Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TTC to consider streetcar purchase - Globe and Mail

TTC to consider streetcar purchase


Toronto's disco-era streetcars could be on their way out as early as 2010 and replaced by sleek, new light-rail vehicles, if plans on the table at today's Toronto Transit Commission meeting are approved.

New "low-floor" streetcars, accessible to the disabled, quieter and bigger than the regular-sized vehicles in the current fleet -- now nearing 30 years old -- have long been on the TTC wish list, especially as it looks to build more streetcar routes.

For the past two years, the city's number crunchers have balked at TTC plans to shop for new streetcars, which carry a likely price tag of about $3-million to $5-million each, insisting instead on a plan to refurbish the existing fleet at a cost of $1-million a car and keep them on the rails until closer to 2020.

TTC chairman Adam Giambrone said the transit agency will present plans today to order new streetcars much sooner, but order fewer of them to keep up-front costs down. To last long enough for their replacements to arrive, most of the TTC's 196 current Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) would still need a lower-cost overhaul.

"It doesn't make them more expensive or cheaper," Mr. Giambrone said of the new plan. "It spreads the cash flow out. . . . It's a question of when do you write the cheque."

Mr. Giambrone said TTC and city finance officials are still going over the numbers. But he said he believes the new formula would make the multimillion-dollar purchase more palatable to the cash-strapped city.

Even if the TTC persuades the city, the transit agency will still need help from the provincial and federal governments to buy the streetcars, Mr. Giambrone said.

Unlike the controversial subway car contract handed to Bombardier last year, TTC officials have said the streetcar purchase -- worth as much as $650-million -- will be put out to tender. TTC engineers have travelled to Europe and the United States to examine new light-rail vehicles in action.

Many cities are buying new vehicles as light-rail enjoys a rebirth, especially in the United States. Germany's Siemens, Montreal-based Bombardier, and Czech-based Skoda all make low-floor, light-rail vehicles, and may be among the firms that compete for the TTC contract.

TTC officials have previously said that Skoda's cars, running in Portland, Ore., were close to meeting Toronto's requirements.

Representatives of the Czech Republic have met with at least one TTC commissioner, according to the city's voluntary lobbyist registry.

Whatever the TTC buys, the car will have to be modified to handle the Toronto system's steep Bathurst Street hill, various tight turns and the TTC's wider tracks.

The city councillors on the TTC will also discuss the transit agency's 2007 operating budget, which has a projected $33.5-million hole. Mr. Giambrone and other commissioners have said they are reluctant to consider a third consecutive fare increase to close the gap.

This is definitely exciting news, as the new light rail cars on the market are modern, sleek, and - dare I say it - sexy. Here's a sampling:

Bombardier FLEXITY family
The FLEXITY Swift was displayed in Toronto a few years back, and gained my seal of approval.

Siemens Avanto
Popular in the United States, and was selected for use in Ottawa before the project was scrapped.

Alstom Citadis
Very popular in Europe, it comes in many body styles and lengths.

Skoda Astra
These are the ones used in Portland, and are very close to meeting the TTC's requirements.

Arguably the most sophisticated light rail vehicles in the world, and cheaper than many other models.

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St. Clair streetcar's on track to carry transit users Feb. 18 - Toronto Star

St. Clair streetcar's on track to carry transit users Feb. 18
New section from Yonge to Bathurst has right-of-way
Jan 31, 2007 04:30 AM
Paul Moloney
city hall bureau

The first section of the controversial St. Clair streetcar line is expected to open Feb. 18.

On that date, streetcars will start running on the newly installed, slightly raised median, which prevents cars from blocking the line and allows the TTC to maintain reliable service.

It's a template for how transit could be built in Toronto. The city's official plan calls for more streetcar rights-of-way on major arterial roads.

Crews are currently installing the overhead wires for the streetcars, which will operate from Yonge St. to the St. Clair West station, just east of Bathurst.

"I think it looks pretty nice," said city transportation planner Rod McPhail. "Not only will it improve transit, the street looks better too."

Work is to begin later this year on completing the section from St. Clair West station to Gunns Rd., just west of Keele St.

When it's finished, the new streetcar service will run for 6.7 kilometres from Yonge to Gunns and become the third line with its own right-of-way. The others are on Spadina and Queen's Quay.

Cars and trucks will only be able to turn left, or make a U-turn, at intersections with signals.

In last fall's election, Mayor David Miller campaigned on providing more such streetcar lines separated from motorists.

