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Toronto transit on track, RER/SmartTrack MOU signed

Toronto Transit is finally set for expansion after years of city and provincial officials mulling over the best course of action. For transit users like myself, this is a fantastic day.

Mayor John Tory successfully passed a revised version of his SmartTrack plan—which was initially proposed during his 2014 campaign. Today, Premier Kathleen Wynne joined Mayor Tory at the GO Transit Willowbrook Maintenance Facility in Toronto to formally sign a SmartTrack Memorandum of Understanding that would give the go-ahead for the revised RER/SmartTrack plan.

Mayor Tory spoke today on the issue:

“Today is good news for SmartTrack and Toronto residents. Today’s SmartTrack MOU signing between the City and the Province is a significant milestone in the life of the project. SmartTrack will provide real relief for transit riders and because it uses existing surface rail lines that relief will come much faster than any other project we are building. The City is committed to getting on with building SmartTrack, the Relief Line and every other priority transit project.”

This is a major milestone and this collaboration and expansion means that integrated GO Regional Express Rail and SmartTrack project will add six new stations within the city while also making the system more affordable and convenient for trips in Toronto.

Premier Wynne also announced that the 2018 fiscal plan for the province will allow for the next steps in major projects like the Relief Line Subway, the Yonge North Subway Extension and the Waterfront LRT to move forward.

The MOU outlines that Toronto will fund the construction of the 6 new GO/SmartTrack stations, which are set to be completed by 2025. The stations are as follows: Finch-Kennedy and Lawrence-Kennedy on the Stouffville corridor; Gerrard-Carlaw and East Harbour on the Stouffville/Lakeshore East corridor; and King-Liberty and St. Clair-Old Weston on the Kitchener corridor.

Trips within the city of Toronto are set to cost only $3 per trip when commuters use a PRESTO card—a major perk.

Premier Wynne shared her own thoughts on the MOU signing for the SmartTrack plan:

“The days of waiting years between big transit projects are over. We are building a record amount of infrastructure, and we are not stopping. Under our plan, the province is putting up its share for priority transit projects, such as the Relief Line Subway, the Yonge North Subway Extension and the Waterfront LRT. The SmartTrack MOU we signed shows that we are serious about building tomorrow’s transit solutions today.”

Building this new rapid transit system is not only directly helpful to those needing to get from point A to point B swiftly, but is also welcome in a time of economic change, making travel around this costly city, more affordable for all.

Revised SmartTrack plan a GO

Plans don’t always pan out as expected, and although less sometimes means more, disputes can arise. This is the case with Mayor John Tory’s  initial SmartTrack proposal and the plan which has passed by city council on Wednesday.

 A recent announcement was made by the council confirming an agreement to spend up to $1.46 billion on SmartTrack. The plan put forth is an improved version of the one  Mayor Tory proposed during his 2014 election campaign.

 Federal and municipal governments are collaborating to fund this project. The city will raise $878 million of the total and the remaining $585 million will come from the federal transit fund. There was opposition to funding as some councilors believe that the province should pay instead of the city,  forgetting that the funds all come from the same source-tax dollars residents from across the region pay.

Despite worries of high costs and financing the plan, the decision was made to go forward with SmartTrack in a 37 to 6 vote.

Mayor Tory’s initial plan proposed 22 new stations and a link to Pearson Airport. The new plan will see 6 new stations to be operated by Metrolinx – the provincial transit body that operated regional transit service. The plan fuses SmartTrack’s use of existing GO stations and Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail, and proposes integrated fares.

Mayor John Tory spoke about the much needed transit:

“This is the stage at which we are moving forward to start to build transit stations within the city of Toronto…Other municipalities are not proposing to build stations that the province would not otherwise have built to suit their local needs.”

Mayor Tory has consistently defended the plan noting the  33 million trips estimated on SmartTrack by 2041. The “cheapest transit we’re ever going to get inside the city,” he said.

There is a need for these stations to be built and Toronto municipal leaders are right to move forward with the revised plan put forth by Mayor Tory. Action means results, and as TTC Chair and councillor Josh Colle points out “Toronto has taken too many years off dwelling on the best way to improve the transit system.”

