Category Archives for "Urban Transit"

Jun 07

Waterloo ION LRT Marks 5 Successful Years

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

The Waterloo ION LRT is Ontario’s first modern urban LRT line, and has just marked 5 years of successful operation.  At our recent Annual General Meeting, Transport Action Ontario members and supporters were given an update from Doug Spooner, Acting Commissioner, Transportation Services, Region of Waterloo. The following is from Doug’s talk plus a review of historical ION files.

Waterloo Regional Council approved the Phase 1 ION LRT project, from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Mall (19 km) in 2011.  A 30-year DBFOM procurement model was selected.  In March, 2014, a consortium called GrandLinq, with members Plenary, Meridian, Aecom, Kiewit and Keolis was selected as the winning bidder. Council also approved an interim BRT service from Fairview to Cambridge (Galt).

A staff report from March 4, 2014 provided a uniquely transparent amount of detail on the final costs and structure of the GrandLinq project agreement.  Capital costs for the Design-Build portion were $532M (independent of inflation), with the consortium paying $131M of initial capital costs, to be repaid later.  This total does not include non-DBFOM items like vehicles, land, project office, some early works and interim BRT.  The total capital costs of the project was $818M.

The 30-year financing, operating, maintenance and lifecycle costs were $901M, to be adjusted for inflation, actual service levels, deductions for non-performance. 

The report cited a savings of $400M -500M in avoided road widenings through mature neighbourhoods, and the improved quality of life in much of the community.

Funding sources for the project were $300M from the province and $265M from the federal government, with the balance to be sourced from the Region.

The Phase I project has proven a great success. The asset is owned by the Region which sets schedules and collects fares.  Keolis is the operator.   The right-of-way is a mix of dedicated transit lanes and separated rail corridor.  The service runs a 10-minute headway in peak times and 15-minute off-peak, with full transit signal priority. With fare and service integration with the balance of Grand River Transit, ridership is up and growing.  The LRT stations were designed for coupled cars, so adding capacity is straightforward.  Over $3 Billion of development has occurred along the corridor. 

Business Case development has commenced on the Phase 2 LRT project from Fairview to Cambridge (Galt).  Three terminus sites in Galt are being compared, with capital costs, including cost escalation to 2033 and contingency, ranging from $2.9B – $4.5B.  The Business Case is also looking at technology options (eg BRT in lieu of LRT) and level of priority (exclusive lanes vs. mixed traffic).

The Region has acknowledged the much higher unit cost for Phase 2, citing reasons including a need for 6 bridges (versus zero in Phase 1), grade separations and general construction cost escalation in the past 10 years.

The Region is also partnering with Metrolinx on a new $130M multimodal transit hub in Kitchener, connecting VIA Rail. GO Transit, ION, Grand River Transit and local trail systems in one location.

May 29

Advocacy Summary April, 2023 – May, 2024

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

Transport Action Ontario’s annual general meeting (AGM) was held in Toronto on May 25, 2024 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.

Apr 30

GO Train Service Improvements start April 28

By Transport Action Ontario | Urban Transit

Ontario continues to unlock the power of the GO train network.

On Sunday April 28, 2024, GO Transit’s new summer schedule began with a large service increase. The service increases were announced by the Premier and his transportation minister at the beginning of April, after being ‘leaked’ a few months ago in a Metrolinx update email. Metrolinx claims that this is the largest single service expansion in GO Transit’s history, but that fact has yet to be independently verified.

Lakeshore Line

The increase includes the return of 15-minute service on the Lakeshore Line between Oshawa and Oakville during weekend afternoons and evenings. Expansion of 15 minute service beyond Oakville is desperately needed, but will have to be held off until the Burloak Drive grade separation is completed. Metrolinx has yet to state that this will be the case, so public pressure will likely be needed.

Kitchener Line

The first 30-minute midday weekday service on the Kitchener line has also begun. The service operates only between Bramalea and Union. Unfortunately, at many times the schedule is not quite 30 minutes, and gaps still exist in off-peak directions. Riders beyond Bramalea continue to be left in the dark as to when they will see even weekend service to Kitchener, even following many months of increased pressure from area MPs, MPPs, and mayors to release even so much as a timeline for improved service.

Stouffville Line

The Stouffville line is seeing a return to train service beyond 7pm on weekdays, a hopefully permanent change that will contribute to the transformation of GO Transit from a commuter rail system to a regional rail system.

Milton Line

Unfortunately, even after deadheading a GO train all the way to Milton for the announcement, Milton riders were only gifted one additional weekday round-trip. Premier Ford stated in response to a question that the announcement location was “absolutely not” motivated by the by-election currently underway in Milton.

UP Express (UPX) stumble

The schedule changes didn’t come without some havoc. In a bid to address crowding, and to reinforce the UP Express as a premium service only for airport-downtown passengers, the changes originally proposed the removal of stops at Weston and Bloor stations for every second UPX train. The proposal sparked enormous immediate public uproar from UPX riders who have been grateful for the accidental rapid transit success the train has become by being a fast link to downtown.

In a rare move, transportation minister Prabmeet Sarkaria himself ordered the reversal of the change. Such a change should have been seen as obviously unpopular from the beginning, and is just another example of how Metrolinx can be out of touch with its passengers. The quick reversal is a positive move showing the increased focus the government is paying to transit and transit riders, however some have speculated that the change might have been spurred by the Premier’s nephew and area MPP Michael Ford, whose constituency office happens to be right across from Weston GO. Perhaps MPP Ford’s office should be be moved to Kitchener!

