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Toronto approves move to Phase Two of Rail Deck Park

The proposed Rail Deck Park has multiple functions — providing much-needed green public space as well as becoming a connecting area for GO Transit commuters.

This idea was reinforced with an amendment at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting. In addition to recommending staff advance to the second stage of the work plan in 2018-19, staff will also assess opportunities to create “new connections to Rail Deck Park”, including the Green Line along the hydro lands and extensions of the West Toronto Railpath.

Rail Deck Park is expected to be a sprawling 21-acre green space in the heart of the city, built above pre-existing transit lines that stretch from Bathurst Ave. to Blue Jays Way. According to the report presented to the executive committee, it will be the largest downtown park outside of the Don Valley.

“If this growth is to continue, there is a need for significant new infrastructure, including parkland, to ensure the quality of life, health, and sustainability of Downtown neighbourhoods. If this cannot be achieved, it may be necessary for the City to reconsider the pace and amount of future development in the Downtown.”

The cost for the project will be an estimated $1.665 billion, or $83 million per acre. This estimate includes about over $600 million in contingencies. The city plans on taking advantage of Section 42, also known as cash-in-lieu of parkland dedication funds. This revenue is collected from new developments with the sole purpose of developing and acquiring parkland. Not much is known about how the park will be funded other than the city will explore sponsorships, donations, and contributions from other levels of governments.

 

The city of Toronto is growing rapidly, and the downtown core is in great need of more green space to off-set future development. There is also an advantage of ensuring connectivity by integrating access to GO Rail.

City staff will report back on the financial feasibility of Phase Two in a few months.

What do you think of the Rail Deck Park? Let us know in the comments below!

Ontario PCs wants to take over TTC – but only part of it

This past weekend has seen two group of people argue for provincial ownership of aspects of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives released their election platform on Saturday called “The People’s Guarantee.” In this document, the PCs say they will assume responsibility for maintenance and investments in Toronto’s subway system. Toronto would still retain control of the streetcars and busses.

“In partnership with the Mayor of Toronto, Patrick Brown and the Ontario PCs will assume responsibility for the physical subway infrastructure – tunnels, tracks, and stations. This will allow the province to amortize subway investments and costs on the province’s books over the life of the asset. The city would maintain complete control of day to-day maintenance and operations,” the document says.

The PCs will invest $5 billion in projects throughout Ontario, including the Relief Line and extension to Richmond. It also pledged to pay the city’s share of funding for the Scarborough Subway Extension, but only if Toronto makes a “significant financial contribution” to the Eglinton Crosstown West.

The PCs will not support the tolling of the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway to fund transit and infrastructure projects.

The political party is not the only one who thinks the province should take control of Toronto’s transit network. The Toronto Region Board of Trade released a report that calls for the consolidation of planning, construction, and operation of transit into one provincial transit agency. The idea is that politics would no longer interfere with the delivery of projects and provide extra revenue for other city issues.

This agency, dubbed “Superlinx”, would merge GO Transit and 12 different transit operators together to “provide the vision, scale and resources to finally provide the world-class transit system that the corridor needs.” Superlinx would be responsible for paying for the region’s transit operations.

As the provincial election gets closer in June, more and more of these proposals will pop up. Transit is the priority item, with almost every municipality in the province looking to expand and grow their networks. Is a provincially-run agency the best way to go about building transit? Will this reduce the bureaucracy preventing shovels from getting in the ground or will it create a whole new set of problems?

What do you think?

Andy Byford resigns to become CEO of New York City Transit

Andy Byford announced Tuesday morning that he was resigning from his role as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). He will be leaving in mid-December, following the opening of the Yonge-Spadina Subway Extension, to take on the role of President and CEO of New York City Transit.

“My last task in Toronto will be to deliver the opening of the long-awaited, spectacular, Line 1 subway extension to Vaughan in York Region, with its 8.6-kilometres of new track and six beautiful, Wi-Fi-, cell-, PRESTO-equipped stations,” he said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “I will look back on my time at the TTC as the absolute highlight of my 28-year transit career to date.”

