Jan 31, 2007

Travel around Leeds City Centre for free!

Running every few minutes from 6.30am to 7.30pm Mondays to Saturdays, Metro's FreeCityBus links Leeds' rail and bus stations, business and shopping districts, the General Infirmary, Universities and Park Lane College.

The six, 29-seat buses are brightly and clearly marked 'FreeCityBus', with a logo on the roof so people can also identify them from their office windows. Each vehicle is fully accessible and can carry one wheelchair at any time.

FreeCityBus, was set up after consultation with Leeds Initiative and city centre employers and has proved highly popular since it's introduction in January 2006.

All journeys on the brand new FreeCityBus mini buses are free.

My comment: The above is an article from the UK. After reading it I started to think about what programs do we have in Durham Region to encourage the use of public transit? The only one I can think of is the Ontario Power Generation employees shuttle. The shuttle is a DRT bus chartered by OPG which runs Monday to Friday between Pickering Go station and the nuclear power plant. OPG personal ride free when they show the driver their employee’s pass. You don’t have to work for OPG to use the bus. Anyone may board the bus with a payment of a regular Durham Region Transit fare.

Now the question is does Durham Region have anything that remotely resembles the OPG service? Of course not. If you travel to the Region office building at 605 Rossland Rd. E. Whitby. After you see the nice new headquarters you will notice a muti floor parking garage. It’s interesting to be there in the morning and see the parade of employees coming out of the garage to the office building. After spending millions of $ dollars $ on transit one would think that Region could do more. Perhaps following the example of the Ontario Power Generation would be a good start.

Go Transit on strike?

Go trains have had been plauged with a number of service disruptions. Now labour diruptions a looming. Members of the United Transportation Union will be in a legal strike position on Feb. 9 2008. Their three-year contract expired Dec. 31 2007.

Union spokesperson Rex Beatty said, the conductors' union was working on an offer with CN this week in which union members would keep the GO trains running during a strike. If that happens, Go conductors would continue to work during a strike.

Read the full story here.

Jan 30, 2007

Late-night buses are back

After more than a year's hiatus, Guelph Transit is bringing back its late-night university routes with improved security.

But the transit union wants to be "absolutely sure" security cameras and tracking systems being installed on city buses are working.

"This service wouldn't be back on the road if we didn't have those cameras," said Stephen MacNeil, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1189. "Our first priority is that our drivers have to be safe.

"We want to go to work and we want to come home the same way we went to work."

The late-night service for the University of Guelph is scheduled to return in the final week of February.

It will involve two shuttles that go directly from the downtown core to the campus between midnight and 4 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Another bus will pick students up at the Greyhound and Via Rail stations on Sunday nights to take them back to the university and nearby neighbourhoods.

There will also be a late-night route to take students home from the university from Tuesday to Saturday.

All of the routes were suspended shortly after a bus driver was beaten in the early hours of Oct. 30, 2005. The victim was driving the late-night shuttle that goes from the downtown core to the University of Guelph's campus.

After the driver refused a bribe from a passenger to stray from his route, the passenger punched him six times in the face and head. The passenger, Derek McPhee, 25, fled from the bus but pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm in court last June.

In September, he was sentenced to 60 days in jail, to be served on weekends.

The attack is one of several incidents in recent years in which drivers have been beaten, threatened or spat on.

McPhee wasn't a student and MacNeil said the problems haven't been specifically related to students. But the incident was a sign that more security would be needed for all buses, including those on late-night routes.

MacNeil said the union has been working with Guelph Transit for more than a year to develop security protocols and other measures to keep drivers and passengers safe.

"The last piece of the puzzle is the cameras."

By the end of this month, every city bus will have up to eight cameras and a hard drive to store images. He said buses will also have a tracking system so their locations are known at all times.

MacNeil said the cameras shouldn't spark any privacy concerns because the images will only be looked at if there is an incident.

"It's not like people are being viewed and people are on the other end watching," he said. "The cameras are in there for everybody's security, not just the drivers'. This is for safety and that's it."

Mayor Karen Farbridge said the city wants to mitigate the risks as much as possible, but getting the service back on the road is important.

