Tag

SmartTrack

Browsing

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.”

Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension opens this weekend

It’s finally here! The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) will open on Sunday, connecting the City of Toronto to Vaughan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday for the $3.18 billion, 8.6 kilometre, subway extension.

“This opening is another example of all levels of government working together cooperatively to deliver billions of dollars in transit infrastructure and our ongoing commitment to getting Toronto moving,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

The TYSSE will be the first Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) route that crosses municipal boundaries, connecting Toronto and the Region of York. Each station has been specifically designed to integrate into each different neighbourhood. Pioneer Village’s station includes high columns with a green roof and a number of environmentally-friendly additions. Highway 407’s station has a beautiful stain-glass and the York University Campus station is sleek, modern, and pedestrian-friendly.

It is also the first subway route to be completed under the new “motherlode” transit network. The line has been highly anticipated by students who attend York University, as well as those who work near Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Highway 407. Torontonians will also now be able to access more affordable housing options, as well as Canada’s Wonderland, without having to take a specialized VIA bus.

“The opening of the Toronto-York subway extension is the single greatest transit achievement for this region in my lifetime,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, in a statement. “Thousands of Vaughan residents and York University students now have a world-class rapid transit option to get them where they need to go faster and more efficiently. Today’s celebration clearly indicates what we can achieve when all levels of government work towards one common goal — building more transit.”

It will be interesting to see how this extension will impact Line 1 without a relief line in place. With the completion of the TYSSE, and the hopeful completion of SmartTrack by 2024, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity by 2031, unable to carry new riders. The relief line must be in place by the time SmartTrack is completed in order to accommodate the increase in commuters who are all connecting to Line 1 in order to get downtown.

Most subway cars should have updated their maps already, including the lights indicating when the car arrives at a station. Check them out the next time you jump on transit!

Will you be taking the TYSSE this weekend? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

SmartTrack could be operational by 2024

Toronto’s Executive Committee will discuss and debate the concepts for the SmartTrack stations next week.

SmartTrack will use existing rail to shuttle residents from the further neighbourhoods and areas of the Greater Toronto Area into the downtown core for the cost of a TTC fare. There will be 14 stations built and trains will run every six to 10 minutes. The plan also includes an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown from Mount Dennis to Pearson Airport with an approximate additional 10 stations.

“The people of Toronto want choice and convenience when it comes to their commute. SmartTrack takes the concept of local rail travel to a whole new level,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “SmartTrack is an important part of the city’s transit network plan that also includes the relief line, the Eglinton East LRT and waterfront transit.”

The executive committee will review the concepts for stations at St. Clair-Old Weston, King-Liberty, East Harbour, Gerrard-Carlaw, Lawrence-Kennedy, and Finch-Kennedy. Each station has been designed to serve the specific neighbourhood, with King-Liberty station including strong connections for pedestrians and cyclists, East Harbour station integrating with a high-employment area, and Gerrard-Carlaw optimizing connections with the planned Relief Line station.

City staff are also requesting that Metrolinx, a provincial transportation agency, consider pedestrian and cycling pathways when connecting GO corridors to Bloor St. and that they work in partnership with the city to push forward the Spadina-Front GO Regional Express Rail station and the Rail Deck Park proposal. The Rail Deck Park will also be discussed next Tuesday, with city staff recommending council move forward and that all rail projects should keep the park in mind during design.

“Rail Deck Park will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley,” the report reads. “The proposed decking structure will support a fully functional park that, at full build-out, will comprise a total area of approximately 8.3 hectares or 20 acres, excluding the Metrolinx property at the corner of Front Street and Spadina Avenue.”

The cost estimation is $1.665 billion.

If these reports are approved, they will be sent to city council in December. Metrolinx estimates that service along SmartTrack will be available in 2024.

Is the Relief Line finally spurring forward?

Earlier this week, Toronto Mayor John Tory reaffirmed his commitment and support of the Yonge Relief Line. He affirmed his support while at a conference hosted by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships to a crowd of investors, builders, and designers. This transit line has been labelled a priority by not only the mayor, but also city staff and transit experts.

City staff have already said that Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031. In the meantime, further transit lines are being built — the Eglinton Crosstown, the Yonge-Sheppard Subway Extension, and elements of SmartTrack. And these are only the city initiatives. The province is also planning to build high-speed rail connecting Windsor and Toronto. The problem is that all of these lines funnel transit riders towards the downtown core. Without a relief line in place, Toronto’s Line 1 will be packed to the brim. It’s becoming more and more important to get the relief line built — and yet decision-making is moving at a slow pace.

Council has approved the alignment of the southern end of the relief line, connecting the Bloor-Danforth line with the downtown core via Carlaw Ave.

