Uploading transit: Province’s proposed transfer of future city transit is ‘restrictive’

Since the start of 2019, the phrase ‘subway upload’ was frequently used to describe the provincial government’s plan to take-over responsibility for the construction and operation of new TTC projects. In particular, the province has emphasized the City of Toronto and the TTC’s inability to build transit for decades despite the completion of recent large-scale projects such as the Line 1 extension.

With the introduction of the Ford government’s ‘Getting Ontario Moving Act’, the City of Toronto, TTC, and city residents have a much clearer understanding of what ‘upload’ means. The bill, as identified by Toronto City Manager Chris Murray, grants “broad authority to the province and places significant restrictions and obligations on the City of Toronto and TTC.”

The current transit system will remain the responsibility of the City and TTC, but all future transit projects will be under the direction and ownership of the province via Metrolinx. Metrolinx is a crown agency that’s responsible for developing transit infrastructure across Ontario tasked with projects such as implementing the PRESTO fare system and constructing the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

Additionally, the Minister of Transportation must approve all work by the TTC or City of Toronto on transit projects that are “in close proximity… or substantially similar” to Metrolinx’s projects such as those identified in Ford’s transit plan for the city.

In cases where the City of Toronto and TTC work on a transit project, the province can require them to transfer assets such as real estate to Metrolinx “with or without compensation.” In short, the provincial government will have near total say over what the TTC and the City can do regarding future public transit projects.

As a result, significant ambiguity remains over cost sharing for the maintenance and operation of future transit within Toronto and more prominently, the City and TTC will be highly unlikely to have much influence in how Toronto’s transit will be built going forward.

The rationale for severely restricting the roles of two of the largest stakeholders, the TTC and the City of Toronto,  in Toronto’s public transit is puzzling as they will be responsible for its daily operation and directly accountable to local commuters. Rather than a rehash of talking points regarding a lack of transit within Toronto, the City and TTC deserve a better explanation from the province as to why they are being sidelined if it is in the best interest of city residents.

Linking North York: a case for extending the Finch West LRT

Toronto residents likely look at current TTC maps and notice the gap between the northern portions of Line 1 Yonge-University. In its initial planning stage, the Finch West LRT would have linked Finch Station to Humber College’s North Campus instead of its current plan to end at Finch West Station, but constructing the full line was deemed too costly at the time. Since then multiple proposals have been put forth regarding how to best link the two segments of Line 1 operating in North York. Extending the Finch West LRT would be a better allocation of funds over spending money on an inner suburban subway that lacks the density required for a subway line.

Some have argued for an extension of Line 4 Sheppard westward from Yonge to Sheppard West station, but this proposal encounters several issues when compared with a LRT extension. Constructing subways are more expensive per kilometer of track built and are more costly to operate in the long run given the cost of maintenance upkeep. Subway stops are also comparatively further apart given their high construction costs which can limit access to transit in less dense regions like North York.

Furthermore, while subways can carry the greatest number of passengers more quickly, they require high population densities to support their use. The Sheppard line has two of the TTC’s least used subway stations and the line’s current daily usage rates only place it slightly above the 36 Finch West bus.

Conversely, a surface LRT can be built at a lower cost per kilometer on a dedicated right of way with more stops so it is more accessible North York residents. A good comparison here is city council’s decision to go with a $3.4 billion single-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Center instead of a multi-stop or multi-line LRT network in Scarborough that could have substantially cut commuting times for far more residents.

In the TTC’s most recent Corporate Plan for 2018-2022 outlining their envisioned transit network, the Finch West LRT is shown reaching Finch Station. Hopefully, this means that council will make the right decision when the time comes to link the North York segments of Line 1.

On the 36: the split Finch West bus

Residents of University Heights and Bathurst Manor are intimately familiar with the 36 Finch West bus and have taken notice of the recent changes made to the route. On weekdays between 6am and 10pm, the 36A carries eastbound passengers to Finch West station where they must transfer to another 36 bus to continue towards Finch Station. Likewise, those travelling west from Finch Station on the 36 must transfer to the 36A at Finch West Station.

The odd quirk has drawn frustration from residents who view the transfer as an awkward and unnecessary part of their daily commute. Residents, like Britney, who travel eastward towards Finch Station for work in University Heights do not understand why the change was made.

Britney explained, “Finch West is a busy area with lots of offices and industry. I think the change doesn’t reflect how people actually use the [Finch West] bus” pointing out that many of her co-workers travel to work from areas served by the 36A which no longer continues towards Finch Station. Her coworkers must transfer at Finch West Station adding additional time and stress to their commutes.

After contacting the TTC’s customer service line, the split of the Finch West route was attributed to its high passenger traffic. In 2017, the 36 Finch West was the TTC’s third busiest bus route and its fifth busiest surface route overall averaging 43 100 weekday trips. As explained, the split is the TTC’s effort to optimize traffic flow by increasing the service frequency of buses along certain parts of the route.

However, this has still left residents wondering why it has only been the 36 and not the TTC’s busier surface routes that has undergone such a change. The two bus routes that have greater usage, the 32 Eglinton West and 52 Lawrence West, offer commuters routes without a midway transfer during the same weekday hours while travelling equivalent or greater distances.

Resident Troy Budhu speculated, “you can’t help but think this wouldn’t happen outside of Finch West and the Jane-Finch community