Other routes where Miller wants to install exclusive rights-of-way for streetcars or buses: Yonge from Finch Ave. to Steeles Ave.; Kingston Rd. from Victoria Park Ave. to Eglinton Ave.; and Don Mills Rd. south from Steeles.

The St. Clair project has been a political headache for Councillor Joe Mihevc, vice-chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, especially during last fall's election campaign, when construction was in full swing. But Mihevc won re-election handily.

"My fears didn't come to be," Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's), said yesterday. "And since Christmastime, I've hardly heard any complaints."

Mihevc hasn't been talking to Neil Kim, who runs a Sketchley dry cleaners on St. Clair just west of Yonge, who says, "I lost lots of customers."

Kim said customers used to pick up cleaning at his south-side shop, then U-turn north to Oriole Rd. The raised median makes that turn impossible.

But time for complaining is over, he said. "It's a done deal. We cannot change it. But I think they should be building subways."

I'm certain that most passengers will quickly fall in love with the new streetcar right-of-way, and I wouldn't be surprised if the project changes from "controversial" to "celebrated." As for car drivers, they probably won't be satisfied until every road in the city is 18 lanes.

As for building subways, even though I consider myself a light rail convert, we can still build subways. However, we must keep in mind that "subways" may not look like the subways we have today. Vancouver's Skytrain uses Scarborough RT technology, but most would agree that the underground sections are subways.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Frozen switches through the ages - Toronto Star

Frozen switches through the ages
The horses may be gone, but lessons from a century ago still keep streetcars moving in winter.
January 25, 2007
Adam Mayers
Toronto Star

GO Train passengers can be forgiven their frustration with frozen signal switches last week, but they can take some solace in the fact that while they sat and waited to get going again, their cars were nice and warm.

A Canadian winter has always been something to contend with, but a century ago in the early days of public transit, the only thing between you and the elements was your coat and mitts and, if you were lucky, a bale of hay on the floor of the streetcar to tuck around your feet.

On the other hand, you didn't have to worry about frozen signals because the Toronto Street Railway employed an army of men with shovels, brooms and pickaxes to keep snow off the switches.

When an ice storm threatened, they did a wheel quick-change, replacing the smooth brass wheels with wheels that had teeth. The weight of the car crushed the ice and the gaps allowed the ice to be thrown to the side.

"It was pretty low-tech, but effective," says Ted Wickson, long-time archivist for the Toronto Transit Commission.

In fact, the lessons learned a century ago are still in use when it comes to the city's streetcar fleet. It means they may run slowly in storms, which is to be expected, but they rarely stop dead. The real cause of problems is motorists blocking the road.

If switches stick, drivers have a switch iron that does the trick manually. The bar is pretty much the same tool in use for 150 years.

Toronto has one of the most moderate winter climates in Canada – in fact the climate is the mildest of any place in Canada east of the Rockies, largely because of the moderating effect of the lake. It means a lot of precipitation and in winter, a freeze-thaw cycle.

When the thaw doesn't come, there's always the army.

Toronto's public transit system started in the 1860s and grew rapidly. The first streetcars were pulled by a single horse and had room for a dozen or so people on bench seats. In 1891 the Toronto Railway Company introduced its first snow sweeper, an occasion for an impressive civic demonstration. It was pulled by a dozen horses and had huge roller brushes at each end.

It proved to be more symbolic than practical because the following year, the railway company began electric service and pledged to provide service by horse and sleigh on major routes should a blizzard knock the electric cars out of service. The sleighs may evoke a Doctor Zhivago-like scene of pastoral winter tranquility, but they were cramped, uncomfortable and accompanied by a sub-zero wind chill to boot.

"Travelling by transit in winter was pretty primitive," Wickson says.

The good news was that along with electric cars came heated public transit in the form of a coal stove at the front, probably of more use to the driver than passengers.

The driver was part of a two-man crew. His job was to time the drive between stops so that the conductor could collect the fares.

The new age of electricity meant electric sweeper cars, which together with "storm cars" drove the main routes throughout the night to keep the tracks clear of snow.

Trackmen worked a section of the line, much as they did on Canadian Pacific main lines.
By the 1920s, the TTC had 28 electric snow sweepers and six gasoline plows, and the better technology meant fewer and fewer trackmen.

