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 Toronto Transit

Disappearing GO-TTC fare discount a major blow to regional transit in Toronto

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Updated January 22, 2020

The TTC-GO fare discount will officially come to an end on Tuesday March 31, 2020, with the TTC and Metrolinx unable to come to agreement to keep the fare subsidy going without provincial support.

As I argue below, this is a major blow to any hopes for an integrated regional transit system throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Subsidized transfers reduce the need to build expensive parking lots and garages, encourage more passengers to ride transit, especially in off-peak periods, and reduce the potential of major GO Transit expansion projects planned or underway.



Originally published July 12, 2019:

Earlier this week, transit riders learned that the fare discount for connecting between GO Transit and the TTC would soon come to an end.

The provincial Liberal government introduced the discounted double fare in 2017. It reduced the cost of a trip taken on both GO and TTC by $1.50 if the fare was paid on a Presto fare card. For many years, there were discounted transfers between GO and suburban transit agencies, but this was the first time such a discount was offered to TTC passengers.

The Liberals also planned discounts for transferring between suburban bus systems such as York Region Transit and Miway, subsidies that would have been covered by the provincial carbon pricing scheme. This would have reduced the impact of another fare barrier. (A short bus trip across Steeles Avenue costs nearly $7.)

When the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative government was elected, the provincial climate change plan was scrapped, along with those planned fare changes. Now, the province will not renew the $18.5 million annual subsidy for linked GO-TTC fares, though it did introduce free fares for children on GO Transit.

This will especially affect commuters to York University, who previously enjoyed a one-seat ride to the heart of the campus on YRT and GO buses. When the subway extension opened, YRT retreated to terminals north of Steeles Avenue, forcing a transfer to the subway or a long walk across six lanes of traffic and campus parking lots. GO Transit, too, moved to a new terminal at Highway 407, two subway stops from campus. While GO commuters at least saved $3.00 a day with the discounted double fare, YRT commuters got nothing. (Of all the suburban agencies, only Brampton Transit continues to serve the campus.)

This is also a blow to what’s left of SmartTrack, Mayor John Tory’s signature transit plan that was once pitched as “London-style surface rail.” At first, SmartTrack was a 53-kilometre heavy-rail line, mostly piggybacking on existing GO Transit corridors, but including a problematic western branch to the Airport Corporate Centre in Mississauga, all on an integrated TTC fare. Eventually SmartTrack just consisted of more frequent, electric GO service, along with additional station stops and fare integration. This was much more realistic, but it distracted from other needs such as the Relief Line and GO’s own RER regional rail plan.

Lower GO fares for short trips and the TTC-GO fare discount were all part of this scaled-back version; as late as last year, Tory called additional fare integration a “critical component” of his pitch. Eliminating the fare discounts is yet another blow to SmartTrack.

As Jonathan English points out in Urban Toronto, the GO rail network represents “tremendous infrastructure that could greatly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians.” But it lies “letting it lie mostly dormant because we won’t make the comparatively small operating funding investments required to improve the service and make the fares fair.”

The $18.5 million annual cost is a small price to pay for improving transit accessibility and utilization of our existing corridors. Increasing that annual subsidy to reduce the cost of transfers between the TTC , York Region, Brampton, and Mississauga would, too be a worthwhile investment.

Sadly, the current provincial government does not see the value in promoting fairer fare systems, nor regional transit in general. In response to budget cuts, Metrolinx reduced or eliminated service on five GO bus routes last month, and more may be to come. While there may be enthusiasm for building a new “Ontario Line” and a subway extension to Richmond Hill, there’s little regard for the actual transit rider.

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
Infrastructure Transit

Some answered questions about Toronto’s next subway extension (updated)

36354175911_632dc72411_o.jpgYork University Station, August 2017

Updated October 10, 2017

Ten months ago, I wrote about some of the unanswered questions about the Toronto Transit Commission’s Line 1 subway extension to York University and Vaughan. At the time, I was concerned about fare integration once the subway opened, especially if suburban GO, YRT, or Brampton Transit passengers headed to York University were required to make new transfers to the subway at Vaughan Centre or Highway 407 Stations.