She said the late-night shuttle will help students, clear congestion and prevent disputes that can develop in the core when a lot of frustrated people are trying to get home.

"A lot of the students just come down and have a good time and they want to get home," Farbridge said. "The quicker we get people home, the better it is for everybody."

The Central Student Association at the University of Guelph is excited about the late-night service coming back. Local affairs commissioner Bre Walt said the association contracted a bus company to provide similar transportation after Guelph Transit said it would no longer run the buses, but it hasn't been as successful.

"Students recognize a city bus more than a school bus," she said.

Walt said there wasn't any resentment from students when the city canceled its late-night routes. She said most people understand there was a need for better security.

"There are a lot of students on this campus and it's a real relief to me to know they have a safe way home."

My comment: Did you notice that no one mentions the lack of a police presents on the streets. In Durham Region the level of crime is not acceptible. At budget time the regional councilors are always cutting back on the police budget.

Thanks to the Guelp Mercury and reporter Brian Whirwham for this report.

Jan 25, 2007

Frozen switches through the ages

GO Train passengers can be forgiven their frustration with frozen signal switches last week, but they can take some solace in the fact that while they sat and waited to get going again, their cars were nice and warm.

A Canadian winter has always been something to contend with, but a century ago in the early days of public transit, the only thing between you and the elements was your coat and mitts and, if you were lucky, a bale of hay on the floor of the streetcar to tuck around your feet.

On the other hand, you didn't have to worry about frozen signals because the Toronto Street Railway employed an army of men with shovels, brooms and pickaxes to keep snow off the switches.

When an ice storm threatened, they did a wheel quick-change, replacing the smooth brass wheels with wheels that had teeth. The weight of the car crushed the ice and the gaps allowed the ice to be thrown to the side.

"It was pretty low-tech, but effective," says Ted Wickson, long-time archivist for the Toronto Transit Commission.

In fact, the lessons learned a century ago are still in use when it comes to the city's streetcar fleet. It means they may run slowly in storms, which is to be expected, but they rarely stop dead. The real cause of problems is motorists blocking the road.

If switches stick, drivers have a switch iron that does the trick manually. The bar is pretty much the same tool in use for 150 years.

Toronto has one of the most moderate winter climates in Canada – in fact the climate is the mildest of any place in Canada east of the Rockies, largely because of the moderating effect of the lake. It means a lot of precipitation and in winter, a freeze-thaw cycle.

When the thaw doesn't come, there's always the army.

Toronto's public transit system started in the 1860s and grew rapidly. The first streetcars were pulled by a single horse and had room for a dozen or so people on bench seats. In 1891 the Toronto Railway Company introduced its first snow sweeper, an occasion for an impressive civic demonstration. It was pulled by a dozen horses and had huge roller brushes at each end.

It proved to be more symbolic than practical because the following year, the railway company began electric service and pledged to provide service by horse and sleigh on major routes should a blizzard knock the electric cars out of service. The sleighs may evoke a Doctor Zhivago-like scene of pastoral winter tranquility, but they were cramped, uncomfortable and accompanied by a sub-zero wind chill to boot.

"Travelling by transit in winter was pretty primitive," Wickson says.

The good news was that along with electric cars came heated public transit in the form of a coal stove at the front, probably of more use to the driver than passengers.

The driver was part of a two-man crew. His job was to time the drive between stops so that the conductor could collect the fares.

The new age of electricity meant electric sweeper cars, which together with "storm cars" drove the main routes throughout the night to keep the tracks clear of snow.

Trackmen worked a section of the line, much as they did on Canadian Pacific main lines.

By the 1920s, the TTC had 28 electric snow sweepers and six gasoline plows, and the better technology meant fewer and fewer trackmen.

The plow trains were so effective the TTC kept them in service until the early 1970s, finally retiring them and selling them to railway museums. By then, many were 75 years old. (Two are on display at the Halton County Radial Railway, the Streetcar and Electric Railway Museum on Guelph Line in Milton.)

For streetcars, storms and freezing rain are less a track problem than one that affects overhead wires.

