City of Ottawa Approach to Transit Spending



Where’s the New LRT?



As a former New Yorker (I spent a year living there does that make me qualify as a “New Yorker”?) I used to ride the subway all the time. It was the cheapest way to get around town in the quickest amount of time.

I guess this is why I have come up with the fascination of public transit in both New York City and Toronto. I’ve noticed I’ve written quite a bit on taking the subway, either directly writing about issues on the subway systems themselves or in taking the subway to a place or event.

So I came accross a video that never crossed my mind in ever doing. The Youtube video is from a New York City subway car. Lets paint the picture before watching the video:

-The subway system is used by over 2.5 million riders a day.

-It is also the dirtiest transit system I’ve ever encountered when comparing Ottawa’s, Toronto’s, York Region’s and New York City’s.

-people’s hands hold onto the metal bars of subway cars to maintain balance while standing as the subway train moves.

-I’ve seen more nasty unclean homeless people on the New York City subway system than any other transit system I’ve ever ridden.

Now for the video (caution…don’t eat beforehand!):

This video evidence means if I ever ride the New York City subway system again, to wear surgical gloves because you never who or what may have touched that surface last!

Is the commute best part of your day? – Is commute best part of your day?

When I read this article I nearly fell of my chair laughing. It turns out that people consider commuting to be not bad. My question to these pollsters is:

Did you talk to anyone in Ontario?

Most Ontarioans, I would bet, think their commute stinks! Stuck in gridlocked traffic, being cut off by some @%! hole driving a BMW who believes he is much more important than thou.

I did agree with the finding that those who took mass transit find their commute the worst. Over stuffed Subways, buses that leave you at the curb because theres no room (and your lucky if they even arrive on time!) and unpolite people jamming their bags into you and/or talking on their cell phones are just some reasons. In York Region, it seems the mass transit system needs a lot of work, even with the advent of the VIVA system. Why does it take an hour to just over two hours to go from central York Region (Aurora) to Downsview Station? This is because connections between buses are obnoxious (i.e. one bus just misses the other by a minute forcing passengers needing to transfer to wait ten to fifteen minutes or even more). When you call VIVA customer service they give you lame excuses like: “the system operates just like the subway” and “there is traffic causing delays.” Well news flash, the Toronto subway, unlike VIVA, doesn’t operate every 10 minutes or 15 minutes apart. Also, there is constant traffic, so if you promise a bus will arrive every ten minutes or less or fifteen minutes or less then perhaps you should be running them less than ten minutes apart or less than fifteen minutes aparrt. No wonder this commute take so long!

Considering that the average commute in the Greater Toronto Area (Toronto and its surrounding suburbs) is 79 minutes and growing, how can these commuters be enjoy their commutes?

I know when I was in Ottawa as a student, I noted similar traffic conditions to those of Toronto. Bumper to bumper and overpacked bus system into the downtown core is also the rule in Ottawa. So how can people claim this a good commute. I’m not sure how people enjoy sitting in a car or bus that isn’t going anywhere.

People enjoy their commute in smaller centres? Perhaps, I will concede this. But I would imagine that most jobs are in big cities like the Greater Toronto area, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and others where the traffic arteries are clogged worse than an obese person chugging down mountains of McDonald’s french fries. Transit? The transit systems are choking on their own success with overflowing buses and subway systems. I’m still wondering how could this be possible that people enjoy their commute?

Perhaps the pollsters called quite a few rural farmers whose commute involves hopping in the pick-up truck and driving down the half kilometre driveway to barn. These country bumpkins only have to worry about a non moooooooving cow instead of an idiot whose car broke down in the middle lane of Highway 401 at Yonge Street in Toronto. No wonder these people would say they have a possible commute, their work is only max one kilometre away! This would offset the percentages of those in urban centres who hate their commutes and the related daily grind of work.

Perhaps Statscan should try this study again. Perhaps Statscan take can exclude the rural folk who don’t commute into an urban centre on a regular basis to work. Then perhaps Statscan would have a more true commute to work responses that look like this:

Have you ever tried to navigate through Toronto during rush hour? Do you think Statscan really knows what it’s like to try to drive downtown – can’t turn left, can’t turn right, construction, etc.? — Calvin Lam, Toronto

To the readers: Do you like your commute?

talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to US Cities

talk talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to Canadian and American Cities

This blogger takes a look at the differences in cost between the TTC and other Canadian and American transit systems. Lets take two examples from his posting.