Toronto’s relationship with the province has been rocky since Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne refused to allow the city to collect funds using tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express, but it seems to finally be levelling out. Mayor Tory is having regular meetings with the provincial government, and seems to believe that funding is not as much of a problem as it once was. This is good news, and hopefully means the relief line can progress more quickly.

Toronto received $120 million from the federal government to fund infrastructure like the relief line, but it is at risk of losing the money because there is a time stamp attached. This means that if city staff don’t use the money by 2018, the federal government could take it away. Considering how long it takes for council to make decisions, especially when it comes to spending money on transit, this deadline is not realistic.

Mayor Tory has requested an extension of that deadline, but no answer has come. About $2.7 million of that money was earmarked to study the relief line.

Following the approval of the alignment for the relief line, city staff have begun to conduct a Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP), which includes advancing planning and design

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.

Who’s promising what for the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory knows what the city needs and is not afraid to fight for it. Tuesday, in what may be a last desperate attempt to prove to the current provincial government he is not to be trifled with, Tory announced that he would remove his support for the Yonge North Subway Extension unless Ontario provided more funds for the relief line.

The Ontario government has informed the City of Toronto that they will be implementing a budget freeze, which means no new money will come in for this important project. Over the last few weeks, Tory has been meeting with other party leaders to see what they will be offering the city in terms of transit and infrastructure. Here is the rundown:

Liberals

Ontario’s 2017-18 budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

Conservatives

Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, met with Mayor Tory at the beginning of May to outline further promises for social housing and funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation— something the Liberal government did not allot money for in this year’s budget. The promises made included allowing TCHC to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line was not mentioned at all in the statement released following the meeting. It should also be noted that during the provincial budget release, Brown said he was not in favour of tolls or short-term accommodation levys.

NDP

Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP Party, was the latest major politician to meet with Tory. She promised to provide one third of the repair costs for social housing if elected.

In a press release passed out to journalists following the Liberal budget, Horwath also announced the party would enter into a 50 per cent funding agreement with municipal partners to help pay for transit operating costs.

Horwath has not ruled out the use of tolls or short-term accommodation levies; although she has not said she has not clarified if she would implement such revenue tools.

Green Party

The Green Party is all for the use of tolls (dynamic tolling) and congestion charges, in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway back to the province.

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. This would also free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

Should Toronto use tolls to maintain transit network?

The City of Toronto has completed the first round of negotiations with the province over funding for the Transit Network. Staff will present their updated financial report to a special executive committee meeting Tuesday afternoon for approval prior to the November city council meeting the following week.

The report outlines the funding model for the various elements of the Transit Network, including the amount of money being provided by the Ontario government. As of Nov. 1, the province has offered $3.7 billion for Regional Express Rail (RER) and $7.84 billion for Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The biggest blow to the transit-funding model is that city council will now be responsible for the day-to-day operations or maintenance of the Finch West, Sheppard East, and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs. These are projects that will be built by the province and Metrolinx; yet, Toronto residents will be on the hook for its maintenance.

Aspects of SmartTrack will be covered under the provincial funding; however, it will not be enough. The federal government has said they will make a contribution — but there has been no firm commitment yet. In the meantime, the city will have to come up with other ways of finding revenue to pay for the project, as well as the maintenance and operations of the network once it is complete. This could mean raising property taxes, something the city has promised not to do.

But, why should Toronto residents pay for all of these transit plans when they benefit the GTHA region in its entirety? Maybe the more economically feasible form of revenue can be found in the use of tolls, something that everyone entering and driving in Toronto can contribute to.

If drivers were asked to pay a toll when using the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway, a lot of these funding problems could be solved. First of all, tolls would encourage more people to use the new transit network, thus freeing up the roads and alleviating the insane gridlock Toronto faces on a daily basis. Second of all, the money collected from these tolls could be funnelled directly into a transit fund — to be used in conjunction with the money collected from fares, ect. — to pay for the daily operations of these projects.

On Tuesday’s meeting, staff will be recommending that city council approve the current funding model and authorize further negotiations and agreements with the province, Metrolinx, and other agencies in order to gain extra funding for SmartTrack.

But, I don’t think Toronto should hold its breath. It’s time to come up with some realistic solutions to the transit-funding problem instead of hoping that other levels of government will bail us out. Embracing tolls is the logical solution — but is there someone brave enough to say it on the council floor?

The city has until Nov. 30 to finalize financial arrangements for SmartTrack to keep the provincial deadline.

Is SmartTrack a quick solution to a long-term problem?

The plan for SmartTrack tackles the need for a fast track solution to congestion in Toronto. The goal is to provide a quick solution for the hundreds of thousands of people trying to get across the city on a daily basis.