The main problem for GO passengers is the electronic signals that determine whether the train should stop or go.

They usually work pretty well, but during extreme weather the de-icers that keep the switches moving can freeze.

It takes someone to manually flip the switch, but the entire line has to stop until that person does the trick.

On the other hand, a streetcar driver just gets out, looks around and if the coast is clear, flips the switch and gets going. Maybe that does make the TTC the Better Way.

Thanks to the Toronto Star and reporter

Jan 23, 2007

Guelph has 8 security cameras for every bus

Guelph Transit has decided to install state-of-the-art security camera surveillance system on all its public transit buses. The Seon Explorer 8-channel Mobile Digital Surveillance System combines state-of-the-art compression technology with up to eight cameras and a 500-gigabyte hard drive. The cost-effective and user-friendly system is ideal for small to mid-size transit properties. The rugged digital video recorder offers, amongst its many features, Smart-Temp and Smart-Start technology to ensure the DVRs are up and running whenever a bus is on the road. Funding for the systems was secured from Ontario Provincial Gas Tax.

"We are looking to offer our customers and transit operators more safety and security,” said Randall French, Manager of Transit Services for the City of Guelph. “Of all bids, Seon offered the best product. We know our buses will be safer.”

Mayor Karen Farbridge is pleased with the initiative. “The City is committed to ensuring the safety and security of transit riders and operators,” the Mayor said. The installation of the surveillance system is an initiative that further brings Guelph Transit to the forefront of municipal bus services.”

My comment: Security cameras do not make a person any safer. Yes they do assist in the identify some of the culprits. Prevent crime… no way. A more visible police force is what we need. Do all banks have cameras? Do bank robberies still happen? How about convenience stores? How about putting surveillance cameras in board rooms? You'd probably catch as many criminals. Read full report.

Jan 21, 2007

Hijacked bus hoax

A new twist has occurred into the investigation of a TTC bus hijacking. I first reported the story on January 4 of this year. The TTC driver is facing charges after a police investigation determined the robbery was all a hoax. On December 30, 2006 the driver told police a man with a gun had boarded the vehicle near Bay and Wellesley Sts. shortly before 2 p.m. and demanded he take him on a joyride around the city. Read the full report here.

Jan 20, 2007

DRT service expansions in the works

DRT has more and improved service plans in mind for the northern communities of Durham. Residents in Scugog and Uxbridge will be able to travel with new and improved bus service. If this service is implemented as stated in The News Advertiser, it will be a welcome change. Expanded bus service long overdue... read full report.

Walk left signs gone

According to the torontoist and Tom Mertron of Toronto Rants, web pages, the walk left, stand right escalator signs have been removed. My memory seems to think, that theses signs have always been on the escalators.

Jan 19, 2007

Guelph Transit fare should stay as it is for now

With still a week to go before city councillors vote on the 2007 budget, it seems a large number have already come out squarely against a fare increase for Guelph Transit riders. For that we're glad.

Guelph Transit riders went for a long time paying less than $2 per trip, a price riders in many other municipalities had already had thrust upon them. When the increase was finally introduced in 2004, up from $1.85, there was a backlash, not surprisingly so. On one budget night, at least one person said the fare increase would hit those on low incomes, and would be devastating to poor families. This argument has merit. Many Guelph Transit riders use the system out of sheer necessity, whether it be to get to work or school, because they don't have a car and can't afford one.

Last time around the fare increase was expected to bring the city an extra $445,000. This time around the estimate is about $300,000. There is no question some of the improvements Guelph Transit is proposing in the 2007 budget will do wonders to boost the system and help with ridership. There's a new route proposed for the Arkell/Clair/Victoria roads area and we're especially pleased that officials are asking for council approval to operate on statutory holidays, when service for those who need it that has been sorely lacking. Many of the new initiatives, however, are covered by gas tax revenue and while these are improvements, it's hard to imagine asking people to pay more when they are still forced to wait 30 minutes for a bus.

