Metrolinx in need of course correction if it is to meet its goals

Toronto (11 December 2013): An independent analysis by Michael Schabas for the Neptis Foundation shows that Metrolinx's Big Move is in need of a major course correction if it is to meet its stated goals of doubling ridership and decreasing commute times.

The analysis by Schabas, a partner at FCP, an international transit and rail consulting firm based in London, England shows that Metrolinx has yet to prove the business case for many of its projects, and whether they provide value for money.

Metrolinx, which has embarked on a $36 billion program of capital investment has also been less than transparent when it comes to providing clear, complete, and consistent evidence to justify and prioritize its projects, says Schabas.

Using Metrolinx and TTC data where they exist, and filling in the gaps where data does not exist or is incomplete, Schabas compares the Big Move projects on a common basis and derives Benefit: Cost Ratios for each project.

His findings show that that while some projects provide good value for money, others, including the Eglinton Crosstown LRT scheme, Downtown Relief Line, and LRT projects on Sheppard and Finch Avenues, have low Benefit:Cost Ratios (B:CR). Some projects require a rethink, others require changes and some should be rejected outright. The author offers creative and incremental solutions that provide better results but at less cost and with increased ridership.

Instead of the TTC's proposed multi-billion dollar Downtown Relief Line (Phase 1), Schabas suggests relief to subway congestion can be provided more quickly by upgrading and integrating GO Transit services, and at a fraction of the cost of a new line. A new pedestrian link between TTC's Main Street station and GO's Danforth station, with integrated fares and shuttle trains to Union Station, would take thousands of passengers out of the Bloor-Yonge interchange.

Schabas also found that Metrolinx has not championed the one project that has the greatest potential for increasing transit ridership and reduce highway congestion. He shows that upgrading GO from a commuter system into a Regional Express Rail system is not only technically feasible but also very affordable.

His analysis shows:

  • GO Transit produced a flawed electrification study. This report finds that GO overlooked the potential of operating a mixed fleet made up of electric locomotives to propel the existing bi-level cars along with smaller Electric Multiple Units (EMUs). The mixed fleet would operate cost-effectively throughout the day for an incremental investment of about $1 billion on the Lakeshore line. Costs could be offset entirely with additional fare revenues and operational savings. GO trips would be faster with trains every 15 minutes all day.
  • The entire 450 km GO system can be upgraded to a 15-minute-all-day, two-way service with 25% faster journey times for less money than the cost of the 6 km long first phase of the Downtown Relief Line.
  • Schabas says that completing the Eglinton Crosstown line, for which tunnelling has already begun, with the technology used on Vancouver's Skytain and with fewer stations would attract twice as many new riders. Yet it would cost less to operate, bring in higher fare revenues and reduce net costs.
  • The report shows how the Scarborough RT and the Sheppard subway line can be rebuilt and combined into a single automated light rail system at a lower cost that would attract many more riders than either TTC's LRT proposal or the subway alternative.
  • Overall Schabas also looks at how subway modernization can increase capacity, and how net costs of Metrolinx schemes could be reduced more than half, while doubling the number of riders attracted off roads and on to transit.

The report is timely, given the work of the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel. One of the issues the panel has raised is a loss of public trust in government's ability to deliver solutions, including critical investment in public transit. This report not only offers feasible solutions to some of the region's transit problems, but also shows that transit operations need not always be heavily subsidized, indeed passenger fares can often pay back much of the capital investment.

Schabas's analysis shows clearly that Metrolinx has not followed its own guiding principles in maintaining a regional focus, investing where it matters most, and providing clear and timely information on decision making to the public. However, he is clear that there is still time to make the necessary changes to the Big Move before more money is spent.

Read the full report here.

For more information please contact: Marcy Burchfield, MSc, Director of Research Programming and Communications, Neptis Foundation, 416-972-9199 ext 2.