Sunday, October 22, 2006

More on streetcars

Mr. James Bow has authored a thoughtful reply to yesterday's post. I thought I'd take a few minutes to pen a few thoughts.

Firstly, I appreciate the time Mr. Bow devotes to writing about Toronto. Mr. Bow and I had an interesting back-and-forth last year on a blog devoted to boycotting St. Clair Avenue W. (The blog was the creation of a student from Edmonton - studying in K-W at the time - with very little experience actually living in Toronto.)

As with all debates, the product is less to persuade one party or other to change positions - and more to expose those on the sidelines to the facts and arguments that lend support the opposing sides. For those such as myself, Mr. Bow, students from Waterloo etc, participating in these debates is a hobby. The time allocated to debates is always limited - true.

However, for those who live and conduct business on St. Clair, the debate is more than academic. How things turn out could make or break the neighbourhoods. Will Hillcrest Village - as an example - continue to thrive as it has over the past number of years? Will anchor businesses in Corso Italiana be able to stay in the neighbourhood? No one knows. The St. Clair project is playing Russian roulette with the economic viability of a large chunk of central Toronto.

I agree that a rail-based system on St. Clair has a chance to be effective if LRT-type equipment were to be used. In fact, I - yes yours truly - prepared the first discounted cash flow analysis that compared the economics of replacing the streetcar equipment with light rail equipment vs. refurbishment of the streetcar equipment. It was I who gave this analysis to Councillor/Commissioner Joe Mihevc. (It was more that a little bit disconcerting that no-one at the Commission had carried out such an analyis before the St. Clair EA started.)

However, we need to be clear - leaving aside the fact that we don't even have specifications for LRT equipment that could run on the existing surface track network - having the proper equipment is only one of the preconditions for a succesful LRT.

There must be adequate space for stations - and stations must be reasonably well-spaced. At grade crossings at major intersections may also need to be eliminated in order to justify the capital expense of the equipment. (If you look at the successful LRT systems - Calgary and St. Louis come to mind - you'll see few (if any) - at-grade crossing at major intersections.)

I also believe that concrete-based roadbed should be kept to an absolute minimum so that the service disruption caused by the periodic and lengthy rebuilding of concrete-encased track is not such an issue. There's a reason railways use gravel ballast as roadbed!

In my view, it will be at least a decade before we might see new equipment in service. None of these other issues have even been looked at. Where does this leave the residents and businesses on St. Clair West?

I have checked out Mr. Munro's blog. He is duly critical of a number of things the TTC is doing. What confuses me is that:

1. He continues to support TTC Chair Howard Moscoe (psst - this is the man in charge! When we look for acountability - this is where the buck stops!)
2. He complains about service reliability- but doesn't really offer any suggestions for improving it.


James Bow said...

Well, I can't presume to speak for Steve Munro, but I did give Howard Moscoe an A- when I wrote up the transit report-card for the election issue of Spacing Magazine.

I know he has his negatives, not the least of which being his personality, which has made him a lightning rod for controversy, and which has hampered his ability to show leadership with the TTC.

However, he has accomplished some good things this term. He implemented portions of the Ridership Growth Strategy (archived here. The TTC has managed to purchase 100 additional buses this year, and 100 more should arrive next year to try and increase service (I realize this is a drop in the bucket, but it's still an improvement). Metropasses are transferrable, as are the new weekly passes, and there are no restrictions to the day passes anymore.

These were not accomplished by him alone; there are other members on the committee; but as you say, he's in charge.

I also think that the TTC Commissioners' ability to really improve things on the system is hampered, not by the City of Toronto, but by the way the City of Toronto is funded. It's not rocket science to think of a way to restore system ridership to its 1988 high, but sometimes it seems as achievable as a trip to Mars. In 1988, the TTC received far more subsidy than it does today; about $100 million, I think, and that's not adjusted for inflation. The loss of the provincial subsidy, and the other funding pressures on Toronto meant less service all-round, which meant more people were waiting longer for transit vehicles to arrive, and paying more for the privilege. It's no wonder that people left. It's only a wonder that they're coming back.

Ultimately, to restore TTC quality to late 1980 levels -- if that's sufficient for today -- means increasing the subsidy by $100 million, or finding savings equal to $100 million that could be applied directly to services, and this doesn't include the capital cost of restoring the TTC's bus fleet to 1988 levels.

I am skeptical that there are $100 million worth of savings to be found but, after several years of banging my head against a wall, I'm willing to consider anything. And there are innovative touches out there that the TTC seems unwilling to take. For example: maybe it's time to do away with surface transfers, and instead issue 3-hour system passes for our cash fare.

J. Albert said...

I've posted a reply to your comments in the next post.