But it is easy to see the other side of the argument. While many of those who use Guelph Transit are on fixed incomes, the same can be said for the transit service itself, and money is needed to make improvements and increase ridership. If residents do indeed want better service, they'd better be willing to pay for it, some might say. Instead of a fare hike this year, the city should look at removing other programs entirely -- the termite initiative for example, as this responsibility should fall to homeowners -- to fund transit improvements.

For now, riders should still be able to get on the bus for $2, a fair rate, we believe, for our community. If there is to be further improvement in service, and we hope there will be as soon as next year, then it's worth revisiting the situation.

Thanks to The Guelph Mercury for this report.

Special Constables Bust Metropass Counterfeiters

The TTC Special Constables, working with the Peel Regional Police, have broken up a Metropass counterfeiting shop. Peel Police and TTC Special Constables executed a search warrant on Dec. 20 in Peel Region. The investigation into the scope of the alleged crimes is ongoing.
The hunt began last May when TTC officials put out a notice about phony Metropasses that were being distributed in the city. From there, they began to follow a long and winding road of deception that eventually led cops to a residence in Mississauga.

After the warning, TTC Special Constables continued to investigate concentrating their efforts on dismantling the distribution network and tracking down the production facility. These efforts were rewarded Dec. 20th when the TTC obtained a search warrant for a residence in Mississauga. Peel Regional Police assisted with the execution of the search warrant, uncovering a significant credit card forgery lab that was also producing TTC Metropasses, Ontario Drivers Licences and Social Insurance Cards. One male was arrested at that time and has been charged with eight criminal offences so far.
"It boils down to money," contends Acting Det. Sgt. Brian Wintermute. "A person can make money obviously doing this type of thing and if they're good at it and able to produce credit cards, able to produce in this case the T.T.C. passes, the Ontario driver's licenses, health cards, SIN cards - it all boils down to money ... Diversify ... you make more money if you diversify."
Police discovered at least 8,000 phony credit cards, but wouldn't say how many driver's licenses or health cards they found. And they have no way of knowing how many of them may already be in circulation.

Jan 18, 2007

Story from Boston... fare boxes freeze

My comment: If you are are a transit worker you are well acquainted with stories like this one. How can a transit system pay a fortune for fare boxes that won't work in cold weather?

The cash-strapped MBTA lost more than an hour of fares on numerous bus routes yesterday morning when dozens of new automated-fare boxes failed on their first true Boston winter day.

The fare boxes, which accept cash and credit cards, as well as the new automated CharlieCards, run only when their electronics are warmed by an internal heater to at least 20 degrees. The fare boxes, however, must be turned on for the heaters to work.

Yesterday morning, when temperatures hovered at 10 degrees, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority bus drivers did their morning checks on buses parked outside overnight as they warmed the engines. Many, however, waited until they began their morning runs to turn on their fare boxes, which would not work during their first 10 minutes to 1 1/2 hours of service during the morning rush hour.

Four of the fare boxes completely failed and were being diagnosed yesterday, said Joe Kelley, the T's deputy general manager for modernization.

Faced with dead fare boxes, most drivers allowed passengers to board for free.

T officials declined to provide a specific number of unresponsive or failed fare boxes among the 780 buses that ran yesterday morning. They also declined to estimate how much revenue was lost, though they said that the majority of bus riders use prepaid monthly passes and that most fare boxes were working by the height of the morning commute.

"Are we disappointed that we did not collect a fare from everyone this morning? Yes," said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo .

In 2006, the T took in $75 million in surface travel revenue, which includes buses, averaging about $205,000 per day. On Jan. 1, bus fares increased to $1.25 with a CharlieCard and $1.50 with a CharlieTicket.

Starting this morning, bus drivers are being instructed to turn on the fare boxes when they turn the ignition. Under federal law, buses cannot idle more than five minutes before starting their routes. In addition, overnight workers will periodically turn on the fare boxes and the buses on bitterly cold nights, officials said.

More than half of the T's 1,000-bus fleet is stored outdoors during the winter.

Kevin Vahey, 56, of Cambridge, who runs an independent blog about the T, posted a note from a rider of the No. 101 bus from Medford to Charlestown who was waved past a frozen fare box. "It was obvious the whole device was incapacitated and not powered on," he wrote.

