, and from $19 to $9 with a Presto card, and fares between Union and Bloor and Weston stations were reduced to match the GO Transit fares for the same trips. Since the new fare structure was introduced, UP Express ridership has more than tripled. By June 2016, the daily average ridership increased to 7,657.

Despite the ridership growth, and the utility of the rail service for local residents near Bloor and Weston Stations, there’s still more that can be done to make the most of the $456 million spent to build the line.

The airport region is a major employment centre, yet is difficult to serve by public transit. Fare integration between UP Express, GO Transit, MiWay and Brampton Transit could be an important a first step in creating a full regional rail network, a concept that Mayor John Tory pitched as “SmartTrack.”

Airport LinksTransit connections at Pearson Airport. UP Express, if it offered fare integration with the TTC, MiWay and Brampton Transit, would be an invaluable part of the Toronto area’s transit network

UP Express’s ridership increase is a good news story. But there’s so much more utility that can be leveraged.

I discuss the UP Express ridership trends further in Torontoist

Categories
Toronto Transit

The many challenges of creating a transit hub at Pearson Airport

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Sign in Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport. Whether we realize it or not, Pearson Airport is already a transit hub. 

Updated April 7, 2016

Lester B. Pearson International Airport is Canada’s busiest airport, handling 41 million passengers a year. It is not the busiest transportation hub in the Greater Toronto Area, though; Union Station is considerably busier (GO Transit alone handles 64.4 million passengers a year at Canada’s busiest station).

Pearson Airport is located almost entirely within the City of Mississauga, but the terminals are less than a kilometre away fromthe City of Toronto’s western boundary; due to the location of the airport terminals, most passengers reaching the airport by road, or transit pass through the City of Toronto to get to it.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), the not-for-profit agency that operates Canada’s busiest airport, has expressed interest in creating a transit hub and guiding transit-oriented development around it. It’s an interesting idea, and some of the facts are compelling.

There are approximately 300,000 jobs located at and near Pearson Airport. The airport itself hosts 40,000 employees that work for the airport authority and its contractors and tenants, including retailers, airlines, and allied services. The remaining 250,000 jobs are located in office parks and industrial areas that surround the airport, in the cities of Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton, a very large area that extends north into Bramalea, west of Hurontario Street and south to Highway 403.

You can read the GTAA’s report, written by the prestigious planning firm Urban Strategies Inc., and named Pearson Connects: A Multi-Modal Platform for Prosperity online as a PDF. The report claims that Pearson Airport and environs has more jobs, and more economic clout than any Canadian downtown, with the exception of Downtown Toronto. To a degree, this is true. But the size of the Airport Employment Zone, as the GTAA defines it, is much larger in size than any downtown, even Toronto’s; the jobs are mostly dispersed in warehouses, factories, and suburban office buildings difficult to reach by transit.

In fact, Pearson Airport and its surrounding area — all 25,600 hectares  (256 square kilometres) — has fewer than 25 employees per hectare, while Downtown Toronto, one-tenth the size, has nearly 200 employees per hectare (and a growing residential population as well). Igor Dragovic calculated these figures from a recent Neptis report. The low employment densities found in business parks and warehouse districts are only partly to blame; the airport itself, with five active runways and a large land buffer, contributes to this.

 

The GTAA wants to build an “airport-related multi-modal hub” that would tie together existing and planned rapid transit services, including the Kitchener RER Service, LRTs on Eglinton and Finch Avenues, the Mississauga Transitway BRT and a proposed Derry Road transit corridor.  It cites airports in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, and Hong Kong as examples to emulate.

GTAA ProposedThe GTAA’s proposal for a transit hub, taken from Page 7 of the report

The report also neglects to recognize that Pearson Airport is already a major transit hub; the problems lie in integrating the existing and proposed transit services together. And for an area the size of the GTAA’s Airport Employment Zone, that’s a very tall order.

Categories
Toronto Transit

The upshot of the new, lower UP Express fares

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Earlier this month, I commented on the poor ridership numbers of UP Express, Metrolinx’s airport rail link between Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and Union Station. I suggested that despite the embarrassing ridership figures, UP Express (UPX) was no white elephant. I argued that instead, the rail service could be a useful transit link for residents of North Etobicoke, Weston, Mount Dennis, and West Toronto.

Later today, Metrolinx’s Board of Directors is expected to approve a major fare reduction for UPX slashing fares by over 50 percent. The Globe and Mail broke the story yesterday; today the Toronto Star has more details.