Byford joined the TTC in 2011 and has played an integral part in Toronto’s growth and development. He helped create and push forward a five-year modernization plan that transformed how this city designed and used public transportation. Toronto’s transit system was dirty, slow, and construction had come to a grinding stop. Byford had his work cut out for him — and he didn’t miss a beat.

His passion for customer service was what set him apart from other city staff. He had a deep desire to make Torontonians proud of their transit system. He wanted the best technology, the fastest bus routes, and the least amount of delays. At every board meeting, he would smile when presenting the CEO report, always underselling his achievements by saying staff needed to aim higher.

Byford didn’t shy away from speaking bluntly about the need to invest in transit. He used his knowledge and expertise to convince city council and private investors to spend much-needed dollars on building new subway lines and more sustainable busses. He championed the Relief Line, calling it a priority project that required investment. He pushed for the integration of the PRESTO card, the implementation of Wi-Fi at stations, the replacement of a 60-year-old signal system, the modernization of the fleet, and the creation of a new herd of streetcars, just to name a few.

Under his leadership, transit users have experienced 21 per cent fewer delays — a number he was fond of quoting. In June 2017, the TTC was named the best public transportation system in North America by the American Public Transportation Association.

And still, Byford had more ideas. At every board meeting and city council meeting he stood is ground when grilled by councillors who didn’t want to spend tax dollars on transit. He expressed the need to continue to modernize and merge new technologies into business practices. His ideas were radical for some of the more conservative city staff — a fully integrated system that was easy to use for daily commuters and tourists alike!

Byford also encouraged more diversity within the organization itself.

“I have deliberately changed the face of the TTC,” he said. “Five years ago – incredibly – there had never been a woman on the TTC Executive. Now, 50 per cent of my senior team are women, all on merit and both the Executive and the next two levels below are increasingly diverse. We have promoted talent from within and we have added bench strength where needed from outside.”

In his farewell press conference, Byford did what he always did — talked about transit, the successes of the TTC, and put the spotlight on his employees.

“But as I prepare to say goodbye in just four weeks, and before my wife, Alison, and I head to New York, I want to save my final thank you for the near 15,000 men and women of the TTC. The frontline staff of this company are the ones that really make the difference. They are the decent, loyal Canadians whose hard work has delivered the achievements of the past five years,” he said.

“So it is to TTC employees that I dedicate the final achievement of our Five-Year Plan.. That we achieved our objective of getting back to being number one by winning the 2017 APTA Outstanding Transit System of the Year, in spite of myriad challenges, is testament to the hard work, dedication to duty and passion of my colleagues and for that, they should hold their heads very high indeed.”

Byford will start his new job at the New York City Transit in mid-January of next year, and called it “arguably the toughest job in transit right now.” Sounds like it is just up Byford’s ally!

Deputy CEO Rick Leary will take over as acting CEO.

Featured Image courtesy of the TTC.

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.

John Tory and TTC Chair support time-based fares

When I was a student at the University of Ottawa, I didn’t have the means to print train tickets when I wanted to go home. This was particularly difficult around the holidays. I learned that if I waited to pick up my tickets at the train station before I left, the lines would take me at least 45 minutes. By then, there would be little room for my bags and I would be stuck with a seat close to the bathrooms.  Not an ideal situation.

So, instead, a week before I was set to leave for Toronto, I would jump on the bus to pick up my tickets in person. It was about a 20 min. bus ride to the station. I would get there, grab my ticket, and jump back on the bus to return to campus.

The best part was I only had to pay one fare.

On Thursday, Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as Toronto Transit Commission Chair (TTC) Joshe Colle and Commissioner Mary Fragedakis, threw their support behind time-based fares for customers using PRESTO.

They sent a letter to TTC CEO Andy Byford requesting a report for next month detailing the costs and implications of time-based fares for 2018.

