(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 389: A Tour of Canadian Transit

June 29, 2022

This week we’re joined by Reece Martin, who discusses transit systems around the world on his YouTube channel RM Transit.  Reece joins us to take an audio tour of Canadian Transit as well as discuss his recent visit to London to ride the Elizabeth Line.

To listen to this episode, go to Streetsblog USA or find it on our hosting site.

Below is a full unedited transcript of the show:

Jeff Wood (1m 33s):
Well, Reese, Martin, welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Reece Martin (1m 50s):
Thanks. So happy to be here

Jeff Wood (1m 52s):
Before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Reece Martin (1m 55s):
So I run a YouTube channel about public transportation around the world, but based in Canada, because it’s where I grew up in. It’s where I live now. So I do bring up a lot of Canadian examples, but I’m really passionate about transit and in particular, rapid trends, that’s all around the world.

Jeff Wood (2m 11s):
Yeah. And you started your channel about five years ago. What made you decide to make that first video?

Reece Martin (2m 15s):
I think that I was looking for just kind of casual content to put on while it was working or something just to kind of get the city vibes. And I, I just didn’t find a ton of kind of content for Toronto at the time. And so I just decided, Hey, I filmed a little video of the train I was taking the other day on my phone. Why don’t I upload that and see how that does.

Jeff Wood (2m 39s):
Were you trained as a city planner as a transportation planner? What’s your background?

Reece Martin (2m 42s):
So I don’t have formal training in city planning or implanting though. I did, you know, the requisite courses and stuff in university talking about our human geography, urban geography and all of that stuff. I did actually spend some time working as a transportation planner because a civil engineering company actually said, Hey, like your videos are pretty good. You could probably do some planning work with us. And so I did that for awhile, but no, my formal training is actually in software engineering, computer science. And I just am not as passionate about that as I am about cities and transit. So I wanted to do YouTube and see where this could lead me.

Jeff Wood (3m 19s):
What started that passion? Like what was the thing that kind of got you started maybe when you were younger, do you have a first memory of, wow, this is really cool going around, checking out these transit systems.

Reece Martin (3m 28s):
I think growing up in Vancouver, riding around on the sky train was pretty cool as a kid sitting up at the front and just seeing the city. And it’s especially cool because, you know, over the years I’ve seen, you know, from the front window, the city changed so much in Vancouver, but in high school I took a trip to Tokyo and I think that was what really kind of made me go, wow, like we could have something so much more convenient and so much more accessible than what we have in most north American cities. And just so much better in the little details friendlier, you know, not as, as hard. And so I decided from then I wanted to move to Toronto because it was the biggest city in Canada where I was most likely to be able to see something like that happen in the future.

Reece Martin (4m 10s):
And yeah, the rest is kind of history.

Jeff Wood (4m 12s):
That’s awesome. What’s the biggest response you get from folks when you talk about transit and maybe outside of the video realm?

Reece Martin (4m 18s):
I mean, I guess it’s kind of just, you know, people from north America generally, or even people from Europe, like I think people forget that everyone thinks that their own city and their own transit system is kind of the worst or cause they can see, they can see problems with it that other people can’t like you go to. I think my favorite example of this is Germany. German people really have put down on their transit systems and on Shabbat and stuff. And I get it, like if you get stuck in a train delay or something and you get really annoyed and frustrated, but you know, I think for most north Americans or even a lot of Europeans, they’d say, wow, Germany has got such a great transportation system. It has so many progressive policies and stuff. So I think it’s just kind of, everyone wants to see their own city move forward in some way.

Reece Martin (5m 1s):
And I hope that by kind of looking at other cities, we can all find things that we can improve on because I think every city, you know, whether it be in Europe or Asia, they have things to improve on as well.

Jeff Wood (5m 12s):
We’ve also seen transit in movies. And recently I think the Toronto street cars were in the Disney movie turning red. How does popular culture treat transit in Canada?

Reece Martin (5m 21s):
I think in Canada, it’s pretty friendly to transit. I think most Canadians who don’t live in a rural area, which is most Canadians, Canada’s a very urbanized country actually. You know, they have experiences riding transit, maybe not as a daily commute, but often to things like, you know, a fare or to a sporting event or just something like that. So I feel like Canadians are generally pretty familiar with transit and they get it and that’s really accelerated in the past maybe decade or so as we’ve just opened a lot more transit projects across the country.

