Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peterborough and the Kawarthas

I watched you from the train
Peterborough and the Kawarthas
When I come back I'll see you again
Peterborough and the Kawarthas

I listen for you every morning
I listen for you every morning
I listen for you every morning
I listen for you every morning

- Peterborough and the Kawarthas, by the Barenaked Ladies

Aside from a close friend who's currently attending Trent University, I have no connections to Peterborough. It's a lovely town, but not really youth-oriented, so spending 3 hours at the greyhound terminal was agonizing. Regardless, the finance minister, through the federal budget introduced earlier this week, announced that $88 million would be spent to upgrade the Kawartha Lakes Railway Havelock subdivision between Peterborough and the Toronto Yard. Trains would then continue on existing tracks to Union Station, although these might be upgraded as well.

Since MoveOntario 2020 identified part of this line for service, it seems that the file has been dropped in Metrolinx's lap, although initial reports that VIA Rail would administer the project are still floating around the media. A partnership could work, as the distance between Peterborough and Toronto could require VIA's comfort. Regardless, the true debate is about the nature of the line itself. Is it a necessary connection, or is pork for the finance minister's riding?

Peterborough and the Kawarthas are currently isolated from the rest of the Greater Golden Horseshoe - that is a fact. All other major centres have at least infrequent VIA Rail service.

So, does Peterborough deserve passenger rail service?

Yes. Commuters and travelers deserve an alternative to Highway 35/115. Not only is it a long drive to begin with, it is made much longer when the congestion from cottagers bring traffic to a standstill. Also, Peterborough is a designated growth centre, and the Places to Grow Act calls for growth centres to be supported by Transit.

Should it be along the KLR corridor?

No, at least not initially. If the Pickering Airport is ever built, the terminus should be located there. Beyond this site are only small villages which are better served with rural bus connections to the built up areas of Durham. Also, since this area has been Greenbelted, it will not see any significant development in the future. In addition, the largest employer in Peterborough has traditionally been General Motors in Oshawa. Based on this, I believe that a new line should be constructed to parallel the highway and join the extended Lakeshore line near Bowmanville. This would give the desired connection to Union Station and offer connections to Oshawa. I have no problems with upgrading the KLR line - its actually very scenic. But, I think it should come after a direct connection to Oshawa.

Tayler Parnaby, CFRB 1010's chief correspondent, suspects that this could be a precursor to a federally funded GO service, which is promising. This federal government hasn't been very receptive to our transit needs, but when they do propose services, we shouldn't dismiss them out-of-hand. Even if it is a dysfunctional project (which this one isn't), the symbolic value may be much more valuable.

To conclude, and I know this is not an elegant way to conclude, here's a message to the finance minister:

If this is about bringing rail to your constituents, keep going, because the trickle-down effect will help the GTA. If this about bringing convenient rail service to the citizens of Peterborough, fund a line down the highway corridor and let MoveOntario 2020 deal with North Durham.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

I have a dream

I have a dream that one day I'll be able to spend no more than 10 minutes walking or biking to the nearest transit stop.

I have a dream that one day I'll be able to wait no longer than 20 minutes for a transit vehicle that has room for me, is accessible should I need it to be, and can accommodate my bicycle.

I have a dream that one day I'll be able to ride a local transit vehicle for no more than 30 minutes before we reach a rapid transit stop.

I have a dream that one day I'll be able to use my Presto Card to pay for transit rides or bicycle lockers, and the price I will pay will be the same price as a trip that begins anywhere else.

I have a dream that one day I'll be able to travel anywhere in the 416 for one price, anywhere in the 905 for one price, on GO for whatever my trip costs, and only pay a small fee to transfer between those three services.

I have a dream that one day I'll be able to use the internet to plan my trip, use an SMS message to get official schedules, and get service updates directly to my mobile device.

I have a dream that one day service improvements will be used to build ridership instead of just to react to overcrowding, and that those responsible for the system will never rest on their laurels.

The dream I've describes is something that is within our grasp if we decide to put municipal boundaries aside. We have to realize that the commute doesn't understand the concept of Steeles Avenue, the Etobicoke Creek or the Rouge River. We have to realize that what might mean a loss of revenue or control for one agency will bring thousands of riders to the system. We have to realize that there is expertise in this region that is being misdirected towards protecting the dysfunctional system we have now.

We ceased being a collection of cities within a province long ago. We are one region, and our transit system has to reflect that fact. If that perspective shift can be reached within the current framework, then we will have a system which extends good service to the suburbs without loosing control over internal affair.

However, the past tract record, from the perspective of the rider who travels every day, is not something to be proud. The status quo is unacceptable

Someone has to take the lead to shift transit in the GTA from a patchwork to a true network.

That someone might be the TTC, it might be Metrolinx, or it might be Queens Park directly.

