The Plan

On The Big Move map, the GO Rail system, shown in red, is to be upgraded into a regional metro, a fast network of trains linking all parts of the GTHA. Toronto is fortunate to have a rail network, built originally for freight trains, that can be adapted in this way. Although essentially a radial system, it can also serve many suburb-to-suburb journeys. Subways, light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT) lines, shown in yellow, are to be extended and linked together into a second-tier ‘”grid.” They are intended to serve shorter trips, connect regional nodes, and carry passengers to the GO lines for longer trips.

London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore have all developed similar “three-tier” transit systems, with a network of radial rail lines for inter-regional trips, slower metro and light rail lines providing local collection and distribution, and bus and surface trams to penetrate local communities.

But maps can be misleading. The actual usefulness of the system will depend on service details such as speeds, journey times and frequencies, the integration of fares, and station layouts. If any one of these does not work, then the competitiveness of transit suffers and many travellers will continue to drive. For example, the 905-region BRT routes, and the TTC’s Scarborough-Eglinton-Crosstown LRT route, appear to offer an alternative to Highway 401 for crosstown trips. But in fact, journey times will be too slow – almost two hours from eastern Scarborough to Pearson Airport. Although these schemes appear to be “inter-regional,” because together they cross municipal boundaries, most trips will be local unless there are good connections onto a fast inter-regional network.

A key challenge for Metrolinx is to ensure integration, so commuters can travel across the region easily and with few transfers. Motorists driving along local, regional and provincial roads may notice a slight change in signage, but otherwise do not notice much difference between the roads. Transit riders, however, do not have the same kind of experience. Black dots are easy to show on maps, but effective transit interchanges can be much more problematic. Sometimes trains pass but do not stop. Sometimes an interchange requires a long walk between stations, or crossing a busy road. While some interchanges are reasonably well designed, at others even basic signage is lacking. The lack of contra-peak and off-peak services on many GO rail routes means that a trip that looks simple on the map is in fact very slow and difficult to accomplish. It can also be expensive. Currently, people travelling between, say, Oakville and Richmond Hill may need to pay two or three fares. Regular commuters can learn timetables, and purchase a monthly pass. But many people have irregular travel schedules or work shifts. If they need a car for some trips, they will be inclined to use it for all trips.

TTC’s agreement to implement the PRESTO farecard will reduce the need for passengers to purchase multiple tickets. But this alone will not achieve the full benefits of smart cards. Currently, each operator sets fares according to its own policies, essentially to recover a target share of costs. Flat fare pricing on the TTC and regional bus services is simple to understand, but does not represent “smart pricing.” GO Transit fares vary by distance, but not by time of day. By comparison, London, England, has used smart card technology to increase ridership and revenues, effectively offering discounts for off-peak and inter-regional trips. With carefully designed smart pricing, it is possible to offer lower individual fares while increasing overall revenues by attracting higher ridership.

This report considers each of the Big Move projects. We evaluate them using the criteria suggested by Metrolinx. Are they consistent with the guiding principles? Will they contribute to achieving Metrolinx’s targets for increasing ridership and reducing commuting times at a reasonable cost? And, where it is relevant, we suggest ideas from international best practices that might improve the proposed schemes.