Jeff Wood (5m 53s):
Are there other pop culture connections that you can think of where transit is kind of front and center or at least it’s given a positive reinforcement

Reece Martin (5m 60s):
And there’s, there’s a bit like, for example, I don’t know Drake has the TTC and some of his music videos and things like that, but I feel like there is a bit too much of that, you know, transit is like what you take when you’re a kid or when you’re down on hard times. And I hope that we can get to a place where it’s kind of like it is in Asia where transit is the thing that kind of is romanticized and made like, you know, to look beautiful and really enjoyable. And so I hope we can get there. There is definitely some art and stuff that features a lot of stuff is particularly in Toronto. I think, yeah, the TTC streetcars, the older ones are really romanticized and they are really pretty. So I think that that connection exists, but I would like to see it become a bigger thing.

Jeff Wood (6m 43s):
It’s really funny when you watch things like house hunters international, you know, the B roll will always have, they’ll always have a tram or a bike way or something like that where people are kind of flowing and coming in and out of the space, even us housing shows I’ve seen on HDTV and stuff. If you’re in a city with a street car or a light rail or something like that, or even a subway, they’ll show you some B roll of it just to be like, oh, we’re, you know, a cosmopolitan place. And it’s really interesting to see that like on these kind of more suburban channels, I guess you would say how that comes forward. It’s interesting to see.

Reece Martin (7m 11s):
Yeah. I think transit systems really do help give cities a lot of their identity. And I think it’s something that cities don’t necessarily lean into enough. I think one thing I’ve talked about a decent amount is I wish in Toronto and probably in other places in north America, we painted our trains instead of making them all kind of just plain stainless steel. It’s probably easier to clean, but it’s a little less exciting than what you see in some other countries. What

Jeff Wood (7m 36s):
Color would you paint them

Reece Martin (7m 37s):
If it was in Toronto, I’m partial to the idea of painting the trains based on their line colors. But I think even just like the red and white color that we do with the street cars, like you could do a version of that. That would pretty nice.

Jeff Wood (7m 49s):
That sounds good. I remember going to, I think it was in Budapest or something, they had the first line one, the yellow is really, really a great color and fun and really interesting to kind of go down into the system and have this really bright colored train coming your way instead of, you know, the other lines in the system in that city specifically, or this kind of dull blue, but this yellow is really stuck out to me for some reason. Yeah.

Reece Martin (8m 10s):
And I think it’s something that really people connect with. Like, you know, I was in London last week and the London underground trains that are obviously so iconic, they have this really nice color scheme of red, white, and blue. That’s lovely. And in Berlin, the S bond trains have this lovely golden red look. And so I think that it, yeah, it’s definitely, if you have something iconic, people will tie it to your city and it becomes a simple,

Jeff Wood (8m 32s):
Well, yeah, you, you did visit England check out the crossroad line or I guess the Elizabeth Line, what did you think? What was the response

Reece Martin (8m 38s):
It’s so exciting? And it also is just a regular reminder of how much we in north America in particular really need to get on with buildings to more transit because like walking through it, it’s just like, wow. Even if you were skeptical that we should be investing in transport infrastructure like this, it’s just so obvious when you’re on it. And the convenience of getting across the city so rapidly and so comfortably that this is something we should have in more cities. And so I think it’s just a, it’s an awesome project. That’s super nice and convenient for getting across London. And we should take a lot of those ideas and try to implement them wherever we are located.

Jeff Wood (9m 15s):
Yeah. I was there in 2012 with the Olympics and I really wish it was there at the time. There were a couple of days where I spent most of my day, it felt like on the train getting from one side of the region to the other, it definitely would have helped with that, but it’s a really cool project. And, you know, we had Ian brown who was the managing director of London rail back in 2016 on, on episode 118. And it was really interesting to hear him talk about kind of the way that they funded it, how the process was going. And I’m curious, what were the vibes when you were there? Like what were people feeling? Was it exciting or was it kind of like, people were like, oh, this is kind of cool, but you know, it’s another thing that everybody saw coming for a long time.