The plow trains were so effective the TTC kept them in service until the early 1970s, finally retiring them and selling them to railway museums. By then, many were 75 years old. (Two are on display at the Halton County Radial Railway, the Streetcar and Electric Railway Museum on Guelph Line in Milton.)

For streetcars, storms and freezing rain are less a track problem than one that affects overhead wires.

The main problem for GO passengers is the electronic signals that determine whether the train should stop or go.

They usually work pretty well, but during extreme weather the de-icers that keep the switches moving can freeze.

It takes someone to manually flip the switch, but the entire line has to stop until that person does the trick.
On the other hand, a streetcar driver just gets out, looks around and if the coast is clear, flips the switch and gets going. Maybe that does make the TTC the Better Way.

Snow and ice is a staple of most Canadian winters, and all we can really do is give ourselves more time to get to our destinations, anticipate and plan for delays, and take whatever is tossed our way in stride. Besides, winters really aren't that bad. In some places, the sun doesn't even rise in the winter.

To finish off, here's the caption for the picture:

TTC Archives
The single horse-drawn streetcar was in use between 1860 and 1890.
It had entrances at either end and seating on wooden benches for 16.
This shot was taken on Spadina Avenue near Bloor Street in the
winter of 1888.
And another bit of Toronto History:

Shovelling the track

From the Star of March 3, 1904:

The snow sweeper commenced operations on the Lambton line this morning, and is experiencing some tough work to clear the track.

Quite a gang of men are out scraping and shovelling the snow. They expect to reach Lambton tonight.

The road out of town is not nearly so bad as in town. The line to Weston was in operation last evening for the first time since the storm.

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GO chief defends service - Toronto Star

GO chief defends service
January 24, 2007
Curtis Rush staff reporter

GO Transit is going through a tough time in the first month of 2007. Trains and buses have been late or cancelled due to weather, equipment and labour problems. And GO Transit is getting an earful from customers. The Star's Curtis Rush spoke with GO Transit's managing director and CEO Gary McNeil.

Q It was a tough start to the year, with GO bringing in reduced CN engineering staff and switching problems along the Lakeshore line. How would you characterize the first part of 2007?

A The first part has really been abysmal. We acknowledge the on-time performance has not been as good as it should be. We are going through some teething pains right now with CN. A lot of the issues associated with the reduced crewing are now under control.

Q Why do switching problems keep occurring, especially on the Lakeshore line, but not on other lines?

A On the Milton corridor, for instance, our train movements are single direction. In the morning, all the trains are coming in to Union Station and in the evening they're all going back out. On the Lakeshore line, the trains are going back and forth, back and forth. We have a lot of freight activity happening along the Lakeshore line because of the auto industry. And also VIA trains operate back and forth there. That is a heavily used corridor.

Q What do you tell people who think you blame switching problems to cover up other problems?

A We're telling them the truth. We're telling them the information we're receiving from the railway.

Q Why do trains in Montreal operate more efficiently, when they have more ice problems than in Toronto?

A Montreal doesn't have the same issues because most of their rail corridors are uni-directional. They're operating trains in during the rush hour and out in the evening rush hour, so they don't really have the multiple train activity that GO has.

Q What do you say to riders who say they're losing confidence in the system?

A Bear with us. It's growing pains. We will come back on stream. I think our reliability is still much better than the road system.

Q What improvements are planned for riders in 2007?

A You're going to see some of these infrastructure improvements coming to fruition. For example, on the Lakeshore West, we end service at Burlington. In 2007, we will be extending that to Aldershot station. So we will be taking that all-day service out one station further. That will off-load some of the parking situations that we're having in Burlington where we don't have enough parking spaces. We're putting in our rail-to-rail grade separations on the Bradford line, so we can now start to look at operating more trains on the Bradford corridor. And services to Barrie will tie in to that. We should be opening our services to Barrie by September.

Q Do you expect on-time efficiency to improve in 2007?

A I think you will find this coming year, once we get through some of the teething pains, our on-time performance will probably go up. I think we learned a lot from last year. We didn't bother looking at actual construction schedules so, for example, when we were actually doing work on a section of track, we didn't build in five minutes of additional travel time that we probably should have. Going forward, I think you're going to see that happening.

Q How good are the blowers that melt the ice on the switches?