The one-way cash fare between Union Station and Pearson Airport will drop from $27.50 to $12.00; the fare charged to Presto cards will drop from $19.00 to $9.00. Fares between Union Station, Bloor and Weston will drop to the equivalent GO fares. (The 2016 GO Transit fare from Bloor to Union Station is $5.30, or $4.71 with Presto; from Weston, it is $5.65, or $5.02 with Presto).

The UPX fare between Union Station and Pearson will still be priced at a premium compared to the equivalent GO Transit fare — the cash fare from Union to Malton Station is $7.70, or $6.84 with a Presto card.

Interestingly, before UPX was launched, Metrolinx conducted studies on potential ridership and fares. One study, by Steer Davies Gleave, that some UPX trains might even at capacity by August. You can read Metrolinx’s market research and ridership studies (with some details redacted) here. Obviously, there weren’t enough well-heeled business travellers willing to ride UPX for $27 each, or even enough local residents willing to pay $19 with their Presto card.

This change in pricing makes UPX much more attractive for commuters in the Junction/Junction Triangle neighbourhood, as well as those living in Weston. The lower fares should help increase ridership between Pearson Airport and Union Station as well. It’s a good start, but it isn’t enough.

Last year, I commented on GO Transit’s “fare by distance” structure, which charges disproportionately high fares for short distances, and very inexpensive fares for long commutes.  While GO offers co-fares to suburban transit agencies, it offers no such fare integration with the TTC. GO Transit offers free parking at suburban rail stations, burying the cost of building and maintaining its parking lots into the fares of every passenger, whether they need parking or not.

The charts below show the single ride and Presto fares, per distance travelled in 2016, with the new UPX fares. Per distance travelled, a GO Transit fare to Union Station to Exhibition, Bloor, and Danforth is more expensive than going from Toronto to Pearson Airport via UP Express.
2016CashFares 2016PrestoFares

Metrolinx is in the midst of developing a new fare integration strategy, so hopefully these concerns will be addressed. Once the TTC completely rolls out Presto at all subway stations and on all buses, it will be technically simple to adopt a GO-TTC co-fare, and UPX should be part of this as well. There are tens of thousands of jobs at the airport and in the surrounding offices and industrial parks. With proper fare integration with TTC, Miway and Brampton Transit (all of which serve Terminal 1), UPX could become much more useful to many more commuters.

Lowering UP Express fares is a good start, a welcome acknowledgement that the rosy forecasts of business travellers crowding the airport trains were never reached. But lowering fares isn’t enough: with proper fare integration, UP Express can offer far more utility than simply being an airport rail link.

Categories
Transit

Down is the new UP: Thoughts on dismal UP Express ridership

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At February 10th’s Metrolinx board meeting, there was an update on the Union Pearson (UP) Express ridership. The news isn’t good, as ridership dropped in the last few months, instead of growing according to Metrolinx’s rosy projections.

UP Express launched on Saturday, June 6, 2015, a month prior to the 2015 PanAm/ParapanAm Games. I was one of thousands to ride the train on that inaugural day; thousands of free tickets were given to the public. Nearly 7,000 rides were taken that Saturday, a number that has yet to be surpassed. Metrolinx estimated that UP Express would start off with an average of 3,000 daily riders, and within a year, there would be 5,000 daily riders. While the base one-way fare for UP Express is $27.50, the fare for Presto cardholders is $19.00.

The line chart below shows the projected ridership (increasing weekly towards 5,000 riders by June 2016) and the actual daily ridership. As one can see, the ridership varies by the day of the week, mirroring trends in air passenger traffic. Fridays are generally the busiest day of the week for UP Express, while Saturdays are the quietest.

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After the June 6 launch, the busiest day for UP Express were Sunday, June 16, which coincided with the Honda Indy at Exhibition Place, when 5,673 passengers used the train. There were peaks on Friday, June 19 (3,628 customers), Thursday June 25 (3,077 customers), and on Friday, July 10, when 3,424 riders took UP Express, the day of the opening ceremonies for the Toronto 2015 PanAm Games.

But ridership plateaued after October, which had the highest monthly ridership recorded, at 79,010, which works out to a daily average of 2,548 passengers. The last peak was on Friday, October 19, the day before the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. Nearly 5,000 passengers rode UP Express. Ridership dropped in November and December, a busy travelling season. The daily average ridership dropped to 2,169 in December, a new low, and never was above 3,000 after Friday, October 23. Ridership bottomed out on Christmas Day, when a mere 1,086 rode the train.

