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Metrolinx Transportation Symposium: tolls, single-payment, and connectivity

Metrolinx hosted a Transportation Symposium Monday with the goal of hearing insight from transit leaders, residents, and influencers from across the region. With their 2041 Regional Transportation Plan still in the draft stage, Metrolinx is looking for reactions and input.

The day began with opening remarks from Metrolinx’s new CEO Phil Verster, who was only 30 minutes into the job. He talked about how the consultation process the transit agency is going through isn’t boring or redundant, but rather an important part of city building. “Great plans succeed because everyone is invested in it,” he said.

Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer for Metrolinx, provided an overview of the Draft 2041 plan. She said that over 10 million people will live across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Region by 2041. For that reason, the region must look past the Big Move and continue to work together and increase public transportation. Woo also warned about building based on technological advancements, saying the GTHA allowed a love affair with the car to influence how cities were designed. She doesn’t want Metrolinx to make the same mistake. At the same time, she admitted that no one can deny the importance of incorporating shared-services and autonomous vehicles into future plans.

Participants spent the rest of the day listening to panels on connectivity, customer service, and funding models. Many of the panellists touched upon the vulnerability of transit funding. While Canada is experiencing a boom of infrastructure funding on all three levels, it is not enough to make up for a 30-year gap. What’s required is dedicated funding for transit, perhaps through the direct use of road pricing and tolls, something that was called “inevitable” by one of the panelists.

Another common theme was the idea of a single-payment system. While fare integration is a necessity for Metrolinx’s 2041 plan, as well as any future Toronto Transit Commission plans, the idea of paying not only for public transportation, but also for car-sharing and bixi bikes, is a relatively new one. This would require one card or mobile app that customers could use across the board.

Above all else, the consensus was that transit needed to be comfortable, reliable, frequent, and be able to get customers to their destination without too many transfers.

Will you listen to the TTC’s ‘Rush Hour’ or ‘Hush Hour’ playlists?

Commuting in and out of the city can be a bore — unless you have some beats to help you pass the time!

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is partnering with Universal Music to introduce “Tracks on Tracks”, an exclusive Apple Music program for commuters in Toronto. This program will include two TTC-branded playlists — ‘Rush Hour’ with upbeat songs and ‘Hugh Hour’ with more serene choices — featuring Canadian artists like Drake, OneRepublic, Shawn Mendes, and Alessia Cara.

“The TTC takes you where you are going and music transports you to another world,” said Universal Music Canada President and CEO Jeffrey Remedios, in a statement. “It’s fantastic to be announcing a program built to help guide Toronto riders’ musical experience, reflecting the heartbeat and pulse of our city.”

Each playlist will include about two hours worth of music and will be refreshed every Friday. The idea between the two playlists is to help suit the mood of each commute. The ‘Rush Hour’ playlist will help commuters get energized in the morning and the ‘Hush Hour’ is meant to help you relax you at the end of the day.

This is a unique and fabulous partnership for the TTC. I can’t ride into work without seeing people plugged in to their phones, listening to music or podcasts. A TTC-designated music playlist is a great way to interact with those commuters and make those rush hour and hush hour moments a little more enjoyable.

Tracks on Tracks is only available on Apple Music. Users can stream these playlists on Apple Music or download them so they can listen offline. Check them out at applemusic.com/hushhour and applemusic.com/rushhour.

Sigh, I wish I still had my old Iphone.

King St. Pilot Study approved by city council

Thursday evening, Toronto city council approved the one-year King St. Pilot Study, with an amendment to allow an exemption for taxis during the hours of 10 p.m. and 5  a.m.

There was quite a bit of debate from councillors surrounding this exemption, as well as the $1.5 million price tag of the project. But, after four hours of debate, the plan was approved 35 to 4.

The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

The plan allows local residents to drive on King St., but only between intersections. These vehicles must turn right at the next traffic signal. Physical barriers will be used to prevent vehicles other than the streetcars from passing through the intersection.

There is also going to be designated spaces for short-term loading, deliveries, and taxis, something business owners indicated was a necessity.

courtesy of the city of toronto

Now, with this added amendment, taxis will be able to pass through intersections during the designated time slots. This exemption only applies to licensed cabs and not ride-sharing services like Uber.

City staff argued against the exemption, saying it has the potential to confuse drivers and that traffic is still heavy on King St. in the early hours of the morning. In fact, they said it could undermine the transit-first mentality of the study.

Regardless of the warnings, council choose to adopt the exemption anyway (although they limited the hours to the evening/early morning) to help relieve the nightlife crowding along the corridor.