Either way, it has to be someone.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

News Roundup

An interesting op/ed piece in the Toronto Star today discusses poverty and the need for more accessible transit. In essence, skyrocketing property values in the downtown core are pushing low-income families into the outer 416 and the 905, where the lack of transit forces them to buy a car which money they barely have. This brings up a few thoughts, with one more related than the other:
  • Not everyone is trying to get downtown, and we need to improve transit everywhere in the GTAH - especially in the 905.
  • Subways can carry more people than light rail systems, but since a subway has fewer stations along its route, the areas around the stations become valuable and property values rise accordingly. If we want to build subways to priority neighbourhoods instead of light rail, then we have to be careful that we don't price those neighbourhoods outside of the reach of low income families.
GO riders will get a little lovin' on Valentine's Day when the first of the new MP40 locomotives go into service. It looks like there will be one set out during the morning rush, and another set that will do the midday service (after 1:30 only) and continue into the evening rush. They will have an F59PH attached just in case, and there is no word on if they will be pulling 12 coaches or just the standard 10.

Finally, a question:

How do you feel about the Museum station renovations? Do you feel that each subway station should have a unique identity, or do you believe that consistency between stations is best. I believe that each station should have a unique identity to make it instantly clear about where you are, and to make each station a little more interesting. However, many disagree with me.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

OC Transpo Follow-Up

Remember the Ottawa LRT fiasco?

It seems that John Baird, Minister of the Environment, is under investigation for impropriety in this case, according to an Ottawa Sun report. As you might recall, he was the president of the treasury board at the time, and refused to release promised federal funding unless the city took a second look at the plan after the municipal election. The new council defeated the already approved project, prompting Siemens (the winning bidder) to sue for the cancelled contract. The city argues that there was no finalized contract, but this could have been avoided if the will of Ottawa's council was respected in the first place.



Perhaps the worst kept municipal secret in the city of Toronto in 2008 are the February 17th TTC service adjustments. Since they aren't officially going to be released until a press gala on Friday, I'll leave it to the Mayor and the TTC Chair to bring the good news. However, I will say this. Photo-ops are a great way to get people excited about transit, which is admittedly not a very sexy subject. However, three days is not enough to get the word out to everyone.

Thankfully, since these are all improvements and not cuts, its unlikely that someone will become stranded from missing their bus. And, the inconvenience of schedules being shuffled around will be mitigated by the greater frequencies.

But, I would still be a little upset if I got to my stop on Monday morning only to find I could have left the house ten or fifteen minutes later and still be on time.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Using a machete to cut through red tape

The Province has sped up the implementation of MoveOntario 2020 by narrowing the focus and placing time limits on environmental assessments for transit projects. Under the new rules expected in June, environmental assessments must be complete within six months, and the Ministry of the Environment must complete a review with 35 days. This means that engineering design can begin within 8 months of the start of the EA, rather than the two years or more it took under the previous rules.

Also, the focus of the assessment will now be solely on the environment. Previously, anything that could be debated was debated, and many of the delays were due to trivial things like curb heights (although obviously not trivial to those who raised concerns).

Finally, and perhaps the most controversial, is the regulation that the technology can be selected from the outset. This means that we will know from the start if a project will be constructed as a subway, as a bus rapid transit line, or something in between. While this might not seem controversial, it means that parts of Transit City will be implemented as proposed - effectively laying to rest any chance of the Sheppard line being completed as a subway.


Provincial takeover of TTC cost proposed - Toronto Star

An article in today's Toronto Star resurrects an idea which came up after the last provincial election, but quickly faded. Rob MacIsaac, the Chair of Metrolinx, has proposed that Toronto consider letting the province upload the cost of running TTC services with regional impact. Presumably, this means the subway, major bus routes and future Transit City lines which come close to the border.

As I've said before, this is an idea worth exploring. However, the scope needs to be expanded because even the lowliest community bus in Milton forms part of a regional network. As such, uploading of the costs of all transit services in Metrolinx's operating area should be the objective of any new provincial policy. Also, uploading all of the systems would benefit municipalities most, as lower population densities and smaller tax bases often result in suburban service being less frequent, longer waits form improvements, and sometimes, massive service cuts.

Of course, there are some concerns which must be addressed. Provincial funding would result in some provincial control (and possibly Provincial imposition of policies), and we will have to ensure that local planners can quickly address issues on neighbourhood routes. This will be made harder with Queens Park at the helm. Also, we need to ensure that improvements are balanced across the region, and not concentrated in any one area to the exclusion of others.

This is an issue which is long overdue for study, and its one that I'll be following closely.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Compassion vs Schedules

When I woke up this morning, I checked GO's website and found that there were 60 minute general delays on all GO bus routes. I decided that I couldn't count on the bus connection from Brampton to Bramalea, so I decided to brave the roads and drive all the way to Bramalea for the 10:15 departure. This would make getting home harder, but it meant that I would get downtown on time (I have now found out that Ryerson is closing at noon, so I'll be heading home before the rush anyway).

The train was scheduled to leave at 10:15, and at 10:14, the bus connection arrived. Knowing they only had a minute to make the transfer, the first 20 people ran to the train and boarded. I noticed a small gap, but from my vantage point saw another group of 20 people also running from the bus. Then something happened that I did not expect:

The conductor closed the doors.

I thought to myself that he would see them running and wait.

He didn't.

The train departed and left a group of 20 people on the platform to wait the two hours for the next train.

I know that waiting would have made us late, but only by a few minutes - and what's a few minutes of my inconvenience when it will save almost two dozen people two hours of my inconvenience?

When there's a storm outside and an entire bus of people are only a few minutes away from making the connection, isn't it right to let the schedules give way to compassion?

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