A We're putting in 10 to 20 blowers every year. Last year we put in 40. Since 2000, we've tripled the number of hot-air blowers at Union Station, so right now, half of them are equipped (125 more are needed). On the main corridor, most are either cold-air or hot-air blowers. Cold air blows the snow away so you don't get any accumulation. But the big issue with ice is that when a freight train or a GO train goes over a switch (and you feel a bump when you go over that), if there have been extended periods of snow, chunks of ice drop down from the undercarriage of trains. For example, in some cases, it hasn't even snowed in the Greater Toronto Area for a couple of weeks, but a freight train is coming in from who knows where – where the snow has built up from the Midwest or something like that – and when it comes into the Toronto area, some of that ice drops in between those switch points, so when the switch has to move, it's hitting this block of ice. You can have a hot-air blower on that, but it's like an ice cube. You can put an ice cube under hot water and it takes time for it to melt. So you can still have a switch problem even with hot-air blowers.

Q How good has GO Transit been at meeting on-time targets?

A If we're at the 90 per cent mark, I think we're doing well. Typically, we try to do 90 to 95 per cent. The last reporting month to the board (in November), we were at 84 per cent. What's typically happened since July is that we went down from that overall 90 to 92 per cent range. One month, we had about a 76 per cent on-time performance. That was the month of the derailment. Our service was essentially shut down for three days.

Q Is GO Transit facing a public-relations challenge over the delays?

A In a way, we're victims of our own communications. We send out e-news messages to all of our customers who request on-time status reports for trains on every single corridor. What we're finding is that when people get that message, even though they're not taking that train, they're starting to say that GO service is really bad, even though they may have been delayed only once or twice in the month. We're advertising our failures. We're not advertising our successes. In the business world, we'd be out of business now because a business never advertises its failures. We report delays of anything over five minutes.

Q How unfair was the treatment you received from the public during the ice storm on Monday, Jan. 15?

A On the Monday of the ice storm, CN had three switch problems – two where the ice had built up and the circuit breakers blew when they were trying to move the switch back and forth, and another where the ice got into the actual switching mechanism and broke some components. On that day, a lot of customers complained. But when I looked out this window, this parking lot was about 10 per cent full, which meant tonnes of people who use the road system stayed home that day. No one complained about the highways being icy and not being salted. But because GO got people into work 30 minutes later than they normally would, everyone was complaining about it. It was like, `This is terrible.' Probably because GO still got people into work, the financial district kept moving. We kept the financial district going.

Q Is the criticism unjust?

A I'm amazed that people don't complain about the road system. I think they should be complaining about the road system as much as they complain about GO Transit. I'm not saying they shouldn't complain about our service. But people on the highways should be saying, "Why don't the salters get on the roads?"


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beautiful city

Often, it is at night when the true beauty of the city comes to light. Though we may complain of advertisements creeping deeper and deeper into public space, it does give Toronto a unique identity, and gives us comfort on an otherwise cold, dark night.

Finally, the building below looks like it belongs in Liberty Village, or the Portlands of our dreams. At first glance, it is an old industrial building, renovated and converted to a loft or mixed-use building.

Though it is not in a downtown area (it is actually in the Airport Corporate Centre, Mississauga), it is an example of a mixed-use structure that is architecturally attractive. It houses the Canadian Centre for Advanced Eye Therapeutics, Innovative Insulation, and a second medical facility. Perhaps the suburbs isn't filled with drab industrial buildings and houses as far as the eye can see?

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The full story

For history on this story, click here (The Transit Rider).

This story came across the wire today:
Steve Roberts (CFRB News) Toronto Police have charged a TTC bus driver after an alleged hijacking in late December. Police say on December 30th, a bus operator reported he had been held at gunpoint and forced to drive an armed suspect around the downtown core for over an hour. The driver reported the suspect then took off on foot. Toronto Police say after a thorough investigation, turns never happened. Saturday afternoon, police arrested and charged 32-year-old Shawn Forbes with public mischief and perjury.
We may never know why this driver made up this driver allegedly made up this story, but it does show that Toronto is still, and likely always will be a safe city. I will continue to explore the downtown core, and whenever I get a chance, Scarborough.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Are things a bit squirrelly on GO? - Toronto Star

Are things a bit squirrelly on GO?
January 19, 2007
Linwood Barclay

A Notice To Our Passengers From GO Transit:

A belated Happy New Year to all of you who depend on GO trains and buses every day to get you to and from work. We here at GO had intended to send you a Happy New Year's message sooner, but the people here at head office who are in charge of seasonal greetings all booked off sick the other day.

Ha ha! A little GO humour there to get your day off on the right foot.