Ontario government announces upcoming fare reductions on public transit

Getting around Toronto with ease is often an impossibility. I’ve used both public transit and driven for over a decade I’ve lived in Toronto. I prefer transit because I feel I’m doing my part to conserve energy.

his past week, Kathleen Wynne  has announced the province is lowering the cost of transit in the province and moving towards regional fare integrations that will link all systems, and make them easier and more convenient to use.

In 2019, the province is slated to reduce the cost of the GO Transit trips to only $3, when a commuter uses a PRESTO card and travels less than 10 kilometres, meaning that all GO Transit trips and those on Union-Pearson Express, within the City of Toronto, will be reduced to $3.

This past week,however, Kathleen Wynne has given me new hope, by announcing the ways that Ontario is seeking to lower the cost of transit in the province and moving towards regional fare integrations to make the linked systems, easier and more convenient to use.

In 2019, the province is slated to reduce the cost of the GO Transit trips to only $3, when a commuter uses a PRESTO card and travels less than 10 kilometres, meaning that all GO Transit trips and those on Union-Pearson Express, within the City of Toronto, will be reduced to $3.

Proceeds gained from Ontario’s cap on pollution will allow fare integration discounts of up to $1.50, for those who travel beyond the city of Toronto, to regions such as York, Durham, Bramptom and Mississauga.

In addition, adult fares for GO Transit trips that are between 10 km and 20 km, will be reduced to between $3 and $6.

Ontario is reportedly investing $21.3 billion to overhaul GO Transit from a commuter system servicing the GTA to a regional rapid transit system.

The decision by the province to make transit more affordable is directly linked to the government’s Climate Change Action Plan, which caps pollution and reinvests the proceeds into those programs that fight climate change.

Previous proceeds from the initiative have gone towards the Line 1 Extension/Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE). The TYSSE is the largest expansion of Toronto’s subway system in nearly 40 years, and will add an estimated 36 million transit trips, as well as eliminate 30 million car trips per year, helping to ease traffic congestion, improve air quality and fight climate change.

Thanks to lower fares, and potentially increased rapid transit in the near future, the hope is that more drivers will opt to cut down on driving time and pollution by jumping on the GO.

Ontario Government Announces Plans To Expand GO Transit

Due to increasing congestion on roadways and expenses of owning a car making public transit a more viable option for commuters, I always take it as welcome news when the government announces its plans for expansion and improvements that will further connect me to outlying regions with greater efficiency.

Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s transportation minister, has said that the provincial government has now set plans to expand GO Transit in Greater Toronto and the Hamilton region.

McGarry has shared the news about the GO Transit expansion while appearing at Union Station on Monday, when she indicated that the government has issued a request to begin selecting companies to initiate the designing, building and financing, in addition to operating and maintaining the GO Regional Express Rail network.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that we are on track to deliver the next stage in GO Transit’s evolution — Regional Express Rail,” McGarry said. This includes new trains, refurbished vehicles, infrastructure for electrifying the entire GO corridor, and improvements such as bridges, tracks and noise walls to make travel seamless. This also includes improvements right here at Union Station to its tracks as well as its platforms to make room for more train service and electrification across the entire network.”

The process is therefore underway, ahead of any contracts being offered for GO Transit expansion. Ontario will issue a request for qualifications.

Six new Toronto Smart Track stations will also be built, and there will be upgrades made to 22 current GO stations that will involve renovations to stations, digital signage and new bus loops.

Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said the request for qualifications is a “big milestone” and the transit projects are “hugely exciting” for the provincial agency. “In many transit jurisdictions, these are the biggest projects out there today,” Verster said. “For our customers, this is really exciting.”

Regional Express Rail is also to include more than 400 projects across 40 municipalities, which is being financed with the city of Toronto.

The project Mayor John Tory initiated during the 2014 municipal election, SmartTrack, will include integrated services via rail on the Stouffville, Lakeshore East and Kitchener GO lines, as well as on the Eglinton West Light Rail Transit extension, between Mount Dennis and Renforth.