No other problems were reported with the automated fare system yesterday, officials said.

However, 19 buses were disabled by the cold because the air brakes and door-opening systems would not operate. Eight of the problem buses were among the first 20 delivered to the T of a $52 million purchase of 155 New Flyer buses.

By yesterday afternoon, engineers had isolated the problem on the New Flyer buses to the system that purges moisture, which was letting cold air into air hoses, allowing ice to form. A fix for this problem is expected to be in place by tomorrow morning.

Jan 16, 2007

Winter storm

After a mild and snow less winter, January 15, 2007 became a day of testing for the transit systems of the GTA. With freezing rain and snow fall, Durham Region Transit held it’s own. A number of yellow school bus companies had to cancell their runs. In Durham west, DRT managed to keep all of the bus routes running. DRT was able to bring in some extra drivers to be on standby. This was a great difference from past experiences where there were no extra buses that could fill in when the regular runs were running late. The big disappointment of the day was Go Transit. With frozen switches, the Go Trains were running late or not at all. In the last year, Go has been having their problems.

Jan 14, 2007

Take a chance and use transit

My comment: The following editorial is from The Guelph Mercury. One of the major complaints seems to be that the people would like the bus system to run more more frequently. Without proper funding transit companies are having problems with increasing service. It's time, that the Ontatrio government started to own up to their responsibilities, and paid their fare (fair) share of fund for public transit.

The bus may not be for everyone, but we should all ride it at least once to see how it works at getting us from one place to another, and whether taking it more often rather than the car is a switch we'd be willing to make.

Guelph Transit works hard to please its riders and city residents in general. After years before council at budget time, the bus service managed to get funding in 2005 for two perimeter routes that travel around the outside of the city, meaning people don't have to go downtown to transfer. Guelph Transit uses biodiesel, helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions and set an example for other drivers who have the option of using such fuels. And on Clean Air Day every year the transit service offers free rides to encourage people to take the bus, and maybe reel in a few new regular customers.

On a recent foray into the land of public transit, Mercury staffer Magda Konieczna found both drivers and riders to be a pleasant, courteous bunch. Her clumsiness, she writes in today's Here section, was met with nothing but patience and even her decision to take a large, awkward composter onto the bus caused little hassle. That pleasantness is something other regular transit riders have noticed, sitting on the bus as drivers pull over between designated stops to let off passengers, and listening as drivers allow university students who have forgotten their ID to get on, with a pleasant reminder to always carry their bus pass. There are always improvements though, and it's not uncommon to hear people say the transit service would be better used if it ran more frequently, not leaving people stranded at a stop for half an hour if they miss their bus.

There are more reasons to use public transit than just being subjected to the niceties of drivers and other passengers. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities notes that municipal governments have the power to control or influence up to half of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. A decrease in those numbers can come from investments in or changes to transportation planning. By 2012, the federation estimates, municipalities could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 50 million tonnes with community-wide initiatives.

Residents, however, must also take responsibility for their own transportation choices. Even if taking the bus isn't viable for weekday travel, try taking public transit to the mall one weekend and help the environment out. The Commuter Challenge each June also urges people to leave the car at home and take the bus, your bike or walk for a week. This year the number of people who participated in Guelph was down to 128 from 219 in 2005. We hope those numbers are back up again next year.

People should not have to be forced to ride the bus. It should be a decision that is easy to make. With more frequent service and service on holidays, Guelph Transit might be able to pull more people in, but it's already doing pretty well.