“I am dedicated to getting Toronto moving and making sure it is easier for people to get around our city,” said Tory. “Now with time-based transfers and the PRESTO technology, we once again have the opportunity to make life more affordable for our residents and further encourage transit ridership.”

This request comes at the height of discussion about fare integration with GO Transit and the UP Express. Another option is fare by distance, with discounts for those transferring on to the TTC from a GO Station. At the last TTC Board meeting, numerous councillors expressed concerns about asking residents who lived further away to pay more to take public transportation.

“Time-based transfers would allow people on transit the flexibility to hop on and off to run errands or make stops along their way to work, school, or home.” said Colle in a statement. “This would continue the modernization of our services, and further demonstrate the TTC’s ongoing commitment to improving the customer experience.”

There was a report written by city staff in 2014 outlining some of the basic financial repercussions and the options that are available to the TTC. This issue will be discussed during the TTC budget process, which needs to be submitted by early 2018.

What do you think of time-based fares? 

Give the King St. Pilot time to work before bombarding staff

At Monday’s Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board meeting, many city councillors were trying to press staff for information about the King St. Pilot Study. They wanted to know when results would be coming in, when police could issue fines, and when the city should consider technological improvements to the design of the street.

At this moment, the pilot had only been running for one and a half days.

As of Sunday, Nov. 12, King St. was mostly shut down to drivers between Jarvis and Bathurst. Drivers can access that corridor, but must turn right at the following intersection. Barriers prevent cars from passing through. This is a big change, and many people who use the King St. corridor to get to work will have to either take transit or adjust their route.

Of course, there will be a time of transition. There will be people still confused about how it works, and those who have been living under a rock and have no clue what is going on. There is something for everyone to learn — drivers, cyclists, and transit users alike. Even the most informed citizen may forget during their autopilot commute to work.

All of this is to say that one and a half days is not enough to be able to make any sort of judgement on the pilot study. Those councillors asking how much faster the streetcar ran or whether or not to insert red-light cameras to catch cars going through intersections should understand the answers aren’t available yet.

Let’s give this pilot its due time — a few months later, lets revisit enforcement and efficiency. Both of these factors are incredibly important, and as TTC CEO Andy Byford said, when conducting a pilot, you want to do everything you can to ensure it is successful.

Unlocking gridlock in Toronto has never been more important. Over 60,000 people ride the King St. streetcar every day. Most of these people are met with overcrowded streetcars and car-to-care traffic. What should be a simple 15 minute ride turns out to be closer to 30 minutes.

Something needed to be done. Drivers may complain for a few weeks, as will pedestrians trying to cross intersections that didn’t have lights beforehand, but at the end of the day, this transformative pilot should have an incredibly positive impact on downtown Toronto.

But, only time will tell.

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

Montreal makes history with first elected female mayor

Montreal elected the city’s first female mayor this past weekend. Valerie Plante beat out long standing Denis Coderre to gain the leading position. Coderre has served as mayor since 2013 and was elected six times as a Federal Liberal MP.

Plante began her political career as a city councillor in 2013. In 2016, she served as leader of the opposition party, Project Montreal. This historic win for Plante places her in a position to act out her proposed reforms on housing, traffic and transit, key issues that affect the City of Montreal.

During the race, Plante was seen as the underdog with fresh ideas, describing herself ironically as “the man for the job.”  Gimmicks aside, it was Plante’s vision to get the city moving that pursuaded voters to put an “X” by her name. During her campaign, Plante was seen interacting with commuters in the city, discussing traffic gridlock, plans for a proposed ‘pink line’ for city rail transit, and a more solid bike-path network.

At a victory party on Sunday, Plante remarked on her historic success by paying homage to Jeanne Mance, the co-founder of the City of Montreal. “We have written a new page in the history books of Montreal,” she said. “Three hundred and seventy-five years after Jeanne Mance, Montreal finally has its first female mayor.”

Plante’s first movements in addressing her platform include issuing 300 hybrid city busses on the road by 2020 and a fight to lower the metro fares. Her immediate action on transit issues will help voters feel secure in her campaign promises. Near the end of his term, Coderre was criticized for running a one-man show and Plante positioned herself to be in opposition to Coderre’s actions by saying —less ego, more action.