The pilot will be implemented in the fall.

Council unanimously approves TransformTO to reduce emissions

Toronto city council has unanimously approved a plan that would see the city reduce green house gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. If adopted, this would affectively transform Toronto into a low-carbon city.

The motion itself was for city staff to go forward and create a business-case analysis of the various recommendations presented that day. The idea is to determine a carbon reduction per dollar ratio, decide which projects would be funded municipality or cost-shared with other levels of government, and to examine whether the recommendations would align with federal plans to reduce greenhouse has emissions.

“TransformTO provides a path forward that will allow our city to make decisions that lead to a low-carbon city that is healthy, prosperous, strong, and equitable,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement. “Together, we are going to build more transit including the Relief Line, make sure our social housing is viable for the long-term and that our buildings are energy efficient.”

This ambitious plan, entitled TranformTO: 2050 Pathway to a Low-Carbon Toronto, includes 23 different strategies and acceleration campaigns that will help reduce carbon emissions drastically over the next 30 years.

Some of TransformTO’s highlights include:

  • Having all new buildings produce near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • Having 100 per cent existing buildings retrofitted to achieve on average 40 per cent energy use
  • Having 100 per cent of all transportation using low-carbon energy sources
  • Having people walk or cycle for 75 per cent of trips less than five kilometres

The report also stresses the importance of engaging communities and neighbourhoods. Education campaigns and local support will be critical to the success of TransformTO.

This biggest point of discussion was the price tag of this plan, $6.7 million for 2018. City staff estimated an annual cost of $8 million following 2018. While this doesn’t seem like much considering the other projects council has approved, the number is bound to increase as projects are added. However, as certain councillors said during the debate, there are times where going cheap will hurt the city. This is one of them.

TransformTO is led by a collaborative team made of the city’s Environment and Energy Division and the Atmospheric Fund, an organization that looks for urban solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

“We applaud today’s decision by Mayor Tory and City Council to unanimously approve TransformTO and renew Toronto’s climate leadership role,” said Mary Pickering, TAF’s VP for Programs and Partnerships and project co-chair for TransformTO. “Implementing TransformTO will not only cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 but also boost public health, local jobs, and social equity in our city.”

It is rare that city council votes on anything involving a high price tag unanimously, but hopefully this is a trend that will continue — especially when it comes to the King St. Pilot Study, a transit plan that will ultimately help spearhead a low-carbon corridor.

The King St. Pilot Study will be discussed Thursday morning at city council.

Transit-first King St. pilot moves forward

Next week, Toronto’s executive committee will vote on the proposed King St. Pilot, the first plan to enact a transit-first mentality to city planning.

The King. St. Pilot is a direct response to slow transit service and increased congestion along the downtown corridor. “King Street is not currently working well for transit,” a report prepared by Toronto’s General Manager said. “Streetcar service can be slow, unreliable, and erratic, with unpredictable travel times, especially during rush hours, but also during some late evening and weekend times. People end up having to plan for their slowest trip.”

With more than 65,000 daily TTC riders compared to the 20,000 vehicle users along King St., re-branding this corridor as transit-first makes a lot of sense.The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

Earlier suggestions of creating a car-free roadway were dismissed, as there are a number of driveways and parking garages that must be accessed from King St. However, city staff came up with a solution that would allow drivers to access King St. without bottling traffic.

Local residents may drive on King St., but only in between intersections. At each traffic sign, cars must turn left. It will be up to the drivers to decide how best to reach their destination. This will allow for significantly less cars on the roads and for the King. St. streetcars to have unobstructed access to their own lane.

King St. Pilot
Photo courtesy of City of Toronto.

Other features of the plan include dedicated pick-up and drop off areas and designated delivery areas. There will be no dedicated cycling lanes.

The last reported cost for this project was estimated to be at $1.5 million, but it has since been determined the project is eligible for funding under Phase I of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. This means it’s possible to get 50 per cent of funding from the federal government, leaving the city to come up with the remaining 50 per cent.

The Toronto Transit Commission will vote on the pilot program prior to the executive committee vote. If all goes well, it will be discussed in the July city council meeting.

What do you think of the King St. Pilot? Let us know in the comments below!

John Tory calls for provincial funding for relief line

Toronto Mayor John Tory did his best not to grimace at Friday’s joint federal-provincial-municipal press conference on the Yonge Relief Line.

For what seemed the millionth time, three levels of government “re-affirmed their commitment” to this important transit project without actually promising dedicating funding. In fact, in what was an awkward turn of events, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca took his time at the podium to outline the province’s previous transit commitments and gush about the government’s contributions to Toronto.