The purpose of this new, regular newsletter is to bring you up to speed on the progress that is being made in dealing with certain service issues you may have noticed in recent weeks. Well, actually, recent months, if you want to get all picky about it.

We want you to know we're working diligently to deal with these problems – technical as well as labour – and hope you will bear with us during this period of system upgrading.

In this first newsletter we want to first offer our apologies for some of the problems in the past week, and explain what was behind them:
  • The 17:43 out of Union Station on the Lakeshore West line was delayed coming in to the Clarkson station because of an indecisive squirrel. He looked as if he was going to cross the track so the train was slowed, then he seemed to change his mind and head back into the bushes, at which point the train began to resume speed, but then he darted back as if he was going to cross, so the train was slowed once again, and finally brought to a full stop while the crew waited to see what the squirrel was going to do. (After an investigation, it was suggested that, in future, the crew spend less time trying to teach the squirrel to retrieve nuts from their shirt pockets.)
  • The derailment of a grain car on a spur outside Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday morning forced the cancellation of the 7:30 out of Richmond Hill. This might sound odd to those who do not work in the railway business, but all these rail lines are, ultimately, connected in a "six degrees" kind of way, so you can't be too careful.
  • A train was held up at the Rouge Hill station Thursday morning while Ned, the engineer, ran over to a Starbucks for a latte. There was a huge lineup, and the lady right before him was having a fit that the foam on her cappuccino was not "airy" enough. Some people can be so fussy and inconsiderate, and for her thoughtlessness we apologize unreservedly.
  • An investigation into a frozen switch in the Mimico yard, which delayed a standing-room only Hamilton train bound for Union Station for two and a half days, has determined that someone dumped onto it the remains of some ice from a McDonald's soft drink cup. We would like to thank everyone on this train for their patience, and will not be proceeding with any vandalism charges against those who ate portions of the blue seat cushions out of desperation.
  • On Wednesday evening, while waiting for a signal to turn green near Aurora, the crew jumped out, ran around the train, then hopped back on, just to see if they could do it before the light turned.
  • A Thursday evening train heading from Union to Pickering on the Lakeshore East line was delayed at Guildwood while waiting for the track to clear. Its path was blocked by a Union-bound GO train from the Richmond Hill line, which had somehow lost its way and had been travelling all over southern Ontario and beyond since mid-November. If you were a passenger on this train, even though you were among the first GO train customers to see the Rockies, you will not have to pay extra.
Linwood Barclay spoke at my high school once - he's alway good for a laugh.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Web updates

I'm happy to release this major update to the website, I hope you'll find that the links are easier to spot, that the maps are much more effective, and that the text is easier to read and give more information.

To fully experience the new update, you should download a free version of Google Earth, the program I use for all my transit planning. Most maps can be viewed on Google Maps, provided you have an updated browser, but some of the longer LRT lines can only be viewed by Google Earth.

I am aware that the website may cause errors in certain browsers. You may see an "Active X Control Blocked" message when you view some of the pages. As far as I can tell, the Active X Control used is to animate the buttons for the links. I don't understand why it is considered a threat, but if you're not missing much if you keep it disabled.

In the long term, I'll be adding public domain images to further illustrate my points, but for now, I hope you enjoy this update.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

What does a little mosque on the prairie and the Toronto Transit Commission have in common?

There was a letter to the editor in the Star today, criticizing a series of CBC print ads for their new show, "Little Mosque on the Prairie."
It feels to me that the CBC is trying to buy a hit with the full-page coloured ad in the Saturday Star declaring Little Mosque. Big Hit. How can this be so after only one showing?

I watched that premiere, only because of the massive publicity it received, and found the plot to be weak and the acting even worse. The CBC would be wise to spend more money on the production and less on propaganda.

Bob Larocque, Toronto
Hey Bob... Does it bother you when a movie is advertised as being "the number one movie in Canada" after only one weekend, or when CTV or Global does the exact same thing CBC is doing right now? Why is it awful when a government agency does something that private companies do every day of the week?

So how does this relate to transit?

There have been several letters to the editor in response to a Star article about the surplus land that the TTC would like to sell off. These letters seem to take the same stance - that it's not appropriate for the TTC to enter the land speculating game, but people like Trump, Tridel and the other big developers can do whatever they want with the land that they own.

Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it shouldn't be allowed to play by the same rules as everyone else.

