Categories
Ontario Politics Toronto Transit Walking

The consequences of losing the GO-TTC discount

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When the Toronto subway system was extended by six stops to York University and Vaughan, it marked the first time the TTC’s rapid transit system extended beyond the city’s boundaries. But it also exposed a major failing of the Golden Horseshoe’s transit structure: the complete lack of fare integration.

In 2017, the provincial government announced a new fare discount between the TTC and GO Transit, which operates the region’s commuter rail and bus network. This $1.50 fare discount, available to Presto card users, was funded by the previous Liberal government’s fledgling cap-and-trade carbon pricing scheme, with the promise of further fare adjustments (such as discounts for transferring between the TTC and other suburban transit agencies, such as York Region Transit and Miway) to come.

With the election of the Progressive Conservatives in 2018, the cap-and-trade scheme was cancelled, and with it, the continued funding for the GO-TTC fare discount. That discount is set to come to an end on March 31, 2020. Neither the cash-strapped TTC or Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit and transit planning, will step up to make up the difference.

IMG_7865-001GO Transit buses used to stop right in front of Vari Hall, in the heart of York University’s campus

Though many regular GO rail commuters will feel the impact of the loss of the fare discount, the impact on York University students and staff will be especially felt. That’s because the new subway extension was planned to remove GO Transit buses from the heart of the campus to a purpose-built terminal at a remote new subway station next to Highway 407. I recently wrote about the problematic fare structure on those GO buses serving Highway 407 Station. Now, those commuters going two more stops will pay $6.40 a day in TTC fares on top of those expensive GO fares.

Unless they decide to walk to campus.

On Thursday, March 5, I tried do just that. It was not a pleasant experience.

Highway 407 Station features a large bus terminal for GO Transit and YRT buses, a passenger drop-off and pick-up area, and a commuter lot. But it was not built with pedestrians in mind. That’s understandable. The only places within a few minutes’ walk are Beechwood Cemetery across the street, a warehouse, and the employee entrance to a major UPS parcel centre.

The main — and only authorized — entrance is on the opposite side of Jane Street, facing the passenger drop-off/pick-up area and the parking lot. It is quite clear in the design that most passengers would be transferring between bus and subway, perhaps with the idea that the fare boundary issue would be resolved by the time the station was open.

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Jane Street, with the entrance to Highway 407 on the right, and Beechwood Cemetery on the left

The vertical circulation prioritizes bus-subway connections. At the bus platform level, I spotted a sign that said “to street, subway” leading to a downwards escalator. But it led me past the mezzanine level straight to the subway fare gates. I had to climb halfway up to get to the entrance doors.

IMG_7848-001The stained glass at Highway 407 glows in the late afternoon sun. But it doesn’t take away from a poor user experience.

Once outside, I noted that the pedestrian path between the parking lot and the passenger waiting area was completely covered by a giant dirty snow pile. It’s clear that pedestrians are not welcome here.

Snow left on the only legal sidewalk leading out of Highway 407 Station

The circuitous route is designed to keep pedestrians out of the way of the buses entering and exiting the station. But I was left wondering why a shorter, direct, and snow-free route was not designed into the station plan at the beginning. It would have cut a few minutes from my efforts in leaving the station.

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Pedestrians are barred from the more direct route into the station, even though the bus terminal is not a TTC fare-paid area.

Eventually, I made it to Jane Street, and began walking south towards Steeles Avenue and campus. The narrow sidewalk hugs Jane Street, and right into a splash zone under the CN Railway underpass.

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An unpleasant walk along Jane Street

After twenty-seven minutes, I made it to Pioneer Village Station, which was designed with two separate bus terminals. YRT buses use the smaller bus loop on the north side of Steeles Avenue, outside the fare-paid area. TTC buses use a larger terminal south of Steeles Avenue, on the York University lands. YRT passengers headed to campus must cross Steeles Avenue at grade as the mezzanine level underneath is fully within the TTC fare paid zone. Technically, one could transfer from GO to the YRT 20 Jane bus at Highway 407 Station (with a Presto card, it would cost only $1 each way with the YRT-GO co-fare). But it would still only get you part of the way to campus.

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After 35 minutes, I made it from the GO bus platform at Highway 407 Station to the Life Sciences Building at York University, on the northwest corner of the central campus, with another 5-10 minutes to major buildings such as Vari Hall or Scott Library. This was at a relatively quick pace (I’m an able-bodied thirty-something man), in quite pleasant weather. A rainy or bitterly cold day would be quite a different matter. Therefore, most will be forced to pay $3.20 each way (the current TTC Presto fare).