Reece Martin (9m 50s):
I was a little surprised. It felt like the excitement was more muted than I would’ve expected. It wasn’t that there weren’t really excited people. I was just a little surprised that there weren’t more people checking it out. But I think that maybe that’s just reflective of the fact that the weather was kind of bad on the day. And it was just like a regular week, day and the light, but there were a decent number of people out. And as the week kind of progressed, it was getting busier and busier. And that was great to see, I think they said they had moved to like a million people after the first week. And so those are some pretty solid numbers. And so, yeah, I think it’s going to be a bit of a slow burn. It’s certainly not this thing that really stands out the way that say the Jubilee line extension in London does with the massive station houses and stuff.

Reece Martin (10m 33s):
Crossroads stations generally don’t really have that. A lot of them are just like deep, underground, connected up to the existing lines. And so I think a lot more people will kind of stumble upon them and find the stations that way. But it’s something that I think people will really come to appreciate over time.

Jeff Wood (10m 49s):
There are stations in the Jubilee line that are bonkers. I must say, like the art inside and just kind of the design and how deep you have to go. It’s it’s crazy.

Reece Martin (10m 56s):
Yeah. And honestly, if anyone has experienced the Jubilee line extension, I would say that like the craziest stations, there are definitely still, the scale still feels bigger than Crossrail. Like, you know, Canary Wharf, Jubilee line station, it’s still feels humongous compared to any of the crossroad stations.

Jeff Wood (11m 13s):
So I’ve been asked by a number of listeners to discuss Canadian transit systems. But I was, I was a bit nervous about that myself, just like I am talking about New York because I really don’t know much about the buses and trains. I’ve been to cities and I’ve been to New York and I’ve been to Montreal and Vancouver, but I, I don’t really know much about them, but I thought you could be a good person to kind of take a tour with us around Canada. For sure. What’s the first thing we should know about Canadian transit writ large,

Reece Martin (11m 35s):
It punches above its weight. And I wouldn’t say that in the sense that we have these really impressive networks. I think our networks are less impressive than I would like them to be, but that people really use the transit here to an extent that’s generally higher than in the U S so New York has higher mode share than I think any of our cities, but all of our cities generally do, you know, quite a bit better than I would say, kind of the media and in the U S so even the smaller cities like Edmonton and Calgary have really well used systems.

Jeff Wood (12m 6s):
Yeah, that’s something I noticed when I was looking up. Some statistics is that Toronto and Montreal subways have, have more ridership than any other systems in north America, outside of New York and Mexico city. But they also have high boardings per mile, which was really impressive too. I mean, they’re up there. I think it was pretty close to what new York’s are not super close, but closer than any other system in the country where in some places like Bart, you get to 4,000 passengers per mile, which is a little bit ridiculously low up into New York. You get, you know, 30,000, 30, 6,000, I think it was. And then the Canadian systems around 30,000, which was pretty impressive. And I’m wondering, is that tied to just density or is it tied to land use? Is it tied to the frequency of the service? What do you think the connection is there?

Reece Martin (12m 44s):
So I think it’s a couple things. I definitely think that the Canadian systems definitely deserve huge kudos for their frequency. I don’t think on any of the big three Canadian rail systems, so Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto you’ll ever really show up and you’ll have to wait more than maybe six minutes for a train, even at the very worst periods of the day. Usually frequencies are better during most of the day. All of these systems you’ll get a train every three minutes or so. So frequencies are definitely quite solid and improving year over year. I think the reason you get that incredible ridership density to some extent has to do with the fact that we are just so infrastructure light in a lot of these cities. So in Toronto and Montreal, both cities have a very congested kind of central subway line in Toronto.

Reece Martin (13m 30s):
It’s the Eastern part of line one that goes up young street is I think the most used single subway service in north America. So the Lexington avenue line in New York carries more people, but over four tracks instead of two. So it’s super heavily used. And in Toronto, that’s in part because it’s so well fed by frequent bus services. So you can get buses from that subway line that go every five minutes or so from about 6:00 AM to 1:00 AM every day and 24 hours of the day, they’ll have like an overnight frequency of maybe every 30 minutes. So they’re feeding these transit lines with an incredible amount of feeder service. And it’s kind of the same in Montreal and Vancouver, just to maybe slightly less extent.

Reece Martin (14m 11s):
So I would say it’s, we don’t have as much transit as we probably should, but the transit we have, we make very good use of.