Jan 11, 2007

Train engineer says GO changes unsafe

Last Friday was Dave Whitnall's last day driving the GO Train between Oshawa and Burlington -- and that's fine by him.
As of this week, the train engineer was moved to the freight division of Canadian National (CN) Rail, along with more than 30 of his engineer colleagues whose GO Train jobs were eliminated when CN implemented staffing changes Dec. 30.
"I'm glad to be going, it was getting exasperating," he said. "I was doing all the driving that was previously shared between two drivers. A 10-hour drive by yourself in any vehicle is not a good idea."
For his last shift on Friday, Mr. Whitnall drove the train between Oshawa and Burlington from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no one to relieve him and no break except for the brief period when the train turns around. Before, he said the two engineers would take turns driving so the other could use the washroom, eat lunch or rest. GO Trains on the Lakeshore corridor used to operate with two engineers, a conductor and an assistant conductor. GO Transit recently asked CN -- which supplies the engineers -- to cut 34 positions as a cost-saving measure. Now, there is one engineer and two conductors.
The union representing the engineers filed a grievance, but a federal arbitrator upheld the decision last month.
Joe Lucifora, local chairman for Teamsters Canada Rail Conference for Toronto South, said cutting the positions could put passengers in danger.
"It's a huge safety concern. These engineers are on duty as early as 3:30 a.m. working up to 12-hour shifts," he said. "With only one of them where there used to be two, fatigue is a big issue."
Go Transit spokesman Ed Shea stressed rail transportation is federally regulated and said any changes must meet strict standards.
"Transport Canada wouldn't allow anything unsafe," he said. "CN has consulted with rail safety experts. We are confident this is fully consistent with safe train operations."
Mr. Shea said GO Transit regularly asks CN to look for cost-cutting measures, to help keep passenger fares and provincial subsidies as low as possible.
Cutting an engineer position made sense, Mr. Shea said, because GO Transit was one of the last in North America to put two engineers on a train.
CN spokesman Mark Hallman echoed these sentiments saying the new arrangement is safe.
When asked if the changes were to blame for two days of delays and cancelled trains on Jan. 2 and 3, he confirmed there were "teething problems" but assured that everything has since returned to normal.
As far as the union is concerned, this isn't over. Mr. Lucifora said a grievance procedure is still underway. In addition to safety concerns, he believes the new arrangement will cause ongoing delays, because two engineers are needed to quickly turn the trains around at Oshawa and Burlington.
As for Mr. Whitnall, he feels bad for his fellow engineers still driving the GO Trains and worried about the passengers.
"You're going 80 miles an hour with 2,000 people on board and you're stopping at the stations every few minutes," he said. "You have to be alert ... and that's hard when you're doing all the driving yourself."
Thanks to the News Advertiser & reporter Jillian Follert.

Woman pleads guilty in counterfeit token case

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ A Toronto woman pleaded guilty Wednesday for her part in an operation that flooded Toronto's transit system with high-quality counterfeit tokens.

Andrea Dawson, 31, admitted to driving a dozen boxes of the American-made tokens into Canada during three trips. She was arrested in February 2006 at a Niagara Falls, N.Y., car wash while picking up 80,000 tokens.

Dawson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She could receive up to five years in prison when she is sentenced March 23.

Since September 2004, more than 2 million Toronto Transit Commission tokens have been produced by a company in the northeast United States and delivered to a Niagara Falls, N.Y., address, according to court documents. The company was not identified.

The counterfeit tokens, each with a face value of $2.50, were made with the exact alloy used by the Royal Canadian Mint to produce authentic TTC tokens.

Authorities have said at least two other people have been arrested in the operation.

Jan 7, 2007

Toronto Streetcar History

Did you know that in the 1940's, Toronto resisted attempts by the automobile industry to eliminate streetcars, and that by the 1970's Toronto had the largest streetcar system in North America?

I found these videos very interesting and I want to share them with you.

Part 1 (7mins):
- the history and development of streetcar technology
- a nostalgic tour of the workhorse President's Conference Committee (PCC) streetcar

Part 2 (7mins):
- the automobile industry's secret conspiracy to eliminate streetcars
- the introduction of the Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (CLRV)
- the ingenious mechanics of today's streetcar

Part 3 (7mins):
- the St.Clair Right of Way controversy
- the culture of the streetcar and its roll in arts and urbanization
- current revitalization trends and the roll of the LRT concept

Jan 6, 2007


Special to The Globe and Mail

For years, it has been little more than a gleam in the eye of Toronto transit planners -- the notion of launching new commuter rail service on existing rights-of-way that fan out to Bolton in the north, Kitchener in the west and Peterborough in the east.