Spokesperson for Metrolinx, Anne Marie Aikins, says that this is “another step closer to building the transit people need.”

 

 

GO Transit gets a sustainable and digital revamp

Thursday, the provincial government announced they are taking the next steps in exploring hydrogen-powered trains, or “hydrail” as a more sustainable alternative to electric trains.

A study was released saying it was feasible to build and operated electrified rail service on both GO Transit and the UP Express with hydrogen-powered trains. This change will be a comparable cost to conventional electrification, which uses overhead wiring.

“The potential benefit of hydrogen fuel cells compared to overhead wires makes exploring hydrogen rail technology worthwhile,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Kathryn McGarry. “Our government is taking the next step in assessing how this important technology could work for our own transit system.”

Concept designs are being produced by manufacturers Alstom and Siemens.

What is a hydrogen-powered train? Energy is created when hydrogen, which is stored at the top of the train, is combined with oxygen. That energy is then converted using fuel cells, which charges batteries stored below the train. This creates electricity to run the train. Additionally, extra unused energy is stored in lithium batteries and allows the train to be more efficient because it doesn’t have any waste energy.

The hydrail is considered carbon neutral. because it takes hydrogen already in the environment and re-uses it. Though electrification doesn’t have any carbon output, hydrogen fuel cells are able to provide more flexibility in hard-to-reach places because they don’t require a lot of infrastructure to build, a common issue on train routes.

The first hydrogen-powered passenger train was revealed in December 2017 in Germany.

GO Transit will also be testing wireless Internet on two of their GO trains and four GO busses. While most GO stations and terminals have free Wi-Fi, none of the trains do. That is something Metrolinx, the transit agency responsible for GO Transit, wants to change.

“We are committed to making the entire GO experience even better for people. These enhancements are an example of how we are modernizing GO Transit and enhancing services for people across Ontario,” McGarry said in a statement.

Information will be gathered from commuters about the wireless internet and quality will be examined before it is installed in all trains.

Both of these revitalizations are part of a $21.3 billion investment in GO Transit made by the Ontario government.

-with files from Kaeleigh Phillips

Toronto, take the transit this New Year’s Eve

Be safe this New Year’s Eve and avoid drinking and driving.

Corby Spirit and Wine is sponsoring a night of free transit. Ride the TTC from 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 to 7 a.m. on Jan. 1 for free.

“”New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights for the TTC with more than a quarter million people traveling with us,” said TTC Chair Josh Colle in a statement. “We are pleased to partner with Corby for the fourth year in a row to ensure that our customers can ride for free and get home safe on the TTC as they celebrate the New Year.”

Here is what you need to know:

  • Most routes will continue until 4 a.m. and then start up again around 6 a.m.
  • Blue Night buses will be running until 8 a.m.
  • Last trains will leave Union Station around 3:30 a.m. for Finch Station and Downsview Station
  • New Year’s Day will be Sunday service.
  • PRESTO users do not need to tap their cards when entering the subway or boarding the bus.

You can also use GO Transit and the UP Express for free after 7 p.m., courtesy of Metrolinx.

So, invite your friends for a night of fun in the downtown core of Toronto — and don’t drink and drive!

Public to take part in SmartTrack station consultations

The first public consultation for SmartTrack was held last night in Scarborough. The city, as well as representatives from the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx, was on hand to answer questions and give a quick presentation about the stations that would be built in that neighbourhood.

There will be two other consultations held in the next two days, one at Riverdale Collegiate Institute and the other at New Horizons Tower on Bloor.

The public consultations are the next step into the planning of what James Perttula, Director of Transit and Transportation Planning, called a new, connected “urban transportation system.” He said the stations, which consist of six SmartTrack stations and two new GO stations, will be built in already developed areas so that it is able to effectively connect with hubs throughout the city.