Plante is a Quebec native, growing up in Rouyn-Noranda and attending the Universite de Montreal with a degree in anthropology and a masters in museum studies. Plante is 43 and previously worked as a community activist and organizer before getting into politics.

NYC to phase out Metrocard by 2020 for contactless pay methods

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) , responsible for New York City’s transit system, announced this week that transit riders will soon be able to tap and pay for their fare with their phones.

The is the next step in transforming the transit system, according to Transit Authority chairman Joseph J Lhota.  The familiar way of travel for New Yorkers has long been the Metrocard,  a reloadable plastic card that can be swiped to pay your fare. The system was implemented in the 1990’s and was often criticized for not being reliable. It has been almost 30 years since the Metrocard replaced tokens and now, by 2020, the transit agency expects to install the ‘new pay by phone’ technology in over 500 subway turnstiles and over 600 buses.

“It’s the next step in bringing us into the 21st century, which we need to do. It’s going to be transformative,” Lhota said at the official announcement on Oct 23.

The new payment system will be run using field communication technology and short range wireless connectivity. This is the technology used by Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Similarly, you will be able to pay using these methods through Android Pay, Samsung Pay, or contactless debit and credit cards.

The implementation of this new technology is all about ensuring a smooth flow of people in and out of the transit stations. There will be no need for queues when people need to reload their Metrocard. There will, however, still be turnstiles for those who do not have a debit or credit card for payment.

The MTA is following in the footsteps of the London Transit Commission, which already uses contactless tap and ride Smart Cards and Oyster Cards. Apple Pay and other platforms are also available as acceptable payment for the bus, the tube, London Overground, river bus and other transit services under the Transport for London Authority. The same applies in Australia where the system was introduced in late 2015.

By 2023, the MTA hopes to phase out Metrocards as they did with tokens in 2003. The MTA is also hiring the same company that did the installations in London, Cubic Transportation Systems.

The contract will cost an estimated $573 million for the new fare payment system and is expected to be completed in late 2020.  As for now, temporary testing e-readers have already been spotted in the Lower Manhattan stations.

What do you think? Leave a comment below with your thoughts on this high-tech transit fare system.

Pearson International moving forward with mobility hub

Toronto Pearson International wants you to take public transit to the airport — and they want to make it really easy.

Three representatives from the Greater Toronto Airport Authorities (GTAA) gave a presentation to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board on their desire to create a new mobility hub north of Airport Road, near terminal two. This transit hub will connect various areas of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area with the airport, making it easier for passengers to get to their final destination.

Only 10 per cent of passengers moving through Pearson International use public transportation. This is low compared to other international airports, with Heathrow at 36 per cent, Amsterdam at 40 per cent, and Shanghai at 60 per cent. Instead of having to wait in line to catch a cab or an expensive shuttle bus, passengers should be given the option to jump on a train, subway, or public bus to get to where they are staying.

Another reason to create a mobility hub is to acknowledge the growth potential of the airport. Pearson International employees 49,000 people and contributes 6.3 per cent of Ontario’s GDP. The airport is working towards becoming a mega-hub and increasing the economic opportunities already present.

The GTAA is working closely with regional and federal partners to make this happen. They have already procured an RFP and have pledged half a million dollars towards the project. The organization will be studying a number of different transit lines to determine which ones should connect to the hub. Possible connections include the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Finch West LRT, Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit, GO Transit rail lines, and the UP Airport Express. The GTAA is seeking input from Metrolinx and the TTC in order to ensure the best transit options for passengers.

According to Metrolinx, a mobility hub is defined as a place of connectivity between regional rapid transit services and other modes of transportation, with a high level of employment, shopping, and areas of enjoyment. Pearson International hits all of these qualifications. All it needs is an access point.

What do you think of a mobility hub at Pearson International Airport? Would you use public transportation if given the option? Let us know in the comments below.