I suspect that in both cases, the right-wing, anti-CBC and anti-TTC crowd is behind the letters. If the free market capitalism system is the society you want to live in, then won't the market ensure that the commission will get the best price for the land?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Goodbye to the gravel lot

The end of an era in Brampton has come.

Construction of a new condo tower is set to begin, bringing an end to the George Street parking lot at Brampton GO Station. Affectionately known as the gravel lot, it was the only guaranteed parking spot after the rush hour.

From now on, I suppose you can park at any of the malls along Main Street and shell out fifty cents to take Brampton Transit the rest of the way.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Youtube for your enjoyment

For your enjoyment, here are some TTC-related episodes of two TV shows

Urban Insider
, hosted by Jennifer Salazar.
"Taking you behind the scenes, Urban Insider gives you a rare glimpse at the operations of high profile Toronto events and organizations. Hosted by Jennifer Salazar, Urban Insider will give you a glimpse of Toronto you've never seen before." - Rogers Television

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Things That Move, hosted by Jeff Douglas (the "I Am Canadian" guy).
"Everything from the birch-bark canoe to the electric car, from the first skate board to the hang glider, human innovation has been driven by our desire to move beyond the limitations of our body’s design.
Our series is about how the mixture of starry-eyed inventors, technological innovation and historical confluence has lead to our traveling in ever more interesting ways. Each fast-paced episode focuses on a unique machine as we examine the struggles, triumphs and sometimes failures of its history. We delve into the inner workings of the machine itself and observe the effects if has had on our daily lives." - History Television

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

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The better way... around the net

Why pay for a service when there are a bunch of people willing to do the work for free?

The TTC is planning to upgrade its website, which hasn't been overhauled since it launched in 1998, and is inviting bloggers to contribute to the new design. At the time, management wasn't convinced that this "new-fangled internet" would last much longer than Pokemon cards and the Macarena, so corners had to be cut in design. You can read the history of the TTC's website at Spacing, and weigh in on the subject at Reading Toronto, BlogTO, Spacing or the Torontoist.

What would I like to see? Here's a few ideas.
  • A trip planner that gives you more walking time. I've had issues with Mississauga Transit's.
  • Spreadsheet-style schedules, where you can read down to see how long your trip will take, and across for the next bus.
  • A quick search to bring up the schedules quickly.
  • More reports and documents, so we can know what issues are being discussed.
  • Full integration with the GTTA, should it live up to what I hope it will become.
  • Text messages to mobile phones about service delays. Email is all fine and good, but I cannot check my email on the bus, unless I manage to find an unsecured wi-fi hot spot - and that would be unethical.
What would you like to see on the TTC's new website? I'd love to hear it, but be sure to post it on one of the above blogs.


GO must resolve labour difficulties - Toronto Star

GO must resolve labour difficulties

January 04, 2007

Adding to their post-holiday blues, GO Transit commuters heading to work on the first business day of the year had to cope with cancelled buses on some routes and several delayed trains. Unlike previous winter snarl-ups, these problems were not storm-related. This time, officials cited labour difficulties as a factor in Tuesday's trip cancellations and slowdowns, raising the spectre of chronic trouble in this vital transit system.

Lingering labour problems, such as ongoing staffing disputes and unexpected days-off taken by drivers, must not derail a service that is critical to Toronto's economy and vital in the movement of masses of people.

About 195,000 passengers ride GO Transit buses and trains on an average weekday, mainly travelling to downtown Toronto, and back, from surrounding communities. If they all switched to driving, the resulting gridlock would render the region's already-jammed highways almost impassable, affecting the movement of goods as well as people across the GTA.

Starting 2007 with labour problems is an ill omen for GO, and a clear signal that more effort must go to improving union-management relations. Both the system's administrators and its labour leaders must take the initiative in defusing tensions before matters spiral out of control as they did last spring at the Toronto Transit Commission. The TTC was hit by a one-day wildcat strike in May that affected the lives of 700,000 commuters and cost the local economy millions of dollars in lost production as people arrived late for work or not at all.

The GO Transit slowdowns Tuesday appear to have stemmed in part from the trimming of 34 train engineer jobs on GO's busy Lakeshore routes. Those jobs were cut Dec. 29 as a money-saving measure. Some of the bus drivers taking the day off may have done so in solidarity with train engineers. And a spokesperson for CN, which supplies GO Transit's train crews, blamed rail delays on labour "work-to-rule behaviour" in the wake of the cuts. In contrast, a union official attributed tie-ups to administrators who were unable to cope with the job of reassigning crews.