The key to SmartTrack is that is uses existing Regional Express Rail (RER) lines to provide service within Toronto, from Stouffville to the Airport Corporate Centre. Currently, the plan includes 22 new stations and is projected to be ready within seven years. The line will take over two existing GO routes and 90 per cent of its track will be on existing GO transit lines primarily the Kitchener and Stouffville Go lines.

SmartTrack is actively being pursued by the City of Toronto to help with congestion on the Yonge line by providing alternative options. Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner and executive director for the City of Toronto, says in video for the relief line campaign: “In order for the network to be effective, we need to increase choice.” The Toronto Transit Commission currently has 535 million customers annually and this number is steadily growing. The hope is that by re-purposing exiting GO express lines SmartTrack  will provide relief for the over-capacity issue on the Yonge line and relocate 35 per cent of streetcar customers, clearing the way for a smoother commute.

But SmartTrack is still in the planning stages. Access to the airport corporate centre is essential for Torontonians who utilize transit, yet the cost of accessibility to this area could run extremely high. There is limited space for a transit station at the airport centre and steps are being taken to ensure the best plan is developed for this specific location. Metrolinx has approved a plan to extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Mount Dennis to the centre. The City of Toronto has yet to approve this plan.

The city is conducting a feasibility review of the Eglinton Avenue West Corridor and waiting for the results of ridership modelling to further aide the analysis. The modelling is being conducted by the University of Toronto. The city has also met with Metrolinx over the last week to discuss the new stations across the RER network.

SmartTrack provides Torontonians with choice.  Is it the right choice? Mayor Tory , the city of Toronto and Metrolinx  are waiting for the results of these studies. With all wanting to deliver the right transit, not only for Toronto but for the entire region.

SmartTrack is the fast track to relief

As the liberal government adjusts to leading the country, cities from coast to coast are scrambling to have shovel-ready infrastructure projects to pitch our new leaders. Prior to the 2015 election, the  Liberals spent months in public consultations and identified transit and infrastructure expansion as a top priority. In Toronto this led to our highest priority – relief line – made it onto their policy platform.

Most, if not all, transit planning experts believe that the relief line is Toronto’s highest priority transit line, and with growing density predicted the it will be absolutely vital by 2030. The relief line is a subway route that would run east-west across the core and then turn north at both ends to meet up with the Bloor subway line.  It was first introduced in 1910, and again in subsequent years ever since, with municipal politicians continually deferring the plan because of it’s cost and the time it will take to build.

I’ve spent over five years advocating, campaigning, and even singing for the relief line. I’ve ignored aging politicians who told me it was impossible, and media columnists who mocked my determination and campaign tactics. I’ve spoken to hundreds of planners, transit experts and historians and understand how easy it is for such an important subway line to be pushed aside by politicians wanting to garner immediate votes.

So when Mayor John Tory first announced his idea for SmartTrack, I was confused. Confused because I have grown to know and respect him over the years, and I know that he is a man of principle. He loves Toronto and he has given his life to this city. He isn’t a man who would simply cast aside the most vital transit line in Toronto just to garner a few votes. So, why would he suggest another plan that could risk delaying the relief line? The answer is simple. He isn’t deferring the relief line, but simply trying to provide a quick solution while we wait for the relief line to be built. He confirmed in a text message, “SmartTrack isn’t going to replace the relief line which will take over a decade to build, but by using existing transit corridors SmartTrack will provide a much quicker way to ease the overcrowding on the Yonge line.”

From planning studies, to land acquisitions, and environmental assessments the relief line will take almost a decade before shovels get in the ground, it could take 15 years or more to build. Now,  consider the fact that the Eglinton Crosstown will add even more people onto the Yonge Street corridor. It’s easy to see why Mayor Tory must try to provide another form of relief to bridge the gap between our immediate need and the time that it will take to build the relief subway line.  By using existing rail corridors SmartTrack will avoid the lengthy process of land acquisitions and environmental assessments that the relief subway line requires.

It should be noted that SmartTrack has forced the City, TTC, and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) to work together in collaboration — a procedural success that many didn’t think possible. The fact that Mayor Tory has insisted that SmartTrack does not have a defined route, gives planning experts an opportunity to create the best and quickest way to create an east-west line across the city.

As Mayor Tory mentioned, “there will be issues with SmartTrack, as there are with all big transit projects,” but the idea itself is good and like all good ideas it must stand up to rigorous analysis. However is must also stand up to the politics of city council. The mayor has to bring city council together around a unified transit plan that includes SmartTrack and the Yonge relief line. The plan must focus on the priority lines that our transit planning experts have identified. It will need to create connectivity between all modes of transit, and address the shortage of east-west transit routes while providing alternative ways to travel north — a North x East x West transit plan. Mayor Tory has promised to consult the experts when it comes to all the transit Toronto is planning. And I know that he will, because he is a man of his word — and that is why I will back him every step of the way.