The subway, with the major GO and YRT terminals off campus, was designed for a new fare structure where students and university staff wouldn’t be penalized for having to transfer one or two subway stops to get to the middle of campus. The most we got was a fare discount for GO Transit riders, with nothing for YRT commuters. (Only Brampton Transit continues to directly serve York University.) And now that meagre fare concession is going away, because no one wants to pay for it.

Sadly, this is just further evidence of how we get transit so wrong in the Golden Horseshoe, despite it being the country’s economic heartland.


Transit advocacy group TTC Riders, along with allies at York University, have been calling on Queen’s Park to continue to fund the fare discount. You can find out more here.

I also expect that the opposition New Democrats will submit a motion in the legislature to maintain funding for the discount next week. I’ll update this post as necessary.

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
History Transit

Suburban Toronto’s transit past and future on north Yonge Street

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Stop 17 shelter in Thornhill

On Yonge Street in Thornhill, a small green hut sits beside the busy roadway at the entrance to Cricklewood Park. On the side of the small building, a wood sign says “Stop 17.” Hundreds of buses and thousands of cars pass by this hut daily, yet few may know about the transit history it represents.

Stop 17 was a stop on the Toronto & York Radial Railway line that extended north from a terminal at Toronto’s city limits at Yonge Street and Glen Echo Avenue (now the location of a Loblaws supermarket) all the way to Sutton, via Richmond Hill and Newmarket. Electric radial service to Thornhill and Richmond Hill began in 1897. By 1908, radial service reached Lake Simcoe.

Stop 17 was one of two stops in Thornhill, located at the present-day intersection of Yonge Street and Royal Orchard Boulevard. The TTC, the eventual owner of most of Toronto’s radial lines, closed the Lake Simcoe route in 1930. Soon afterwards, the wooden shelter was moved to a nearby golf club, where it served as a snack bar and rain shelter. (The radial line was resurrected in late 1930 as a suburban streetcar service to Richmond Hill until 1948.)

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Yonge Street looking south in Thornhill, September 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 441.

In November 2000, the Stop 17 shelter was moved back to Yonge Street and restored. It stands as a historical building in Thornhill, and as a monument to early suburban transit in Greater Toronto. Only a few other structures exist from the radial railway era including the Newmarket Radial Arch, the footings of a Toronto Suburban Railway trestle over the Humber River, and a radial power station in Guelph.

There was another Stop 17, on the Scarboro Radial Line between Toronto and West Hill.  By coincidence, it is also memorialized in the name of a variety store (Stop 17 Variety), which also sports a mural depicting a T&Y radial car stopped in front of the Scarborough High School (now R.H. King Academy).

Stop 17 VarietyStop 17 Variety on Kingston Road at St. Clair Avenue in Scarborough

Nearby the Stop 17 shelter in Thornhill, I noticed several markings in the sidewalk. After a closer look, I noticed that they were survey markers, indicating a location where holes were drilled for preliminary core samples for the planned Yonge North Subway Extension from Finch Station to Richmond Hill.

One day, the subway will be extended north into York Region, a sensible project given the ridership potential, especially as Yonge Street sees urban intensification through Thornhill and Richmond Hill. The City of Toronto has been resistant to the extension, as the Yonge Subway is already operating over capacity, with a relief subway required to handle the loads.

The politics of subway building aside, it is fascinating to find the history and future of Toronto’s suburban transit in such close proximity.

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Sidewalk markings on Yonge Street

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“TTC YSE” marker

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

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

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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.

Categories
Infrastructure Toronto Transit Urban Planning

New TTC subway stations have great architecture, but they may not attract enough riders

IMG_4071-001.JPGVaughan Metropolitan Centre Station

On Saturday, October 28, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) held open houses at three of the six new subway stations set to open on December 17, 2017 when the Line 1 subway is extended to York University and Vaughan. It was a fun afternoon with friends, checking out the architecture and the layout of Vaughan Metropolitan Centre,* Highway 407, and Pioneer Village Stations.

Some of the station architecture was stunning, and I came away feeling much less skeptical about Vaughan’s commitment to building a new urban district around its station. Most stations along the subway corridor will be well-used. However, I remain critical about the issue of transfers between transit agencies, and the usefulness of at least one station.

Categories
Urban Planning

We came for the cow, but we had no reason to linger in Cathedraltown

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Last weekend, a few of us visited Cathedraltown, a newer subdivision near Highway 404 and Elgin Mills Road in northern Markham. We came to see ‘Brookview Tony Charity,’ a new chrome sculpture of a prize-winning dairy cow that was once the pride of a hobby farm that was on the site before it was developed. The metallic bovine made the news as local residents opposed the sculpture, located in an otherwise empty and unremarkable Cathedraltown parkette.