In the case of the latter, the line in question is Canadian Pacific Railway's North Toronto Subdivision, a rail corridor that swoops in from Milton, cuts through midtown Toronto just north of Dupont Avenue, and then heads east through the north Pickering area of Seaton, where new development will create a booming suburban satellite of 250,000 residents over the next two decades.

"Everyone agrees it makes a lot of sense," says Richard Soberman, a respected transportation consultant and emeritus professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. "The problem is that the line happens to be one of the busiest CP freight trunks in the country."

The labour disruptions that hobbled GO Transit last week served to remind thousands of residents of the mounting importance of the Greater Toronto Area's patchy commuter rail network, as well as the need to plan for future expansion. "When you look at our commuter rail compared to New York, Madrid or many Asian cities, [it] is woefully inadequate," says Robert MacIsaac, chair of the newly created Greater Toronto Transportation Authority.

When Mr. MacIsaac returns from vacation next week, the GTTA's new board will get down to the hard work of drawing up a transportation master plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which will grow by the equivalent of Montreal's current population over the next quarter-century.

He hopes that the GTTA will be ready to release a draft version within a year. Intended to ensure that fast-growing suburban hubs are served by transit infrastructure, the master plan will be a blueprint for future investment in GO's commuter rail network and rapid-transit bus service on dedicated lanes on the 400-series highways.

Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield is interested in creating a light rail line on a right-of-way that runs along the entire length of Highway 407, from Burlington to Durham, according to her spokesman, Neal Kelly. "That would be fairly easy to do because the province owns the land."

Right now, Mr. MacIsaac won't say which he prefers. "We need more of everything. I'm not dogmatic about whether it's rail or bus rapid transit. We need a new transportation system that has more of all of these things."

GO officials are less circumspect. "The expansion of rail corridors has to be on everybody's radar screen," says GO chair Peter Smith, a home builder who is also vice-chair of the GTTA. "We're not going to solve our problems over the next 10 or 15 years just by putting more buses on the road."

While bus service is cheaper and more flexible, Mr. Smith's remarks indicate that extensive commuter rail networks offering frequent and efficient service represent the high-water mark for regional transit agencies.

But, as Mr. Soberman points out, the simple fact of an available rail corridor doesn't necessarily mean that it can be readily transformed into a commuter line.

North America-wide safety regulations prevent commuter rail agencies from operating "self-propelled" trains on lines used by freight haulers. That's why GO trains are run by locomotives operated by the engineering crews that allegedly staged this week's labour action in response to staffing cuts by Canadian National Railway.

Then there's the question of sharing track time. The North Toronto Subdivision is one of CPR's busiest routes, and company spokesman Ed Greenberg says any commuter expansion would involve extensive negotiations over additional infrastructure and the apportioning of costs related to extra track and stations. In fact, the railways have been historically reluctant to lease tracks to commuter agencies if it means their own service will be hampered or delayed.

Much of GO Transit's $1-billion expansion strategy -- which was announced in 2001 by former premier Mike Harris and remains a work in progress -- has focused on adding third tracks and grade separations on existing lines, with the goal of improving service by segregating the double-decker GO carriages from the serpentine freight trains that shunt around the GTA.

GO's current plans also call for extending service to Georgetown and Barrie (the current service goes only to Bradford), and a controversial environmental assessment of the Union Station-Pearson International rail link is ongoing.

While Mr. Smith admits that some of these projects will not be completed before the end of the decade, he says planning for the next generation of rail service will begin "very, very soon," probably spearheaded by the GTTA.

So far, Peel Region has already acquired land in Bolton for a station should service ever materialize along a rail line that runs out to that fast-growing hub between Caledon and Vaughan.

Transit expert Steve Munro says the North Toronto Subdivision is strategically important because it has the potential to provide commuter rail service from downtown to the GTA's northeastern periphery.

Mr. Smith agrees: "Seaton shouldn't get developed without adequate transit links. There is a [rail] corridor out there."