Toronto: Fares, per token (cheaper than cash, the same as Metropass if you travel 10 times per week) are $2.00, going up to $2.10. Start stocking up! Revenues from fares are 80% (this is generally known and stated in many places, but according to my calculations from the TTC’s 2004 Annual Report, it’s 92.8%, unless you factor in their separate operating subsidy, which makes it 69.2% — can I just say the TTC’s annual report is the most amateurish piss-poor document I’ve seen.) . The city and advertising pays the rest of the TTC’s revenues. This year we will receive $132 million in gas tax from the province. That’s 13.3% of total expenses, zero percent of capital expenses. Wow!

New York City: This comprehensive transit system, the most equivalent to Toronto’s as it’s the biggest system in the US and ours is in Canada, gets 57% of operating expenses from fares, 17% from local, 20% from state; 71% and 29% of capital expenses from local and federal respectively.


The blogger goes through percentages that the farebox contributes to the overall operating and capital costs in operating the respective transit system as well as a bunch of other figures. Looking at each transit system in terms of an accountant is all well and good.

However what this blogger fails to note is value for money. A businessman and customer understands the concept of value for money. A good businessman will provide a very good product or service at a highly competitive price. Customers see this everyday when they shop. Duracell is a well known company that provides well made batteries that a customer knows will last a respectable time length for the amount a customer pays for it. The customer could choose another battery, but Duracell has proven to be good value.

In terms of transit lets take a look at the two transit systems noted above.

TTC: Two main subway lines (Bloor-Danforth-Scarborough RT and Yonge-University-Spadina line) and one stub line (Sheppard Subway) that provides local service only. This system is complimented by overcrowded buses and streetcars running within mostly mixed traffic. Cash fare $2.50 Canadian (as of today).

Distance Travelled: Finch Subway to Union Station via Yonge-University-Spadina Line local service 30 minutes.

MTA New York City Transit: Several subway lines with both express and local service during the day. Also at least some local service operates 24 hours a day. This system has more trackage than all other transit systems in North America combined! This service is complimented by many buses that operate in mixed traffic. These buses, depending on their route, can be overcrowded in some areas depending on the time of day. Cash fare is $2.00 U.S. (far less than $2.50).

Distance travelled: Borough Hall (Brooklyn) to Times Square-42nd Street (Manhatten) via 2 Express Train (approx 20 kilometres) in 15 minutes.

As a transit rider that has experienced both Toronto’s and New York City’s transit systems, I much prefer New York’s for a couple of reasons:

1. New York system moves over 10 million people a day and makes it look effortlessly in most cases. This is probably perhaps you can go practically anywhere in the 5 boroughs (Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens & Staten Island) on one single ticket. Toronto, in contrast, requires you too walk for a couple of blocks in order find a bus or streetcar. Most of Toronto’s transit system tends to be servicing the downtown core with only a few routes, mainly on arterial roads, operating in the outer areas of the city.

2. New York’s train cars and buses are newer than Toronto’s. New York’s train cars, on some routes, even announce upcoming stops and other transit lines you can transfer too automatically in both audible and visual forms. Toronto’s transit cars now has conductors who announce upcoming stops. Toronto’s buses date from the late 1980s mostly while the New York buses date from the 1990s and onwards.

The value for money points towards New York’s system as being far superior in terms of miles of track (and thus speed to get to and more areas of the city served) in comparison to Toronto’s. Yet Toronto’s cash fare keeps increasing. New York’s fare does too but at least their is value for money being seen by the transit user in New York City in terms of renewal of infrastructure (e.g. track replacement, new train cars, etc.) which is in sharp contrast to Toronto. In Toronto, the TTC on a yearly basis cries out for more money just to maintain services it already has. The TTC is crying for money in order to keep the lumbering streetcars in mixed traffic and older overcrowded buses struggeling to stay on the road. Value for money? Sorry TTC you lose!

Group has $7.9M to get you to leave car at home – Group has $7.9M to get you to leave car at home

Getting paid to commute by transit? Hello that is so me! I still don’t have a drivers license and don’t need one living in New York City. New York City has perhaps one of the best transit systems in the world. Ok…even the system in NYC is not perfect with construction needed and some down time due to track fires. However, that is what happens when the backbone of your system is now over the age of a century.

Giving people incentive to take transit, even though in some cases transit may take a little more time to take in comparison to the car, can only be positive. Paying people cash as well as a free monthly bus pass will increase transit ridership as well as reduce the number of cars on the road. This means cleaner air and less congestion on the roadway. However, there is a problem with this plan already. Is there capacity on the transit system to handle the increased demand that is sure to come from providing an incentive like this? Probably not considering GO Transit‘s three train’s southbound and three trains northbound to Bradford are packed already. Another problem is Union Station in Toronto is already really packed with trains and delays are already backing up this important hub in Toronto. Renovations are due for this station, but I doubt whether any more trains will be added to soon except for the possibilty to Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport. Issues of capacity may mean more buses and trains will need to be ordered in order to handle the excess the capacity created when these incentives are put through.