One thing is obvious – labour relations at GO need improvement. The system has experienced worker-related slowdowns before, most notably last summer, when some CN train crews didn't show up for Friday shifts resulting in several train cancellations. Such incidents undermine confidence in the system and do nothing to attract, and keep, riders.

GO Transit has been a remarkable success story since its launch in 1967. Today the system's trains and buses carry some 48 million riders yearly.

However, the needs of the GTA have grown dramatically over the past 40 years. GO Transit must meet those needs through improved service, including such things as larger parking lots and more trains and buses serving more areas. But if GO Transit is to have any hope of effectively filling those needs, the first thing it must do is get labour relations in order.
Only then will commuters enjoy a truly reliable system.


Its unreasonable to think that labour difficulties can be completely eliminated. Even if we make transit an essential service, there is nothing to stop a wildcat strike. By its very definition, such a work stoppage is illegal. All we can do is try to make a working environment where employees are safe, happy, and paid well for their troubles. ...And no, we can't just fire them all and start over. Everyone hates it when the cashier they get at the grocery store is a trainee. They will likely be very slow and make mistakes. Do you want a fleet of large vehicles being driven entirely by trainees?

For GO's specific case, they should be, and are, looking at the contract they have with the railways on the train operation.

Railway engineers are only allowed to drive trains on the subdivisions they are qualified for. If an engineer is qualified only for the Lakeshore line, they cannot transfer over to another line on a pinch. This is all fine and good if you have enough crews. Problems arise when there is a shortage of crews - people cannot be moved around the system. CN should either qualify their operators for more subdivisions, or simply do what it takes to ensure that there are more crews available so trains don't have to be cancelled when crews can't report to work. CP doesn't have the problem of crews being unable to switch lines, as only on GO rail line runs on CP trackage.

In order to remedy this, GO has called for operators to bid on the contract to operate all trains. Veolia Transportation (the VIVA operator) and Bombardier have been identified as possible bidders, and CN and CP can still bid, but if GO wants to reduce delays due to staffing issues, they must play hardball. A penalty should have to be paid if the operator cannot perform their duties.

When it comes to the bus fleet, there's a shortage of operators at both the TTC and GO transit. Increased recruitment is the answer, but it takes time to train new bus drivers, and fast-tracking them isn't a good idea. I suppose sometimes a little patience needs to be had by all, and things need to be kept in perspective. A dozen runs may seem like alot, but is pale in comparison to the hundreds of runs made every rush hour of every day.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is it the TTC's job to fix GTA transit? - Toronto Star

Is it the TTC's job to fix GTA transit?
Expert says Toronto must lead the way, but chair believes city needs come first
January 04, 2007
David Bruser
Michele Henry

The TTC must be the catalyst for a revitalized transit network across Greater Toronto, says a long-time transit expert. But TTC chair Adam Giambrone says his agency must look after its own needs first.

"Toronto's aspirations for growth depend on what goes on out there in the hinterland," said expert Richard Soberman. "All this residential growth is happening out there. If they want more First Canadian Places, then we want a more integrated transit system because we've committed to no further expansion of the road network."

The need for a revitalized network was apparent this week. Cancelled GO trains and buses delayed thousands of commuters Tuesday and yesterday. A short shutdown of the TTC's Yonge subway line at rush hour Tuesday sent riders streaming onto downtown streets.

These are just the latest troubles for the agencies.

The TTC is struggling to keep up with increasing ridership while GO Transit trains must share track with CN and CP freight trains – and the freights have the right-of-way. GO also hires CN and CP staff to run the locomotives, sometimes leading to labour problems that are out of GO's control.

Yet with the GTA's roads becoming increasingly congested, public transit is seen as part of the solution for moving people. And Soberman says the Toronto Transit Commission is the key. "(The TTC is) supposed to work in the City of Toronto's interests, (which) will be maintained with good linkages and accessibility to and from the surrounding regions where all the residential growth is taking place."

However, "it's going to need some high-level change in philosophy and attitude," said Soberman – and that includes limiting the role of politicians on the TTC. Nine Toronto councillors make up its board.

"I think the TTC has lost that leading edge and it has lost it because of the political involvement," Soberman said.

The current makeup of the commission promotes short-term thinking that often does not get beyond doing what's popular for one neighbourhood. Meanwhile, what's good for the region gets lost.

