Some answers to questions and comments about Review of Metrolinx’s Big Move

Since the release of the Neptis Foundation's Review of Metrolinx's Big Move, readers have sent us many comments and questions. This post contains our responses:

Comment: What is the basis for the analysis in the report?

Response: Most of the numbers used by the report's author come from Metrolinx and TTC reports. The report concludes that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the Sheppard and Finch LRT are not cost-effective because Metrolinx's own Business Case Analyses show that their costs exceed their potential benefits by a wide margin. (TTC does not estimate benefits in its analyses.) The report states clearly that Metrolinx's original first priority, upgrading GO to be a regional express rail network, was correct, and should have been pursued vigorously. Instead, Metrolinx has deferred that crucial project in favour of lines that address local aspirations, but do not meet its own principles of "regional focus" and "investing where it matters most."

For a full list of which projects have a comprehensive Business Case Analysis, please review the graphics contained in the Executive Summary of the report which can be found here.

Comment: The report studies only 16 of more than 60 projects proposed by Metrolinx.

Response: The report reviews the 16 projects currently under construction and/or those for which Metrolinx has produced an analysis. These schemes will cost, in total, almost $30 billion. In an early report, Metrolinx published a longer list naming 60 schemes, however, most seem to be much smaller, and some are actually highways. Metrolinx has not produced sufficient information on these projects to allow for any analysis. This report uses Metrolinx's own numbers, and include only schemes for which Metrolinx has provided some information.

Comment: Transit is never profitable. But that's not the point, because it is meant to be a social service.

Response: It is true the transit rarely is profitable enough to pay for a full return on capital, and most transit systems get public support, reflecting their wider benefits. But that is no reason to ignore cost and efficiency. If more riders can be attracted and carried, more cost-effectively, and with more money recovered from the farebox, then the government subsidy will go even further. And some lines can pay for themselves. For example, Union Pearson Express seems likely to recover all of its costs, including both operating and capital, from fares, and the same can be achieved with Regional Express Rail on many routes. This is the experience on many routes in Europe and Asia. Of course, government is still always involved, usually to underwrite the investment and also to set fares and service levels. Profit is not the point, but if money is wasted on services that deliver poor value for money, then less money will be available for better schemes.

Comment: The report ignores the potential for redevelopment along certain lines, which will generate new transit riders.

Response: The report used Metrolinx's own ridership forecasts, which presumably include Metrolinx's own view of the densification potential along each route.

Comment: The report ignores the "greater value of investing" in transit.

@HumeChristopher on the @NeptisRegions report on #funding transit, misses the gr8re value of investing in #transit.

-- AntonioGomez-Palacio (@aurbanist) December 12, 2013

Response: The report acknowledges that most transit analyses do not explicitly account for environmental benefits and some social benefits. However, investment in transit that does not attract the greatest number of riders and take the greatest number of cars off the road is not going to have the greatest environmental and social benefits. The study is concerned with the same things that Metrolinx cares about - doubling ridership and reducing commute times. If investing in transit does not help us reach those goals, then the investment needs to be reconsidered.

Comment: It is not accurate to say the LRT "will deliver a service more like that of a streetcar." For example, the Eglinton LRT will cut journey times by 20 minutes.

Response: Surface LRT that operates in roadways is subject to many of the same delays as other traffic, such as red lights and left-turn lights. Rarely do the vehicles achieve very high average speeds. Underground or elevated LRT speeds are largely determined by the number of stops: more stops = slower speeds. The report suggests that omitting some stops on the Eglinton line would increase the speed while saving a great deal of money - at least $200 million for each station, and 1 minute per stop. Deleting 5 stops will save 5 minutes and at least $1 billion, so increasing benefits and reducing capital costs, each by about 20%. Elevating the line from Laird to Kennedy, so it does not run on the road, will cut journey times a further 7 - 10 minutes, although it will cost more to build. Altogether, these changes double the ridership, double the benefits, and improve the Benefit:Cost ratio from around 0.5 (Metrolinx's own figure is actually 0.37, but they have under-estimated the savings in bus costs) to around 1.0. Metrolinx's own BCA figures support these conclusions.

