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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.

West Toronto Railpath is on its way to being built

Biking through Parkdale and Liberty Village is similar to completing a difficult Olympic marathon challenge, complete with zooming cars, road-crossing pedestrians, and no bike path to be seen.

Luckily, cyclist enthusiasts and the City of Toronto are working on solving the problem — and the West Toronto Railpath is the solution. The goal of the pathway is to keep pedestrians and cyclists off the road, but there remains key challenges to achieving this goal. For example, the objective of the RailPath is to avoid roads. For this to happen, overpasses would have to be built over current rail bridges so that pedestrians could navigate through the limited land availability in a highly congested area. However, the City of Toronto is determined to persevere despite these challenges.

The West Toronto Railpath has been a long-time in the making. The first phase of the project began at Cariboo Ave., just north of Dupont St. to the Dundas St. W overpass and was completed in 2008. It has been a considerable success, and even won the 2011 City of Toronto Urban Design Award. The second portion of the cycling path begins at Dundas St. W. and Sterling Ave. and proceeds along the Kitchener GO rail corridor to Strachan Ave. The third and final phase would connect the bike path to the planned Fort York Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge.

Phase two of the project is moving forward despite challenges and the province of Ontario has recently approved a cycling path along with the expansion of the Dufferin St. Bridge. Metrolinx is expanding the bridge to increase access to GO service and the UP Express, and construction for the West Toronto Railpath will also be included.

So what does this mean for the West Toronto Railpath?

The Dufferin St. Bridge announcement means construction of the RailPath has finally begun! The project has now moved into its next phase: detailed design and implementation. This part of the construction process decides which of the recommended pathways should be chosen. After that, construction commences. The cycling and pedestrian bridge that will be built on the Dufferin St. Bridge is a good start for the next phase of the project. Creating a safe bike path at the intersection of Dufferin and Queen is a difficult task and placing it on top of the bridge solves this problem.

The RailPath currently stands in phase two of its construction, with an Environmental Assessment (EA) successfully completed last year. The study report from the EA was released for public review between Jan. 14 and Feb. 15, 2016. The project will move forward, and recommended alignment options are in place.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the path will be built connecting the Dufferin St. Bridge to Dundas St. W overpass in the Junction, and then through Sudbury St. to Strachan Ave. That being said, the Dufferin St. Bridge is a key area that is needed for the success of the West Toronto Railpath. Though the rest of the cycling path is still in the planning stages, the announcement for the bridge makes this cycling path a reality — and that is exciting indeed.

Ontario raises over $700 million for green transit

Tuesday, the Ontario government announced $750 million in funding (in the form of a green bond) for environmentally friendly, low-carbon infrastructure projects, the majority of which is dedicated to transit in the GHTA.

Proceeds from the bond will help fund eight projects that will improve transit, education, health care, and employment across the province.

“Effectively combating climate change requires smart investments in environmentally friendly infrastructure projects such as improving energy efficiency and building more public transit,” Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, said in a statement. “Green bonds give all Ontarians the opportunity to invest in climate actions that will protect the environment, strengthen the economy and improve everyday life.”

The funding will go to the following projects:

  1. Eglinton Crosstown LRT: $402 million for things like constructing electric powered transit vehicles that produce near-zero emissions.
  2. York VivaNEXT Bus Rapid Transit Expansion: $100 million to improve access to public transit.
  3. Go Transit Regional Express Rail: $200 million to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using electricity instead of diesel in trains. The funds will also be used for LEED gold-level certification for all Regional Express Rail stations and facilities

Green bonds were pioneered by the World Bank in 2008 as a tool to raise capital for projects with environmental benefits. The government guarantees a return for each investor. The maturity date for paying back the bond is also quite slow — Ontario priced a $750 million bond with a maturity date of January 27, 2023.

This is the second green bond Ontario has issued. The first bond was issued on Oct. 2, 2014 in the amount of $500 million.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to issue green bonds.