We now know the day the six new subway stations will open: Sunday, December 17, 2017. We also know how the TTC, York Region Transit, and Brampton Transit will serve the new extension and York University. And today, we also have some indication of how GO Transit passengers will be affected by the changes.

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How YRT and Brampton Transit will serve the Line 1 subway extension
(from the YRT website)

On Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation Minister Stephen Del Duca will announce a new co-fare between the TTC and Metrolinx services (GO Transit and Union Pearson Express), to take effect in January 2018. (The Star previously reported that the fare change will take place as soon as the subway extension opens.)

Transfers from GO Transit or UPX to the TTC will cost $1.50 for passengers using Presto cards, a 50% reduction from the full adult fare of $3.00. Passengers transferring from the TTC to GO or UPX will get a $1.50 fare discount. It is expected that the new co-fare subsidies will cost the provincial government $18 million a year. The fare discount will not apply to passengers using fare media other than Presto cards, including TTC tokens, Metropasses, or paper one-way tickets or day passes.

These are similar to the co-fares offered between GO Transit and transit agencies outside the City of Toronto, including MiWay, York Region Transit, Brampton Transit, and Hamilton Street Railway. However, these co-fares are generally more generous — ranging from $0.60 in Hamilton to $1.00 in York Region.

There was no news on reducing the fare penalty for transferring between the TTC and connecting local bus systems such as York Region Transit and MiWay.

For many commuters, the new TTC co-fare is great news, and it represents a good first step towards proper fare integration. It helps to make GO Transit more useful for trips within the City of Toronto, and it helps suburban commuters who use the TTC for part of their trip, such as University of Toronto students, who are located too far a walk to Union Station.

(John Tory is also claiming a victory, calling it “a step in the right direction” for his SmartTrack proposal. At this point, “SmartTrack” is little more than a GO/TTC fare agreement and a few new proposed GO stations.)

However, this could also affect York University students as well. Previous plans for the Line 1 subway extension saw GO Transit buses serve the Highway 407 station, requiring a transfer to the subway to get to campus. York University has been long eager to remove the buses from the York Commons area, which GO and the TTC use as their campus terminals.

York Region Transit will continue to operate many bus routes into York’s campus, on the Ian Macdonald Boulevard ring road, and Brampton Transit’s Queen Züm bus route will remain on campus. Their university-bound passengers won’t be required to transfer to the subway and pay an additional fare. But it appears, for now, that GO Transit passengers will have to make a connection, costing $1.50 each way. (This will not be the case for in the short term, see update below.) This will also apply to GO train customers on the Barrie Line who currently use York University Station, if that station closes as planned when the subway connection at Downsview Park opens.

This will be a blow for GO Transit customers who commute to and from York University, accustomed to a one-seat ride direct to campus. But it will be an improvement for GO operations on the Highway 407 corridor, with buses no longer stuck in traffic in the Keele Street and Steeles Avenue area. It will also benefit GO Transit passengers who aren’t headed to York University. Providing good public transit is not be about giving everyone a one-seat ride.

Despite these benefits, if GO Transit serves Highway 407 Station as planned, it will impact many passengers with a new transfer and an additional $3.00 cost per day. I’m curious what GO Transit’s messaging and final plans will be, because they have yet to communicate their new schedules and connections when the subway extension opens. Hopefully, we will learn the answers to the rest of those questions soon.


Update: According to the CBC and Metrolinx’s Anne Marie Aikins, there are now no immediate plans to re-route GO Transit buses from York University. at least in the short term. This is a short-term solution, however, because the Highway 407 station was designed with a large terminal for GO Transit buses, and York University has been vocal about wanting the hundreds of GO and TTC buses a day out of the York Commons area.

I don’t see this as a long-term solution, however. Hopefully Metrolinx and the TTC can figure out how to best serve York University passengers, though that should have been figured out a long time ago. After all, the subway was originally supposed to open by the end of 2015.

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.