Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tortuous train logic

As if it isn't difficult enough to follow what is happenning with transit in Toronto, today's Toronto Star editorial really muddies the waters on possible options for handling the obsolescence of the Scarborough RT line:

`Trains' of streetcars best for Scarborough - Toronto Star - April 30 2006

The Star comes out swinging in support of the option #2 - which is describes as using 'Trains' of streetcars. Well, for many people, this is hardly a way to sell the idea! Option #2 is actually to convert the line to "light rail". The Star get's is all confused labelling this:

...Switching from light rail cars to new streetcars that could be linked into "trains" on the existing rapid transit route...

whereas in the options, this is the light rail option.

Part of the problem is that there has been so much propaganda over the years about transit in the city, that now few people know which way is up. "LRT" is labelled as "streetcar" OR not depending on the hidden agenda of the proponent.

The Star further confuses matters:

The future of mass transit in Scarborough is likely to be found in a report released last week outlining three options for replacing the area's decaying light rail system.

Firstly, the report hasn't been released - rather the study has narrowed the options and is gathering public input. Second, the line isn't decaying - it simply uses equipment that no-one else in the world ended up buying into.

Neither is the RT 'worn out' nor are it's cars 'antiquated'. In fact, the line is newer (1985) than the original sections of Calgary's C-Train system (1981). The sad fact - for Toronto - is that we bet on the wrong technology - whereas Calgary purchased off-the shelf equipment that was (and is) in wide use in parts of Europe.

The option to now use LRT technology (i.e. the option #2 being touted in the editorial) faces a major problem: the plan is not to use off-the-shelf technology, but rather equipment that will highly customized/modified so that it can run on the downtown streetcar tracks. Not only does this add $1 million to the price tag for each vehicle, it means that the TTC will be facing the same obsolescence problem a few decades hence!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Subway to Scaborough???

Earlier this week- and it's been a very long week - I attended a presentation and Q&A session about the options being considered for replacing etc. the Scarborough RT system. The rolling stock used on the line will have worn out by 2015. Given how long it can take to make transit decisions involving any type of track-based RT, this might give us enough time to have a solution in place.

The crux of the issue is that no-one ever bought into the Ontario-sponsored car design. Replacement cars are not available on the market - and it's deemed too costly to have them custom-built.

Prof. Richard Soberman is spearheading the study. At this stage of the studt, three high-level options are being considered:

1. Replace the existing RT with upgraded technology

- 'Mark II' RT rolling stock - as used in Vancouver on the Sky Train - would be purchased
- the track would be modified to handle the new cars
- the line would be out of service for about 18 months

This option was the lowest cost with the least amount of service disruption.

2. Replace the RT technology with LRT type trains that use overhead wires

- this envisages using the same vehicle design as the TTC might use to replace its existing streetcar

This option has higher costs than #1 because:
- a number of stations must undergo major reconstruction to handle the low floor loading envisaged on the new cars
- because the TTC wishes to use the same design as for the streetcar replacements, there is a bump of about $1,000,000 per car - as the TTC projects this is what it will take to modify off-the-shelf LRT equipment for the downtown street track network

My take is that this option should be shelved because of the requirement for non-standard cars. This puts us back in the same long term predicament - expensive and eventually unreliable and unservicable cars. Unless the TTC bites the bullet and goes with off-the-shelf technology for LRT in general - scratch option #2.

3. A subway line from Kennedy to Scarborough Town Center

This would run on a different route than the existing RT. In addition, the number of stations would be reduced.

Price tag is $1.2 billion + some land and utilities costs.

The meeting was interesting. There were many politicians in attendance. Scarborough coucillors - and the majority of deputants - prefer the subway option. I'm leaning that way as well - for the following reasons:

- it will use standard technology - i.e. subway cars
- it eliminates the transfer between the line and the existing subway
- in the long term, a transit system based on investment in subway + supporting buses - such as in Montreal - is delivering better cost and ridership performance than any other North American system.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Toronto's vanishing vendors

Today, the City chased away yet another service supplier. Union Pearson Group - who won the competition to refurbish and redevelop Union Station is indicating that there is insufficient time to prepare contractual documents before the current deadline.

The Toronto Star - April 26 2006

Mayor Miller is blaming the vendor - saying:

"Council bent over backwards to provide extension after extension," he said yesterday. "There was a deadline set, it was a fair deadline and this building's too important to keep it essentially in a holding pattern."

Well, it's hard to believe that Union Pearson is walking away from the deal because it has been dilly-dallying. What's next - will the Mayor be claiming that the word gullible is not in the OED?