The big question about the North Toronto Subdivision is whether GO trains would some day travel on the stretch that bisects midtown neighbourhoods such as Rosedale, Forest Hill and St. Clair West. Until the 1920s, passenger trains used that line and stopped at a station that now houses the refurbished Summerhill LCBO outlet.

The line passes within metres of two Toronto Transit Commission subway stops: at Summerhill on the Yonge line; and Dupont on the Spadina line. TTC officials have taken steps in recent years to protect a swath of land at the south end of the Summerhill station in case passenger rail service ever returns to the North Toronto subdivision. But TTC chair Adam Giambrone says a connection isn't on the city's radar right now, largely because the vast majority of GO passengers arriving at Union Station don't transfer onto the TTC.

Both Mr. Munro and Mr. Giambrone agree that a GO-subway link makes more sense at Dupont because, during peak periods, the Spadina subway isn't nearly as crowded as the Yonge line and could therefore accommodate the additional volume of commuters headed downtown. But such a scheme would depend on creating an integrated fare system between GO and the TTC.

Mr. Greenberg says CPR has not been approached by GO to discuss the future of the North Toronto Subdivision.

Neither Mr. MacIsaac nor Mr. Smith wants to be drawn into public discussions about individual lines, saying the focus should be the development of a comprehensive plan that addresses the needs of the entire region, as well as a strategy for financing future growth plans. Citing Montreal's recent investment in its own commuter rail network, Mr. MacIsaac says: "If we just do what they've done, we'll just be treading water."

Thanks to The Globe and Mail for this report.

TTC transit token exchange

The Toronto Transit Commission is reminding customers to use up their old tokens before Jan. 31.

Beginning Feb. 1, only the new two-coloured token will be accepted as fare.

Old tokens can be exchanged for new tokens until Feb. 28 at the Finch, Warden, Kipling and Bloor-Yonge stations, as well as the TTC head office, 1900 Yonge St. Hours of operation are Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

People with more than 100 tokens to exchange must go to the TTC head office. With more than 200 tokens, customers will be asked to complete a token exchange form. Identification will be required to complete the signed form.

Jan 4, 2007

GO driver raises alarm

A GO Transit driver left his bus to raise the alarm over a structure fire in Ajax early Wednesday.

Durham police said the 42-year-old driver was on his route when he saw the blaze in a garage at the northeast corner of Kingston Road and George Jones Street around 1:30 a.m.

The driver checked the burning building, then went to a nearby building on the property that houses a professional office and a downstairs apartment, said police spokesman Dave Selby.

The driver alerted residents inside, ascertained there were no people in the burning building, and called 911.

Police continue to investigate the fire. Anyone with information is asked to call 905-579-1520.

GO Transit struggles with crew changes

GO Transit riders faced delays on the Lakeshore train line for the second day in a row Wednesday.

The public transit system struggled on Tuesday, the first day back to work for many Torontonians, with multiple train delays on the Lakeshore line blamed on employee cuts.

Difficulties continued for the train line with four Lakeshore East trains delayed more than 15 minutes Wednesday morning, and one trip from Oshawa late by 78 minutes because of equipment problems, the company website said. A Lakeshore West train to Burlington was also late by 20 minutes.

The Canadian National Railway Co., which provides crews for Lakeshore trains, recently cut the number of engineers on each train from two to one at the request of GO Transit to save money.

Crews had consisted of four workers — two engineers, a conductor and an assistant conductor — but under the restructuring have been cut to three.

"With new procedures, we just basically had some teething problems in terms of getting up to speed," said CN Railway spokesman Mark Hallman.

TTC Driver Bus-Jacked

Toronto police are hunting for a suspect after a TTC driver was bus-jacked this afternoon in the downtown core.

A man came on the bus at Bay and Wellesley just after 1:30pm today and flashed a handgun.

He demanded the driver take him through the city, down to the Lakeshore and back up to Queen and Bay before getting off the bus.

No one was injured, but the man did manage to escape.

He's described as white, in his 40's with a red baseball cap and a blue suede jacket. He's about 6'1.

Anyone with information is being asked to call police.