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Apr 16

Advocacy Summary for April, 2022 – April, 2023

By Transport Action Ontario | Events , Highways and Bridges , Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Southwestern Ontario , Uncategorized , Urban Transit

Transport Action Ontario’s annual general meeting (AGM) was held in Toronto on April 15, 2023 in a hybrid format. The meeting followed a pro-forma agenda, including Treasurer’s report and election of officers and directors for the upcoming year.

The major part of the meeting was devoted to the President’s report, which summarized the extensive advocacy work undertaken by the organization all across the Province over the past 12 months. In total, work was conducted on about 30 items, with some successes and good progress on others.

For members and subscribers who were unable to attend the AGM, the President’s Report is attached as a FYI.

Mar 22

Gardiner East Transparency – Advocacy Update

By Transport Action Ontario | Highways and Bridges , Latest News

Transport Action Ontario is a core member of a coalition of community groups called Gardiner East Transparency (GET), calling for the City of Toronto to be transparent and to reveal the full go-forward costs and foregone revenues – potentially exceeding $1 billion – of its June, 2015 decision to build a colossal elevated link between the Gardiner East Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

A media release (see below) was issued on March 13, 2023 and was extremely well received, with over 10 radio, TV and print outlets picking up the story.

Unfortunately, despite many letters and deputations from residents, Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee chose on March 20 to not take further action on this matter. GET will continue its advocacy by keeping the issue visible during the upcoming Toronto mayoral campaign April 3 to June 26.

Mar 11

Federal Funding Needed to avoid Public Transit Death Spiral

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

 During summer, 2022 the federal government engaged in public consultation on a proposed $3B/yr Permanent Public Transit Fund.  The purpose was to “support the expansion and upgrading of public transit and active transportation networks in communities across Canada”.  This wording implies that the funding will be for capital projects, not operating funds.

 One of the comments made by Transport Action on the posting was that the funding ought to also include operating cost support.  Now, 6 months later, the need for federal operating cost support is as large as ever.

 The pandemic has broken the public transit funding model.  Prior to the pandemic, the federal government was only involved in capital funding, through such programs as the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.  The role of funding public transit operations was traditionally left to provinces (e.g. Ontario Gas Tax program) and municipalities.  In most cases, municipalities were the primary funders of operations, but have limited fiscal tools beyond politically unpopular property taxes and user fees.

 With the precipitous drop in transit ridership and farebox revenue in 2020, the federal government intervened with the provinces to provide emergency operating support though the Safe Restart Agreement, which was renewed in 2022.  This support prevented a complete collapse in transit service. Despite passenger revenues declining by 57% overall in 2020-2021, service levels only declined by 9%.  

Ridership is now at only 70% of pre-pandemic, although has recovered more for off-peak service and bus routes versus peak-hour rail routes, due to continued work-from-home practices. Overall ridership is unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic totals for quite a time. Thus the operating funding problem has not gone away.  Before the pandemic, 40-70% of transit operating budgets for transit systems were paid for through fares.  With fare box revenue reduction and financial assistance from other levels of government drying up, transit systems face the threat of a death spiral.  This is a vicious cycle of service cuts and fare hikes that push people away from transit, further decreasing revenue leading to further service cuts. This has huge negative consequences  on traffic congestion, carbon emissions and to shift workers and low-income riders.

 The death spiral may already be starting.  Montreal has killed most of its frequent bus network.  The TTC 2023 budget is proposing a 5% service cut versus 2022 and a 3% fare hike (most riders).  Despite a proposed increased subsidy from the City of Toronto, an additional subsidy is  being sought from the provincial and federal governments.  There is no answer yet on this request.

 We urge the federal government to stop the public transit death spiral with additional funding. This could be in the form of operating subsidies, or “restructuring” funding to align service patterns with new demand patterns. In the GTHA, the feds could also provide support for region-wide fare integration, which would undoubtedly boost ridership. Action is needed in the upcoming federal budget.

 (with thanks to Nate Wallace, Environmental Defence, for background information)

Mar 04

Enhanced Train Control for Canada’s Railways

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus

In February 2022, Transport Canada published a Notice of Intent describing how it intended to implement enhanced train control (ETC) in Canada by 2030. ETC is also known as positive train control (PTC) in the USA.   Currently, reliance for train safety in Canada is placed solely on the train crew.  There is no regulatory requirement for technologies to be installed to protect against operation above the permitted speed or to ensure that a wayside signal is followed.

ETC technologies are used to improve safety and can also increase track capacity by moving people and freight faster through high volume corridors.   The basic Canadian approach will likely have railway companies tailor investment according to the level of safety risk posed by individual railway corridors:

  •  More advanced functionality in higher risk corridors – stop train movement to prevent collision with other trains, derailments caused by excessive train speeds or prevent trains from entering authorized areas of track.
  • Basic functionality in lower risk corridors – e.g. alert crews of excessive speed or upcoming stop restrictions.

Canada’s rail network is an “open network” meaning trains owned by one company can operate on its corridors and, with prior agreement, in corridors owned and maintained by other railways.  Canadian companies operating in the USA have had to comply with its congressional mandate to implement PTC by end 2020.  Any Canadian ETC technology will have to preserve interoperability among Canadian operators and compatibility with PTC.  It will also need to be compatible with ETC systems being installed by Canadian passenger railways like GO Transit and VIA Rail on their corridors. For example, European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 is the system promised for GO Expansion.

Transport Canada has just completed stakeholder consultation on the ETC plan.  Comments were supportive and raised the expected themes of interoperability, risk-based assessment and technology.  Some respondents pointed to the ETCS as a proven system that could likely meet the federal goals.

Transport Action is supportive of the federal ETC approach, but urge a shorter time line than 2030.  After all, this issue has been a priority of the Transportation Safety Board since the VIA Rail derailment in Burlington, ON in 2012. The use of open standards like ETCS is welcome but CN and CP already have iETMS systems for PTC operations in the USA, so interoperability becomes more complex.

Mar 01

Truth in Advertising for High Frequency Rail

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Uncategorized

Transport Action board members Terry Johnson and Peter Miasek recently published an article in the March/April 2023 edition of Renew Magazine advocating for increased federal transparency for the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project. This project appears to be rapidly increasing in scope and complexity versus what was proposed in 2017 by VIA Rail, including higher potential speeds and more complex routes into Montreal and Toronto city centres.

We urged the release of the $71M study completed by the Joint Project Office in 2021, an updated cost estimate and a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

The article can be read here.