MonthlyUPXMetrolinx should be embarrassed by these extremely low ridership figures. UP Express is a semi-autonomous operating division of the provincial transportation agency with its own President, Kathy M. Haley. The agency spent $4.5 million on a contract for branding with Winkreativewhich included special uniforms and even an “in-flight” magazine. The TTC’s 192 Airport Rocket, which has its own dedicated bus fleet, carries 4,700 passengers on an average weekday. The TTC doesn’t have a special operating division or President for that route, even though it carries nearly twice the number of passengers.

For comparison, in 2014 — the last year for which detailed ridership data is available — only twenty-five regular TTC bus routes had a daily weekday ridership that was lower than the UP Express for the months of November and December. The 48 Rathburn Road bus route, a minor feeder route in Etobicoke, carries approximately the same number of people as the airport rail link.

GO Transit’s Richmond Hill corridor — the lowest ridership of GO’s seven rail lines, with only 11 trains daily — had a daily ridership of 10,587 according to GO Transit’s Spring 2015 cordon counts, an average of nearly 1,000 riders per train. UP Express, with 156 trains a day averages just over 15 passengers per train.

The narrative in the local media is that UP Express fares are too high; that ridership will improve if the fares are lowered. Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig claims that “a lack of awareness” is the cause for the low ridership. Given the media hype surrounding the launch, and the improved wayfinding signage at Union Station and Pearson Airport, I don’t think that awareness is the problem.

I also don’t think that lowering UP Express fares, without looking at fare and service integration, is going to be a magic bullet either. Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the announcement that Presto fares were going to be $19 for Presto cardholders, which was slightly less expensive than I expected. Travelling alone, it’s a bargain compared to riding a taxi or limo, especially if your origin or destination is in Toronto’s financial district. . (Connections at Bloor Station and in Weston are less useful.) I live about 15 minutes away from Union Station by foot, and I’ve taken advantage of UP Express. The cars are comfortable, the wi-fi is a nice perk, and the service is fast, friendly, and reliable.

Happily, UP Express isn’t a white elephant. Most of the sunk costs — $456-million — are salvageable, and a rail link to Pearson remains an excellent idea.

I think the answer is making UP Express more of a transit link, useful for residents of North Etobicoke, Weston, Mount Dennis, and West Toronto. The service would be more like Vancouver’s Canada Line; a part of the local transit network, but with a premium on single-ride fares from the airport to recover costs. Metrolinx could start by integrating UP Express with its GO Transit operating division, phasing out the ridiculous branding and separate bureaucracy.

UP Express could even be part of a re-routed “SmartTrack” corridor, where it would make a few additional stop. But most importantly, it would become part of Toronto’s transit system, rather than a boutique airport shuttle service. The rail infrastructure improvements built for UP Express go a long way towards improving GO train service to Bramalea and points west. Hopefully, we get a revised airport rail link somewhat similar to that of Philadelphia, with fares integrated with the TTC and GO Transit. It’s also worth noting that Pearson Airport offers transit connections to GO Transit buses to Richmond Hill and Hamilton, as well as express and local Mississauga and Brampton Transit routes. There’s a need to recognize Pearson Airport’s role as a regional transit hub, not just a hub for Air Canada and WestJet.

But the UP Express fiasco raises other questions. How can we expect Metrolinx to come up with a credible fare integration strategy when it can’t even get GO Transit fares right, never mind the UP Express? Yes, there are many fine people working at Metrolinx, but the UP Express hurts the organization’s credibility.

All that said, I still sometimes feel optimistic about Toronto’s transit progress in recent years. The UP Express, while suffering from poor ridership, is still useful. The Eglinton-Crosstown LRT is underway, and might be extended in both the east and west. The [Downtown] Relief Line subway plan is still a viable project. And despite John Tory’s budget cuts, TTC bus service has been expanded in 2015 and 2016.

Meanwhile, UP Express will be offering free fares this Family Day weekend. It will be interesting to know whether this promotion will increase ridership on the weekend or not.


Thanks to Steve Munro for providing me with a copy of Metrolinx’s ridership numbers for UP Express.

 

Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

A smarter SmartTrack

ST - Before 2016
John Tory’s original SmartTrack plan, shown with the existing TTC Subway and GO Rail networks. 

In Friday’s Globe and Mail, we were treated to a scoop by Oliver Moore, that newspaper’s excellent transportation reporter, on behind-the-scenes revisions to Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack rail transit platform, a topic that I discussed several times in this blog.