Afterwards, Tory took the podium and said “investing in transit is not work that can ever be considered complete.” He called on the province and the federal governments to each contribute 40 per cent of the funding needed to build the relief line. With federal and provincial representatives standing at his side, he said this commitment was necessary and Toronto wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

The federal representative, Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenships, who was there on behalf of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, pledged his support for the relief line. Hussen talked about the $27 million the federal government has already promised to this project and said more is on the way as part of an 11-year, $81 billion infrastructure plan.

“This investment will not have a real and lasting impact for Canadians unless the province is involved,” Tory said in a statement. “While the Province of Ontario has invested $150 million to help plan the Relief Line, and we thank them for that, we need them to commit to partnership on the construction of this transit project and the continued expansion of our network across Toronto.”

“I’m asking for a steadfast commitment from the Province that they will be financial partners in the building of the Relief Line.”

It seems like even after all of this discussion — Toronto is in the same place it was before. The mayor is fighting for funding after being refused the right to raise it on his own with tolls. The province is in denial, saying they have already provided enough money. And the federal government is saying they will help, but won’t give an exact number just yet.

It looks like Toronto’s Mayor has a bit more fighting to do.

Will the province step up to fund the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory is doing his best, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to convince his fellow members of council, the province, and the federal government of the basic facts — the relief line is necessary.

The mayor’s pleas seem to rest on deaf ears. While city council did push forward the preferred alignment for the Yonge Relief Line, the actual construction of this much-needed transit project is still years away. In fact, it will never be built unless the province and the federal government step up.

The problem is that politicians are too wrapped up in the next election to do what needs to be done today. Experts all agree the relief line must be built prior to 2031 when the TTC Line 1 reaches capacity. With other subway extensions and Go Rail projects bringing more people into the downtown core, the relief line becomes even more of a necessity.

And yet, the provincial government hasn’t committed to more than $150 million for the planning of the relief line.

Toronto knows the relief line is going to be expensive. With a current price tag of $3.6 billion, it’s all city councillors can talk about.

Tory came up with a possible solution early on — revenue tools. Instead of raising property taxes, he would support the tolling the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated towards transit. But, the province said no.

In addition to denying Toronto the ability to make money off of their own roads, the province said they would not be putting any new money into municipal projects for two years. This is a big blow to Toronto and an obvious election tactic on behalf of the Kathleen Wynne government in hopes of gaining support from the 905 communities.

What the province is forgetting is the universal benefits of a relief line. Those living in the 905 area may be able to get into the GTA thanks to the subway extensions and rail lines, but once they get here they will be trapped in the same congestion and gridlock as the rest of us. Revenue tools like tolls would be the perfect solution — drivers will pay to help support transit infrastructure so that those who do use public transportation get better service. Those drivers will then experience less congestion on major roadways.

It’s a win-win; or it would have been if the province approved it.

Without these revenue tools or financial support from both provincial and federal governments, the chances of the relief line being built by 2031 is incredibly low. Toronto needs the province to step up and put politics aside.

If the province won’t let us toll roads, then they have to give us funding for the relief line. Toronto’s mayor shouldn’t have to stand at subway station handing out leaflets to get the government’s attention, only to be scolded by the Minister of Transportation for doing his job. This project is too important for such silly and juvenile politics.

Toronto has waited about 100 years for the relief line. Do we need to wait another 100 before someone decides to be an adult and pay for this thing?

Toronto city council approves relief line alignment

Toronto City Council voted to approve the Carlaw alignment for the southern section of the Yonge relief line, but not before a lot of debate that proved councillors still don’t understand the necessity of this incredibly important project.

Councillors threatened to hold off this project if their transit project of preference, made generalized statements about how little relief the “relief line” will have in their riding, and argued about the price tag attached.

As the province of Ontario moves forward with high-speed rail connecting Windsor to Toronto and a transit line that connects northern 905-ers to Finch, there has been little provincial support offered for the relief line.

The relief line is necessary if the city of Toronto wants to relieve congestion and unlock gridlock on major roads. It becomes even more necessary as these other transit lines are built to connect to the already overcrowded Line 1.

City staff have already said that Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031. At this moment, if councillors, staff, and the province keep bickering, it doesn’t seem like the relief line will be built by then. In fact, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter to Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford asking for creative solutions to address short-term subway capacity issues.

“I want to make sure we are doing everything we can now to make the ride better for riders,” Tory wrote.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is still refusing to contribute to the relief line. In a statement released as a response to Tory’s press conference Wednesday morning, Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation, released a statement saying they have already pledged $150 million towards the planning of the relief line and have been an active partner in Toronto’s transit planning.