The presentation given to the public will include brief information on the 14-stop SmartTrack plan (and 8-12 stop Eglinton LRT). The city is hoping to provide all-day service along the three rail corridors — Kitchener, Lakeshore East, and Stouffville — with six to 10 minute service during peak hours and 15 minutes during off-peak. Fare integration will be pivotal to the success of SmartTrack.

Over the next week, the city is looking for public input into how these stations can integrate into each neighbourhood. The discussion will be limited to the design of the station rather than location or the SmartTrack plan as a whole.

Each station is specific to a neighbourhood’s needs, but they are also part of a bigger design for Toronto, including the integration into the Relief Line, the Gardiner Expressway revitalization, and Rail Deck Park.

Toronto Mayor John Tory spent Wednesday morning in Leslieville/Riverdale talking to residents about SmartTrack. At a press conference, he said the area would be the best transit-served neighbourhood in the city.

The city will report to council in the spring of 2018 on all elements of SmartTrack, including cost analysis and ridership information. At this moment, the cost estimate is between $700 million and $1.5 billion. The city will only be paying for the six SmartTrack stops as opposed to the GO stations that are included in the overarching plan.

According to Perttula, SmartTrack should be operational as of 2025.

Metrolinx announces discount for GO, UP Express, and TTC riders

Friday morning, Metrolinx announced a 50 per cent discount for transit users who transfer between GO Transit, UP Express, and the TTC using a PRESTO card. The provincial government will subsidize the co-fare in the first step towards “regional fare integration”.

The discount comes up to $1.50 per ride, or half of a TTC fare. This equates to savings of around $720 a year for the regular commuter. The cost to subsidize the discount is about $18 million a year for the province.

The discount is not available for those who download monthly passes on their PRESTO cards.

“Our region needs fare integration,” said Phil Verster, President and CEO of Metrolinx, in a statement. “This discount is an important first step in breaking down barriers to fare integration across the network, making it easier and more convenient to take transit.”

Over 50,000 daily trips include transfers between these three transportation lines — GO, UP Express, and the TTC. The new co-fare system will launch in January 2018 following the opening of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension in December. The subway extension is the first TTC line to cross regional boarders, connecting York University and the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre with the Yonge Line 1 subway.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, joined Verster for the announcement.

“Transit will not be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express, and Go Transit to get around the city,” Tory said. “This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC.”

 

Metrolinx thinks to the future in new transportation plan

Metrolinx is thinking about the future — at least as far as 2041.

The board released their Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at their Sept. 14 meeting, with the intention of gathering feedback over a 90-day public consultation period. The information they get will be considered for use in the final draft, which will be available in December.

By 2041, Metrolinx says over 10 million people will live across the Golden Horseshoe Area. The new transportation plan will move beyond The Big Move.

The report reads: “We need to plan for a future characterized not only by continued population and employment growth, but also by changing demographics (including an aging population), the changing nature of work, new transportation technologies and services, and the impacts of climate change. In short, we cannot stop.”

There are five different aspects of this new transportation plan.

  1. Completing delivery of current regional transit projects: Metrolinx is in the midst of increasing their Rapid Express Rail, working on the Hurontario, Eglinton, Hamilton, and Finch Light Rail Transit, as well as the York VIVA. Delivery is expected by 2025.
  2. Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit: The goal is to create 15-minute all day service so that people can get around the region without delay.
  3. Optimizing the transportation system to make the best possible use of existing and future transit assets: Metrolinx has determined that fares by distance is the most efficient structure. It also wants to ensure that more people take alternative modes of transportation on their way to use the transit system. Their goal will be to increase the number of people who bike, walk, or carpool from 38 per cent to 62-64 per cent.
  4. Integrating land use and transportation: This strategy will help create mobility hubs and new developments, with the goal of intensifying certain areas so that transit becomes more accessible. The designs wil encourage cycling and walking as primary modes of transportation.
  5. Preparing for an uncertain future: The plan encourages a regional approach to transit planning as opposed to municipal or private enterprises. Metrolinx will also continue to study new technologies to help reduce greenhouse gasses.

The public will be able to provide feedback at six regional roundtables prior to the final draft.

Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.