Tory’s SmartTrack plan, dreamed up by a private-sector planning firm, was intended to connect office parks in Mississauga and Markham to Downtown Toronto, as well as serve the proposed First Gulf development at the Unilever site near the mouth of the Don River. Tory promised that it would provide relief to Toronto’s overburdened subway system, but that was never the main objective.

I have been aware of rumours that Tory’s SmartTrack plan was going to be walked back due to mounting costs and technical issues of implementing the mayor’s campaign promise. The team that came up with the idea of a U-shaped rail network intended to connect several suburban employment centres with Downtown Toronto overlooked some important details, such as the availability of land along the former Richview Expressway corridor along Eglinton Avenue West. SRRA, the private-sector planning organization that came up with SmartTrack, assumed that the Richview lands were available and owned by the province, but the city owned the land, and sold much of it off for development in 2011 and 2012.

The cost of building the western spur between Mount Dennis and the Airport Corporate Centre was, in all likelihood, found to be prohibitive, though we have yet to find out what the estimated costs for a tunnel along that section. The eastern section, north of Kennedy Station, would have closely paralleled both the Scarborough RT and the proposed extension of the Bloor-Danforth Subway to McCowan Road, a project that Tory also backed.

The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore reports that SmartTrack will cover a much shorter section than the map on John Tory’s 2014 campaign brochures. Frequent rail service will complement existing GO Transit Regional Express Rail (RER) services on the Kitchener and Stouffville Corridors, terminating at Mount Dennis and Kennedy Stations. The Eglinton West section will be covered by the “shovel-ready” Phase II of the Eglinton-Crosstown light rail transit line (ECLRT), which is already under construction east of Mount Dennis. (The provincial government deferred funding for this section of the ECLRT in 2010 for budgetary reasons.) The north-eastern section of SmartTrack, between Kennedy Station and Unionville Station in Markham, will be deferred.

This new plan, which is being finalized and will likely be officially announced later this year, will cost an additional $2-billion to $3.5-billion to the existing plans for RER, in order to facilitate more frequent, subway-like frequencies, as well as complete the western section of the ECLRT.

If Moore’s reporting is accurate (and I have seen maps and other materials that collaborate his report), then Tory will have to eat some crow. Spin doctors will have to figure out how to polish this turd as Tory seeks a second mandate in 2018. It’s also inevitable that the new additional service on this corridor will continue to be branded as “SmartTrack.” But this is the best solution, and maybe this is a sign that Tory is learning on the job.

At the end of the day, what Toronto gets is what Metrolinx’s “Big Move” plan envisioned: upgrades of most GO Transit corridors to RER, as well as Phase II of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT line to Pearson Airport. (The Finch West and Sheppard East LRTs are also approved, but have yet to start construction.) The paired-down SmartTrack plan, if trains are frequent enough, and with attractive transfers with the subway and TTC surface routes, will draw some riders. It could help provide medium-term relief as the [Downtown] Relief Line Subway is studied and built.

New SmartTrack PlanThe new SmartTrack plan, including Phase II of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT

But where I find myself annoyed is when I realize that we wasted over a year on Tory’s campaign slogan without any progress on the Relief Line (which will offer real, long-term relief to the Yonge Subway), the Waterfront West LRT, or other transit priorities such as accessibility at all existing subway stations. I remember during the 2014 election campaign, critics of Tory’s simplistic and flawed SmartTrack plan were dismissed without acknowledging their objections. It’s also worth noting that Tory also adopted rival Olivia Chow’s bus plan, after belittling it during the campaign.

In order to provide fast and reliable transit to the Airport Corporate Centre and Pearson Airport itself, there are opportunities to refine the western section of the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT. The environmental assessment called for 15 stops between Mount Dennis and Pearson Airport, while SmartTrack would have had as few as three stops along the same section. If the ECLRT can be sped up at all, it would be worth considering. I would also be interested in whether the SmartTrack corridor could be integrated with the UP Express rail link, whose ridership started off quite low.

And maybe, just maybe, the high costs of constructing the Scarborough Subway extension will also prompt a rethink, going back to the original LRT replacement and extension plan. As the Spadina Subway extension to York University and Vaughan is now two years late (and yet another $400 million over-budget), maybe there’s an opportunity to get it right there as well. It’s also imperative that proponents of the Relief Line Subway strike now.

I could be giddy with the revelation that Mayor Tory’s signature campaign platform is coming undone, having foreseen the problems with his plan. But I’m not. However, I do take pleasure in knowing that we have a smarter plan in the works.