But this new incentive may work for the new VIVA rapid transit program. The VIVA program will, like Ottawa’s Transitway, will provide rapid express bus service to major points along Yonge Street (between Newmarket and Finch Subway Station), along Highway 7 (between Vaughan and Markham) and better connections to major points in north Toronto (e.g. York University, etc.). This new transit system’s launch would only benefit from such a deal in York Region. This way people might actually get out of their cars in order to check out “VIVA” to get to work in Toronto. The VIVA program will have some existing capacity, but most of it will be new capacity since GO Transit appears to still want to run the Newmarket “B” route in both its local and express forms and seems to refuse the idea of ending the service once VIVA starts up.

As for the conditions in Toronto and the TTC. The Yonge Street subway line is practically at capacity already during the morning and afternoon rushes. So providing incentives to people to start using that line to get to work is pointless unless more capacity is added somehow. However, with the TTC facing a yearly budget crunch, along with the City of Toronto, adding capacity to the Yonge line doesn’t seem likely to happen to soon. Encouraging more people onto the Spadina line might help a bit as well. To do this might require the TTC to finally push the Sheppard line westward to meet the Spadina line at Downsview subway station. Again, this is unlikely to happen as well because of the above noted budget shortfalls. So it seems in the short run, what people need to get out of their cars is reliable transit.

But this is not likely to happen too soon during rush hours because of funding shortfalls needed to increase capacity and to maintain existing service. Sure the federal government is sending GST rebates to municipalities in the name of transit service. But these cheques are pretty well already spent considering that municipalities (like Toronto) are battling to maintain existing service because of the need to retire old buses and purchase new ones. Thus, the GST money is only really going to maintaining existing service and not increasing capacity in anyway. With the exception of York Region Transit, expansion of existing systems in the Toronto area looks unlikely. Why York Region Transit? Because of the creative way the private-public partnership and launching VIVA has been undertaken and due to be launched in September. Other municipalities in the Toronto area are hesitant to get into public-private partnerships in transit terms because of bad experiences like the highway 407 fiasco (a privately owned highway in the suburbs of Toronto that went horribly horribly wrong). Therefore, the public-private nature of VIVA is being watched by local governments to see how it pans out. Why wait? The VIVA consortium is a brand new idea in providing services to people. So governments are watching to see what problems creep up and what successes there are to such a deal. This way if the VIVA program goes horribly horribly wrong (like the 407 fiasco did), then governments know not to make a similar deal in the future. So capacity is not likely to be increase during rush hours due to reluctance of local governments to engage in public-private partnerships until VIVA operational and fully studied.

So capacity during rush hours is not likely to be increased any time soon (except in York Region). So what good is it to provide incentives for people to get out of their cars and onto transit during the most needed times if there is no capacity along the main transit arteries (e.g. Yonge Street subway line)? The only way is to get people to utilize the lesser used arteries like the University-Spadina subway line which still have available capacity. But can how would stipulate that you can’t use a subway line? It is almost impossible.

The only other option is to provide incentives for people to telecommute to work (i.e. work from home) or shift their work schedules so they are not in rush hour times. This would increase the number of people taking transit during times when there is underused capacity on the clogged rush hour arteries. In other words, why not commute home at 7:00 P.M. and into work at 10:00 A.M. when the subways are still running yet have space to spare? It make sense, now we just need people to volunteer. Perhaps throwing in $200 and a free transit pass a year might do that. This would encourage more people to take transit as well as not cost the transit systems any more money because of existing unused capacity being used. It is truly a win-win situation if this were to happen. All of this just by adding one stipulation of not riding transit during existing rush hours or telecommuting. But this will require further investigation on how to keep people from riding during rush hours.

Government incentives are great if they are fully thought through. However, obviously this incentive program hasn’t been thoroughly thought through by the federal government. This is because new transit funding for infrastructure projects only needs to be invested in order to expand capacity during peek periods in the Toronto area to make this program work. Why only Toronto? Because Toronto is currently heading towards becoming worse than Los Angeles in terms of congestion. The city needs utmost help.

Other cities in Canada might be able to benefit from the deal to give financial incentives for people to leave their cars at home. But capacity needs to be ensured to be there. If other cities are anything like Toronto in terms of capacity issues during peak periods, then this incentive may not work.