One homeowner objected as the cow, raised on stilts and wearing a prize garland, faced the nearby cathedral, likening it to the golden calf from The Ten Commandments: “I come from a Christian background and this is actually one of the worst things you can do, is to raise a calf; it’s facing the cathedral.”

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Ironically, the NIMBY rage only drew attention to the statue; later that week, it became a local tourist attraction. On Saturday, my wife, a good friend, and I went up to Markham to have a look at it ourselves.


Cathedraltown

Markham, on Toronto’s northern boundary, isn’t simply a cookie-cutter 905 suburb. The city of over 325,000 people is known for its high-technology sector, Pacific Mall and many other Chinese-Canadian shopping districts, and several heritage districts. The historic settlements of Unionville and Markham are well-preserved and vital, with interesting shops and restaurants. North of the old village of Markham, Markham Heritage Estates is a surreal subdivision dedicated to preserving old houses that would otherwise be demolished; it looks a little bit like a Tim Burton movie set.

In recent years, Markham has tried to urbanize some of its suburban landscape. Highway 7 is lined with midrise condominium towers and office buildings. Cornell, on Markham’s eastern edge, was Canada’s first “new urbanist” subdivision, intended to promote a less car-dependent lifestyle with higher densities, local retail and mixed use development, and street-focused parks. The new Downtown Markham development, a work in progress, is a mix of office, higher-density residential, retail, and institutional development near GO Transit’s Stouffville corridor and a new VIVA bus rapid transit line.

And then there’s Cathedraltown. Like Cornell, it’s a “new urbanist” development; it even has a main street lined with storefront. But it doesn’t quite work, at least not yet.

IMG_1251-001A mostly empty Cathedral High Street

Cathedraltown was the idea of Stephen Roman, who made a fortune in mining and had a a farm on Woodbine Avenue in Markham to build upon. The new community, on a family owned hobby farm, would have a spectacular new Slovak-Catholic cathedral as its centrepiece, with houses, parks, and stores surrounding the landmark. Stephen Roman’s daughter, Helen Roman Barber, took over the development in 1988.  The church — which remains incomplete — was opened for a while, but the building was the subject of a dispute between the development company and religious leadership and was closed from 2006 through 2016.

Meanwhile, the residential community was slowly built around the Cathedral in the last ten years.

 

IMG_1242-001A “no trespassing” sign still stands outside the recently re-opened Cathedral of the Transfiguration

Like other “new urbanist” developments, the garages and service areas are found not on the residential streets themselves, but in back alleys. Parkettes and playgrounds face the street, rather than behind houses. Dwellings are built close together, for higher densities than traditional suburban tract housing. There are townhouses, as well as semi-detached and fully detached homes, as well as some low-rise condominium apartments.

There’s a Main Street, which is called Cathedral High Street. It is lined with storefronts, but many are empty. Those that are occupied host dental offices, real estate agents, an insurance broker, beauty and nail salons, and after-school tutoring companies. Only one store, a nail salon, was visibly open on our visit on a Saturday afternoon.

A few thousand more residents might help. Building the retail along Woodbine Avenue itself, which gets far more traffic, might have also helped support sustainable retail. Nearby, however, is a pedestrian-unfriendly plaza on Major Mackenzie Drive that’s fully leased, anchored by banks, a Canadian Tire, a Shoppers Drug Mart, Starbucks, and Boston Pizza.

IMG_1253-001Storefronts on Cathedral High Street…

IMG_5598.JPGWhile a nearby auto-centric plaza is busy

Despite its new urbanist ideals, Cathedraltown is as auto-dependent as any other suburb. Only two bus routes serve the centre of the development: York Region Transit bus routes 24 and 80. Route 24, which goes to the TTC Don Mills Subway Station, operates every 51 minutes on Saturdays, and only until about 6:30 at night (Sunday service is similar; weekday service is slightly better). Route 80, which goes west to Yonge Street, operates every 45 minutes on weekends, until about 8:00 or 9:00 PM. Getting to GO Transit trains requires a car or a YRT bus ride involving a transfer between two infrequent routes.

IMG_1254-001Empty streetscape on a sunny Saturday afternoon

Without transit, and without places to walk to (apart from a church, a few parks, and an elementary school), the ideals of new urbanism aren’t matched by reality. Unless things change drastically, it will still be a place where residents will get in their cars to go anywhere. Better transit could be a start, but so would adding more people, and jobs.

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Maybe one day, this community will be completed

Categories
Infrastructure Transit Urban Planning

GO Transit’s 404 Error?