It is correct that journey times from Kennedy to Weston Road along the Eglinton LRT will be 20 minutes faster than the current bus line. This is because the Eglinton line will run in a tunnel for most of its length. So on these sections it will be more like the Bloor Subway - fast, but with too many stations. Journey times on the Sheppard and Finch LRT routes, however, will be only slightly faster than the bus services they replace; and outside rush hour, services are likely to be less frequent, and waiting times will be longer, because each LRT vehicle will replace three buses. With so many stops, very few passengers will actually ride any of the LRT lines from end to end, indeed it will still be faster for passengers travelling from Scarborough Centre to say Eglinton and Kipling to use the Bloor Subway. Most people will use the LRT lines to travel to the nearest subway station, where they will transfer. For these journeys, the average net savings with the proposed LRTs would be less than 5 minutes compared with their current journey time by bus.

Question: There is no difference between the Hurontario-Main LRT corridor and the Sheppard-Finch LRT corridor. So why does the report recommend LRT on Hurontario and not on Sheppard or Finch?

Some of Neptis's findings are contradictory: Sheppard/Finch LRTs not OK, but Hurontario-Main LRT OK. Similar context in both corridors.

-- Laurence Lui (@larrylarry) December 11, 2013

Response: There is a difference. Metrolinx's own analysis shows that the cost per kilometre of the LRT along Hurontario Street will be half that of proposed LRTs on Sheppard and Finch. Benefits per kilometre on Hurontario Street also are higher. It is unclear why this is the case, and the numbers have not been put into context by either the TTC or Metrolinx. Clearly, there is higher-density development along the central part of Hurontario Street, compared with the routes of either the Sheppard or Finch LRTs. Metrolinx's own figures show that the Mississauga scheme has benefits that exceed costs by a factor of about 2:1, while on Sheppard and Finch the costs are far greater than the estimated benefits.

Question: What explains the large differences between the TTC and Metrolinx ridership figure for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT?

@iamdavidmiller not disputing TTC figures, but why the diff? Who has it wrong and why? @NeptisRegions

-- Andre Darmanin (@UrbanPolicyPlnr) December 12, 2013

Response: In its Benefits Case Analysis, Metrolinx gives a figure of 105 million annual riders along Eglinton in 2021 - that is, about 350,000 riders each weekday. TTC, in an earlier document, estimated that a somewhat longer route would attract 176,000 riders each weekday, half as many. They cannot both be right. The TTC figure is more plausible, given the existing ridership on the route, the density of development, and the incremental journey time reduction. Current about 29,500 riders take the Eglinton East bus each day (including many passengers from eastern Scarborough who will continue to change onto the subway at Kennedy), 48,700 on the longer Eglinton West route, and another 36,300 on the Lawrence East route, which runs along Eglinton from Leslie to Yonge. Altogether, about 100,000 daily passengers today use bus routes that will be replaced by the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. The Sheppard subway, which serves a corridor with similar density to the Eglinton Crosstown, attracts 50,410 daily riders, according to TTC data.

Metrolinx's much higher estimate might be achieved if the Eglinton line had fewer stations, and was elevated between Kennedy and Laird, so it is not affected by traffic delays. Metrolinx's own BCA shows that peak hour ridership on the line would be roughly twice as high for a full grade-separated line, than for the line with surface running between Laird and Kennedy that is now planned.

Comment: Metrolinx asserts that the Downtown Relief Line is cost-effective.

Response: The preliminary Benefits Case Analyses is incomplete, and does not provide any data about ridership or benefits. When Metrolinx publishes a complete Cost Benefit Analysis of this proposed line, it will be possible to review the document to determine the validity of the case for this very expensive project. At present, there is insufficient documentation from Metrolinx to evaluate their arguments.

Comment: In the report, "there is a focus on cost-benefit that at first glance appears to preclude the function of new transit lines as part of a network."

Response: The report uses Metrolinx and TTC numbers, which do take account of the overall network. Indeed, there are strong network synergies in transit. This is one reason the report stresses that, without upgrading of GO into a Regional Express Rail network, the value of all other schemes will be diminished.

Comment: The report focuses on new ridership, and "a large expenditure to improve the quality of service for existing riders is given no credit for that benefit as they generate no net revenue."

Response: The report includes time savings to existing passengers in the cost:benefit analysis, as do the Metrolinx BCAs, and the report uses their figure of about $13.52 per passenger hour to value these benefits. Furthermore, modernization of the subway as the report suggests, with a 30% increase in capacity, and automation to allow higher off-peak frequencies, would attract new riders onto transit, because wait times will be reduced and there will be a better chance of getting a seat. The report identifies incremental revenues separately, because if a scheme generates money as well as benefits, then Metrolinx's limited funding can go further.

Comment: Who paid for the report?

Response: The report was commissioned and paid for by the Neptis Foundation. For details about the foundation click here.