They have not committed any further funding towards the building or design of the relief line, and have indicated that the province will not be making further commitments for another two years.

Tory, on the other hand, is saying that the province needs to step up and commit to helping fund the downtown relief line, especially since the Kathleen Wynne government shut down his plan to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway for dedicated transit funds.

“I’m not asking for a blank cheque,” Tory said. “I’m asking for a commitment.”

The relief line alignment passed 42-1. Amendments to the original motion include an exploration into cost-sharing for the Yonge extension and the promise that the Yonge North subway won’t open unless the relief line is built and funding is made available.

We can’t have high-speed rails without a relief line

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Friday the provincial government will invest $15 million in a high-speed rail line that will eventually connect Toronto to Windsor, cutting down travel time from four hours to two hours.

“Building high speed rail along the Toronto-Windsor corridor isn’t just a game changer for Southwestern Ontario — it’s going to deliver benefits all along the line,” Wynne said in a statement. “Whether it means accepting a job that previously seemed too far away, visiting family more often, or having ready access to the innovators who can take your business growth to the next level — high speed rail will make a real difference in people’s lives and drive economic growth and jobs.”

The project, estimated to cost about $19 billion in total (if the trains run 250 km/hr), will travel through Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Catham, with a connection to the Toronto Pearson Airport. The $15 million investment is for a comprehensive environmental assessment.

Provided by MTO

 

The 2017 budget included a small mention of funding being provided to RER, but the $19 billion price tag is a bit of a surprise, especially considering the lack of support for municipal projects that should be built prior to this high-speed rail line.

While connecting Southern Ontario to Central Ontario has its advantages, it’s only going to cause increased overcrowding on Toronto’s transit system. Presumably, the people working and visiting in Toronto’s downtown core won’t all be heading to locations around Union Station or Pearson Airport, meaning they will have to use the TTC to get around. Considering Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031 — the same time the high-speed rail is supposed to be completed — it would be wise for the province to invest more funds in the downtown relief line before promising funds for high-speed rail.

Without a relief line, commuters in Toronto will suffer from these connecting high-speed lines. Connecting the cities in this corridor would absolutely benefit businesses and commuters throughout Ontario— but if those commuters get stuck as soon as they get in Toronto, what’s the point?

The province hopes to have high-speed trains up and running from London to Toronto by 2025, and from London to Windsor by 2031. The provincial government will be looking at alternative financing options as well as public-private partnerships to fund the rest of the rail line.

What do you think about this investment? Let us know in the comments below!

King St. Pilot makes transit the priority

Thursday, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and city staff made their second presentation on the King St. Pilot, a plan that will hopefully alleviate congestion along the car-heavy corridor to make it more transit-friendly.

“What we are trying to do here is to improve transit service for the 65,000 passengers on the busiest transit route in the city,”said Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, Director of Transportation Infrastructure Management with the City of Toronto. “That’s three times as many drivers who use the corridor. We are trying to move the most people the most efficient way.”

The pilot will cover six kilometres of King St., from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor would funnel drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time.

According to Gulati, making King St. completely car-free would take immense resources, as there are driveways and parking garages that can be accessed from that corridor. Instead, city staff has designed a plan allowing local residents to drive on King St., but only between intersections. These vehicles must turn right at the next traffic signal. Physical barriers will be used to prevent vehicles other than the streetcars from passing through the intersection.

There is also going to be designated spaces for short-term loading, deliveries, and taxis, something business owners indicated was a necessity.

Photo courtesy of City of Toronto.

“People will access the section of King that they need to access for their local trip,” Gulati said. “We are looking to have the amount of mixed traffic dialled down to such an extent that we expect to see streetcar improvements, but it is a pilot project and that’s what we want to learn from this.”

Cyclists, transit users, and emergency vehicles would be the only commuters allowed to cross intersections. However, there would be no dedicated bike lanes.

This particular corridor between Bathurst and Jarvis was chosen because it has the worst transit service on King St. The goal of this pilot would be to see additional improvements in reliability, speed, and capacity on the King St. streetcar — more people walking or using transit and less people driving.

The estimated budget level cost is $1.5 million, but that is bound to change once the design has been finalized after Thursday’s public meeting.

If all goes well, a final report will be presented at a June TTC board meeting and then will be sent to approval by City Council in July. The plan is to be able to implement the King St. Pilot by the Fall of 2017 or Spring 2018.

What do you think of the King St. Pilot? Let us know in the comments below!