IMG_8969-001GO Train at Gormley Station

Previously on this blog, I wrote about how new public institutions like hospitals and university campuses are built in isolated, auto-dependent areas without regard to provincial land use policies. In St. Catharines, a new modern hospital on the city’s western outskirts replaced two urban sites, despite available opportunities that would be more accessible to at-need populations. In Orillia, Lakehead University built its campus on the edge of that small city, far from other institutions or its charming downtown core. Similar decisions are being made for new hospitals and university campuses in Niagara Falls, Windsor, and Milton.

But Metrolinx and GO Transit, its regional transit subsidiary, often fail too to meet the provincial goals of intensification of urban centres and major transit nodes, containing urban sprawl, and promoting sustainable transportation. In Downtown Brampton, an anchor mobility hub, Metrolinx plans to build a new surface parking lot — demolishing several houses and two office buildings in the process — to satisfy commuters’ demands for free parking.

This failure is especially evident on the newly extended Richmond Hill Line, where one new station — Gormley — opened late last year, and another — Bloomington — is now under construction. Both stations do not support any evident land use policy (both are located on the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine); they continue GO Transit’s heritage of building stations that serve car owners, but remain largely inaccessible to pedestrians, cyclists, or local transit users.

I recently took the train north to Gormley to inform my critique of GO Transit’s new stations. I came away even more disappointed than I had expected.

Categories
Transit Urban Planning

Thoughts on Newmarket’s new Rapidway (updated)

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Updated January 4 2017

Effective Sunday, January 8, York Region Transit will impose new service cuts on several of its routes, including Viva Yellow, which I describe below. One bus will be removed from the route, reducing headways from every 15 minutes to every 22 minutes. Service after 10:30PM-11:00PM will also be eliminated.

One wonders why, on one hand, there’s money to be hand to build fancy new bus infrastructure when there’s no willingness to fund transit that would make such capital expenditures useful.

As York Region gets set to welcome the Spadina Subway extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre [sigh] and continues to lobby for a Yonge Subway extension to Richmond Hill, it’s worth questioning whether York Region is really committed to operating a quality transit service, and if it is serious about reducing its dependence on the single-occupant automobile.


Original post, dated June 24, 2016

In September, 2013, I wrote a post in Spacing Toronto called “York Region’s Rapidways: the good, the bad and the ugly.” I went out to Markham to ride the first of York Region’s VivaNext Rapidways. With the recent opening of a similar Rapidway in Newmarket, and a new Viva Route on Davis Drive, I made a trip north a few weeks ago to check it out.

Viva is the brand used by York Region Transit for its network of limited-stop, proof-of-payment bus routes. When first launched in September, 2005, Viva was strictly a “BRT-lite” operation. Unlike regular YRT routes, the buses are fancier and more comfortable, the stops less frequent, and to speed up service, Viva operates on a proof-of-payment system where fares are purchased in advance from machines at Viva stops. and limited stops. A decade ago, all Viva corridors were supposed to be served by buses operating every 15 minutes or better, 7 days a week.

But a few years later, the cutbacks began to happen as York Region reduced funding for transit operations. Viva Green, connecting Markham to the TTC’s Don Mills Station, became a rush hour only route. Viva Orange, connecting Vaughan to Downsview Subway via York University was cut back as well and now only operates every 30 minutes outside of rush hour. Even Viva Purple (York University – Markham) had its operating times cut back. Worse yet, YRT reduced service on connecting conventional bus routes that feed the Viva system.

But while the region was reducing its spending on transit operations and raising fares, it was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on VivaNext, the region’s rapid transit plan. The plan calls for separated median right-of-ways on Highway 7, Yonge Street and Davis Drive, known as Rapidways, as well as two TTC subway extensions. York Region lobbied for, and got, a subway extension to Highway 7 in Vaughan which will open next year; it has also lobbied for an extension to the Yonge Subway from Finch Station to Richmond Hill. York Region, with its political clout, may just get that too.

Spending billions of dollars on building transit, without properly funding the services that use and feed into that fancy new infrastructure is a problem. This is what’s wrong with York Region Transit. 

Categories
Brampton Transit

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.

Categories
Toronto Transit

On transit ridership in the GTHA

Earlier this week, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) released its agenda for the next board meeting, to be held on March 23. Among the items to be discussed are updates on the delayed Line 1 subway extension to York University and Vaughan, plans for the Line 2 subway extension to Scarborough Centre, the new MiWay/GO Transit terminal at Kipling Station, the planned new 514 Cherry streetcar line and other Waterfront bus improvements, and a ridership update.