Let's get real. The City already chased off Wilson Logistics - who were hauling our trash to Michigan - and Cresford Developments Coroporation - who were lined up to rebuild parts of Regents Park.

I believe this pattern is further indication of the long-term damage Miller is doing to the City. No doubt, it already has the reputation that it will not be dealing in good faith. This chases away possible bidders - and pushes up the cost of services acquired. (hmmm - not that Miller gives a rip.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Homeless hokum

Sue-Ann Levy of The Toronto Sun sheds a little light on Toronto's sol-called homeless advocates who seem a surprisingly uninterested in getting Toronto's hobo population off the streets.

Sue-Ann Levy - Toronto Sun - April 25 2006

However, it really isn't all that surprising. First, as Ms. Levy points out, Toronto's homeless industry is a large employer. Toronto's hostels alone employ on the order of 600-700 people. In addition, social activists use the use to make a name for themselves

In addition, the real objective of groups such as the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee is to get the federal government involved in pumping money into new public housing projects. This despite the fact that roughly 10% of all dwellings in Toronto are part of social housing. In my view, the real agenda in needlessly building ever more government owned housing is to slowly squeeze the private sector out of the housing market.

It's a long term socialist goal to make people dependent on the state for housing. I saw this first hand in England back in the early 1970's. The local council used compulsory purchase orders to purchase my family's and other's home and convert the entire block into a council development. There was no pressing need for this - it was simply part of the long term agenda to squeeze out the middle class. It worked, we moved back to Canada. Thankfully the council had to pay a very large price for our home!

The real disaster for the TDRC woukd be if Toronto solved the homeless problem on its own - as it would prove that the federal government doesn't need to spend money on the problem.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

More TTC pipe dreams

The TTC is (again?) studying running its money-slurping streetcars as trains:

Kevin McGran - Toronto Star - April 15 2006

As with most everything to do with the TTC and especially the streetcars operations, it's just a dream. The cars don't have couplers.

Perhaps couplers could be added if the TTC goes ahead with the major bebuild of the CLRV fleet - the CLRVs are the smaller streetcars that operate on the King St route. However, will simply coupling the cars together work? Will there be an operator in each car? How will the motive power be synchronized between the different units? What will reliability be like? What will the passenger experience be like?

I'll answer the last two questions - just as crappy as today. These vehicle are not designed to run as trains. They aren't reliable enough - and don't have the passenger exit/egress capacity to provide effective transit.

The problem today is bunching.

During rush hour they're supposed to be two minutes apart, but before you know it, a bunch of them end up travelling together. Up ahead, impatient passengers push to get into the first car that shows up, even if it's already packed, putting the "first" one further behind schedule and slowing down the rest.

Although the article blames the ever scapegoated factor of other vehicular traffic, the real problem is the vehicles and the entire service design. The Spadina LRT (sic) has much the same problem despite having dedicated lanes. Montreal doesn't have the same problem - because its buses can pass each other - alleviating bunching.

One thing is becoming clearer by the day - the TTC is being run by amateurs.

Friday, April 14, 2006

TDSB plays Machiavelli

I wish I could say that the revelations in Moira MacDonald's column (Toronto Sun - April 10 2006) shocked and disturbed me. What's disturbing that the antics and machinations of too many of our shool board trustees have lost their shock factor. In my view, the real crisis in education in Toronto is a crisis of governance - or a lack thereof to be more accurate.

The trustees at the TDSB have yet to find a new Director of Education. Neither have they a long term plan to manage the Board's real estate portfolio to better fit the demographic shift in student population to suburban areas.

I can certainly understand Gerard Kennedy's bailing out of the education portfolio to take a run at federal politics. For Kennedy's ill-advised restoration of the trustees' powers, his various hand-holding sessions, and his granting of various financial goodies, his reward was to be a Machiavellian stab in the back. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Toronto's light rail dreams - er nightmares

Kevin McGran writes that Toronto is like no other city in the world.

TTC shops for streetcars - Toronto Star - April 10 2006

Perhaps so, but let us not ascribe this to its geography.

Toronto's transit officials reveal the expense and difficulty - or even impossibility - of replacing the TTC's streetcar fleet. Meanwhile TTC chair Howard Moscoe openly admits that the existing versions are costly to operate and not accessible to the disabled. Surely the technical and economic feasibility of acquiring effective replacements should be assured before considering extending rails to the far corners of the metropolis.

It seems then that what makes Toronto unique is that it is embarking on an ill-advised venture into light-rail - without any semblance of a transportation or financial plan.