More to come

Overall, these are welcome, if not a little rough, changes that are just the beginning of what is to come. As we wait for the completion of the co-development phase of the GO Expansion project with ONExpress, we wish that Metrolinx were more forthcoming with their changes and future plans so that riders are treated with respect and the public can continue to reliably plan their lives around the GTHA’s future sustainable and frequent regional rail.

Presto card readers. (Photograph by Wylie Poon via Flickr)
Feb 10

Fare Integration in Greater Toronto takes Giant Step Forward

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

After years of campaigning, analysis and u-turns (see our post of August 27, 2019), public transit in Greater Toronto will take a giant step forward on February 26, 2024 when Ontario launches its “One Fare” program.

Transit riders will only pay once when connecting between the TTC, GO Transit and 4 regional transit systems – Brampton Transit, Durham Region Transit, MiWay, and York Region Transit. There is already a zero co-fare policy between GO Transit and other transit agencies in the 905, like Hamilton or Burlington, as well as a zero co-fare policy between individual 905 agencies. Therefore this means that the one fare program applies across the entire Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. For example:

  • Trip starts on TTC, transfers to GO, then transfers back to TTC or 905 agency. Pay only the GO fare. Transfer valid within 3 hours of start of GO trip
  • Trip starts on YRT, transfers to TTC. Pay only the YRT fare. Transfers valid for 2 hours from start of YRT trip.

Passengers using credit or debit cards, including cards stored in digital wallets, will need to ensure they tap the same card for each segment of their journey to receive the co-fare discount.

This advance will remove major inequities such as at York University, where students from the 905 using local transit or GO buses were required to pay an additional TTC fare to travel 1 or 2 subway stops, or walk up to 15 minutes.

The program is expected to attract an additional 8 million riders per year, with an expected program cost is $90 million/year. This will be funded by Ontario and local systems will be reimbursed for foregone fare revenue.

The previous co-fare policy was introduced in 2018, providing a $1.50 discount on GO-TTC transfers, but this was ended in March 2020 because funding was not renewed by the provincial government.

Photo of Presto Card readers by Wylie Poon via Flickr

Hazel McCallion LRT Matheson station rendering (Metrolinx)
Feb 08

Major Changes and Unknowns with Hazel McCallion LRT

By Transport Action Ontario | Urban Transit

Ontario Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria directed Metrolinx to “proceed with the development of an initial business plan along with a strategy to go to market for bids to build both the Mississauga loop and the Brampton extension” in a surprise letter on January 17, 2024.

As with all major transit projects in Ontario, the Hurontario-Main LRT project (now known as the Hazel McCallion LRT) has had its share of drama and twists and turns.  It was approved for funding in 2014 as an at-grade (“urban style”) LRT from Port Credit to Brampton GO along the centre of Huronontario and Main Streets.  It would be largely separated from traffic in its own right of way, except at road intersections and along a segment through Brampton Main St. South Heritage Area.

During 2015, mounting pressure from small but influential anti-LRT groups in Brampton induced its council to initiate a study on other options for Main St, including other routes and tunneling.  Staff found that all options other than a tunnel on Main St. had major technical issues.

The pressure paid off.  In October, 2015, despite staff and public support (including from Transport Action Ontario) for the surface plan, Brampton Council narrowly rejected the surface option.   In response, Metrolinx reduced the project scope to terminate the project at Gateway Station and reassigned the committed funding elsewhere.  Metrolinx also complied with Council’s wish in 2017 to relocate the terminus to the south side of Steeles Ave, in order to maintain the flexibility to use an alternate parallel corridor to Main St in the future.  ( despite identified technical issues!)  

In a complete turnaround, a new Brampton Council voted unanimously in 2018 to affirm a Main St. alignment, with the issue of surface vs. tunnel TBD.  It also requested that Gateway Station be relocated further north to better serve Brampton Transit bus riders. Unsurprisingly, Metrolinx rejected these changes, claiming that procurement was too far advanced to permit changes.

The scope of the project was further reduced in 2019 when the province directed that the expensive (potentially elevated or tunneled) 2.4 km loop at Mississauga City Centre/Square One Mall was to be replaced with a spur. 

A DBFOM (30 years) contract was awarded to Mobilinx Group in late 2019, with a value of $4.6B and a construction completion date of 2024.

During 2020 to 2023, Brampton continued to study the tunnel vs surface options for Main St and took both options to the 30% design stage.  Both options were found to be feasible.  The tunnel option provided better travel times, had less impact to Downtown Brampton and had higher ridership.  But the tunnel route would cost $2.8B versus surface at $933M and take 1-2 years longer to construct.  Council unanimously supported the tunnel option, pointing out that funding the tunnel option would bring Brampton in line with per capita transit investment in other GTHA cities.

Fast forward to January 17, 2024, and Minister Sarkaria’s letter asking Metrolinx to build both the Mississauga loop and the Brampton extension after all.  Metrolinx responded by February 5, as requested, but the plan has not yet been revealed to the public.   

While this is clearly very good news, there are many questions arising from this latest development that hopefully will be addressed in the Metrolinx plan:

  • Which Brampton option will be chosen (surface or tunnel)?
  • Will a second station on the north side of Steeles be included?
  • Will the Mississauga loop be at grade, elevated or tunneled?
  • Will the timing to open the nearly-completed Mobilinx section be affected?
  • What is the cost of these extensions?
  • Will the Transit Oriented Communities program be invoked as another funding tool?
  • Will the municipalities be required to fund portions of these extensions?
  • How much will the federal government contribute to these extensions?
  • What procurement strategy will be followed?

The McCallion LRT project has had many u-turns.  Vast amounts of money and time could have been saved by building the loop and Brampton portion from the start as originally envisioned – a lesson in thinking longer term.  We look forward to smooth sailing from now on.

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