As always, Steve Munro is on top of it all, and I encourage you to read his post.

I wanted to make a few observations about ridership, especially in Toronto’s suburbs. Growth in the TTC’s ridership has slowed down in the last three years, from a 2.1% annual increase in 2013, to a much more modest 0.5% increase in 2015.

Ridership figures are not detailed enough to know at what times of the day ridership is changing, nor on what routes. But ridership growth has fallen (or even declined) for other major Canadian transit systems, including Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa. There are many causes for changes to ridership — population and employment growth or decline, fare increases, service improvements or cuts, even the cost of gas, which has been declining in the last two years. Much of the employment growth within the City of Toronto has been in the downtown core, but so has the population growth due to new residential highrises. (I’m one of thousands who live and work in or near the downtown core — my TTC use is now mostly during the evenings and weekends as I mostly walk to work).

Hopefully, the Commission and the city don’t use this short-term trend as  an excuse to hold back on needed service improvements or projects such as the Relief Line — for one thing, many buses, streetcars and subway trains are already overcapacity, and it is impossible to know whether slower ridership increases represent a long-term trend, or a short-term blip.

There was one table in the TTC ridership update that caught my attention. The table, on page 5, shows the ridership for every Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit system (though excluding Milton Transit). I reproduced that table below.

Ridership

GTHA transit agency annual growth rates, 2013 to 2015. Adapted from TTC 2016 Ridership Update, page 5.

While the TTC’s ridership growth has slowed, ridership in many suburban municipalities have either flatlined or declined. Only Mississauga and Brampton show consistent, positive growth over the last three years. MiWay, previously known as Mississauga Transit, hasn’t expanded transit operations that much in the last few years, but that city continues to enjoy modest employment growth and improved connections to the airport, Brampton Transit and the TTC. It is currently building a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line, the Mississauga Transitway (more on that in a later post), and city council is backing the Hurontario LRT line, which would largely replace bus service on its busiest corridor.

Brampton’s growth has been, by far, the most impressive. That suburban municipality is growing thanks mostly due to new sprawling subdivisions, but since in the last decade, Brampton Transit has been introducing annual system improvements, including the Zum “BRT-lite” network of limited-stop bus routes. Brampton’s ridership is now almost that of the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR). Unlike Hamilton, Brampton doesn’t have two major post-secondary educational institutions, nor a dense urban core, though it serves Humber College, York University, and two secondary Sheridan College campuses in Brampton and Misssissauga.

In Hamilton, ridership dropped by 1.8% in 2015. Most ridership in Hamilton is concentrated in the lower city, as well as a few trip generators in the suburbs, including Mohawk Collage on the Mountain, and Lime Ridge Mall. Many parts of the lower city have been hit hard by job losses in that city’s major industries, though new subdivisions (and, to a lesser extent, downtown gentrificaton) have contributed to modest population growth. Hamilton is going ahead with a provincially-funded east-west light rail line that will connect McMaster University, Downtown Hamilton, and the east end.

Elsewhere, transit ridership growth has been quite disappointing. Burlington Transit saw a drastic 13.3% decline over the last three years, Durham Region, which I recently visited, saw a major decrease in 2015. However, there is lots of promise in its five-year service strategies, which will improve and simplify the agency’s route structure and provide enhanced service.

2015 Ridership
2015 ridership for GTHA transit agencies (Milton excluded). The TTC, with narly 75% of the region’s ridership total, dominates. GO Transit holds another 9%. 

York Region Transit, serving a population of 1.2 million, has only 1 million annual riders more than Brampton, whose population is nearly half of York’s. And despite adding new subdivisions (and a few new residential towers), ridership declined in the last two years. As illustrated in the table below, YRT’s ridership per capita is less than half of Hamilton’s or Mississauga’s.

YRT Ridership StatsComparing York Region Transit to other Canadian transit systems, 2013. From the VRT/Viva 5 year service plan, page 7. 

It’s interesting that despite poor transit ridership (amid York Region Council-mandated service cuts and steep fare hikes) York Region, with senior government assistance, is spending $1.4 billion on dedicated median busways on Highway 7, Yonge Street and Davis Drive. York Region will get the Spadina subway extension in 2017, and it pines for an extension of the over-burdened Yonge Subway to Richmond Hill Centre.

In York Region, there’s a troubling disconnect between spending money on capital projects and funding the services that will use the shiny new infrastructure, or feed ridership to it. Brampton has proven that growing service, not necessarily fancy infrastructure, will grow ridership. That said, it remains disappointing that the suburban municipality with the best record for ridership growth in the Toronto region rejected a funded light rail transit line to its downtown core.