"Appoint some people with qualifications to run this in a more business-like manner. Once upon a time, everybody came to Toronto to learn it right by the TTC. They don't come any more."

The TTC is by far the GTA's largest transit provider, carrying each day the vast majority of the region's passenger load. On a typical weekday, TTC buses, streetcars and subway trains carry more than 1 million passengers. GO trains and buses carry 190,000.

But Soberman's proposal for the TTC to take the lead was met with strong opposition from Giambrone, a city councillor who says there's a grave risk of bleeding the TTC to nourish suburban transit service.

He fears that improving transit in the 905 regions could simply become a raid on the TTC.

"We have a role to play in regional transit, but our first priority has to be the transit users of Toronto and the residents of Toronto," he said. "There's a real fear that if we pool resources then TTC resources will spread out more evenly across the GTA, which would increase service in the 905 area, but would lead to a dramatic reduction of service in Toronto."

Suburban transit systems simply aren't as dense as Toronto's, in large part because of the low-density pattern of development.

Giambrone said the solution is to fund and develop stronger transit systems in each region. For example, he said it might make sense to build a surface rail service or dedicated bus lanes up and down Hurontario St. in Mississauga, where there's already strong demand for transit. Similarly, Viva is developing strong routes in York Region.

Then it makes sense to link those systems to the TTC, with the help of the new Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, he said. The GTTA was set up by the province to develop the region's transportation needs. It's expected GO will fall under its purview.

Ed Levy, senior consultant with BA Consulting Group, notes that because GO must share track, scheduling GO commuter trains becomes nearly impossible.

"How long can we afford to have commuter trains in the GTA subservient to freight trains, especially during peak periods?" he asked.

To be fair, GO Transit is upgrading much of its facilities and adding new rail lines but with one-time government funding. The construction has meant disrupted service.

"While the debate goes on among the experts, long-suffering commuters were taking the latest service hiccups in stride.

Opposition politicians at Queen's Park called for better funding for transit.

"Until you put adequate money into the system people are going to be standing on platforms, they're going to be late for work and we're going to have gridlock," said New Democrat Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth).

with files from Rob Ferguson
and John Spears


The article exposes the fallacy in service delivery under the government system we have. Seldom are problems confined to one particular jurisdiction, but politicians are only responsible for the voters in their jurisdiction. Gridlock affects the surrounding municipalities as much as it does Toronto, but the TTC has no incentive to improve service in Markham or Mississauga. I'm sure the residents would be thankful, but they wouldn't be able to vote to re-elect the people who helped them out. Its clear that the TTC and Toronto City Council as a whole wants to help solve the gridlock outside of Toronto (because it indirectly affects Toronto), but they are politicians, and know that suburban residents can't reward them, and that Toronto residents would probably balk at them helping the suburbs.

So what can we do? Addressing the some of the specific issues raised in the article, there are a few things we can do.
  • In order to improve the labour problems at GO Transit, they need to strengthen the contract with whomever they select as the new train operator. There needs to be some sort of penalty if the contractor cannot provide crews to operate the trains. Not only will the service become more reliable, but it will save the agency money when runs have to be cancelled.
  • The government should enter into agreements with the freight railways to upgrade the lines to allow more capacity for passenger and commuter trains. Freight trains are the bane of the commuter's existence as much as commuter trains are the bane of the railways existence, so it's in the best interest of both the railways and the transit agencies to separate freight and passenger trains.

How can we promote inter regional transit in the GTA? Here are a few ideas on how to deal with this broader issue.

  • Give the GTTA regular funding and real teeth to plan, fund and implement inter regional transit projects in the GTA. This way, cities will be able to focus on moving people around the city, and the GTTA will focus on making travel between cities faster and more efficient. This will be a huge step forward over what we've had, and should be the GTTA's first objective. However, it should not be a stopping point, as it still promotes the belief that the GTA is made up of distinct cities with distinct issues. To fully integrate transit, we need to move away from this mentality.
  • Transform the GTTA into an agency which is similar to TransLink, where each transit agency is a subsidiary of a larger organization. The parent agency will have the control to set minimum service standards for the local agencies, while the rapid transit lines will be run by a separate subsidiary. This is a prospect that I will explore in a later post.

Does the TTC have the responsibility for fixing the transit problems in the GTA as a whole? They may not have the political responsibility, but I believe that they, being central to transit across the region, have the moral responsibility to do so, unless we give the GTTA the tools to take the lead.