Jeff Wood (14m 19s):
And how are those paid for like, so you have high frequencies. And I know here in the U S we wish we had high frequencies, and sometimes we call high-frequency 15 minutes, which, you know what, I’m, I’m waiting 15 minutes for a bus here in San Francisco. It’s a little bit frustrating, but I’m curious how you pay for that. How does that manifest itself from a funding standpoint?

Reece Martin (14m 34s):
So it depends in Toronto and kind of in Montreal as well. The cities play a much bigger role in Vancouver. It’s a little less the city and more the provincial level government Toronto is actually one of the least subsidized major transit systems in north America. But it’s kind of, you know, through history Toronto’s become incredibly efficient. So it’s fair box recovery ratio is very high. I think it’s something like, I want to say, it’s like 78 cents on the dollar is recovered through the farebox. So it’s very high, which is probably in part because it’s led on infrastructure that needs to be maintained by the system it’s in large part because of that. But I think the story really is just that there has been historically back in the seventies and eighties, there was a big push to expand services and cuts to service here are incredibly controversial.

Reece Martin (15m 23s):
And I think it’s just because your average Canadian, probably even if they don’t use transit, they see the benefit of transit, or they have our family member who uses transit. And so cuts are very unpopular unions and writers and advocates are really well unified and come together anytime there’s kind of a proposal for cuts. And so even in the peak of the pandemic, you know, Toronto transit service, then again, Montreal and Vancouver were very similar. Maybe your bus service got cut back from every seven minutes to every 10 minutes or something like that. But there was no case, at least in the city of Toronto where you felt like you needed to go buy a car because transit had been cut back so badly, it would just be incredibly unpopular here.

Reece Martin (16m 7s):
And it’s seen as a really important public utility.

Jeff Wood (16m 10s):
Hello. I wish in many cities in the U S it was the same way.

Reece Martin (16m 14s):
Absolutely.

Jeff Wood (16m 14s):
As somebody who doesn’t own a car going around here, sometimes this is a little bit frustrating. Although most of San Francisco is pretty good, but yeah, you know, it’s tough if you’re trying to get outside of that, what are bus systems like generally in other cities outside of Toronto, you know, maybe in the smaller cities, the Edmonton’s and the Winnipeg’s.

Reece Martin (16m 30s):
So generally both systems are decent. So you’ll usually have at a minimum, a decent frequent bus grid of every 10 to 15 minutes frequencies you’ll have usually in these bigger cities, pretty solid off peak service, solid weekend service. There’s usually some form of BRT scheme. Edmonton doesn’t really have a BRT scheme, but women, a peg does have a little kind of transit way system it’s built up in itself. And so it’s pretty good. And I think there’s actually a number of cities that have really, really good bus service like Ottawa, which has kind of its own little BRT network that it’s kind of slowly replacing with rail.

Jeff Wood (17m 10s):
Yeah. Ottawa is such an interesting place that they are replacing it, which is interesting. And then they had a little bit of controversy. Can you, can you dive into that a little bit about what was going on in Ottawa?

Reece Martin (17m 19s):
So Ottawa system is really interesting. So they basically had this set of BRT corridors called the transit way, which still mostly intact across the city. The issue was that the central part of the BRT system basically cut across the downtown on the surface. And when there was an issue, I mean, you would have a line of buses, like hundreds of buses blocking off the downtown completely. And so at some point, this had just happened enough times that they realized they had to do something about it. And so they built a new light rail system, which is more of a kind of light Metro there’s no street crossings or street running or anything like that, that kind of takes over the core part of the trends that way they basically took the bus stations, upgraded them a little put rails in built a new tunnel through the downtown and opened this thing up.

Reece Martin (18m 8s):
The issue is that at least initially you still had these massive throes of buses pulling into the stations on the edges of this rail line, which is not that long, at least right now, and dropping off just tons of passengers. And that was in particular creating a lot of issues with the trains, which aren’t really designed to just have that many passengers dumped on them at one station. And so I think that in particular led to a lot of issues technically and stuff, but the project is a public private partnership. And I think there’s been some, you know, poor execution of some of the elements of the project that needed to be rectified. Like, I don’t know, electrical systems not properly put together and trains not maintained properly.

Reece Martin (18m 53s):
And it seems like that stuff is getting fixed, but it certainly had a really bad toll on the perception of Ottawa’s public transit. And I think it really shows that, you know, if you have a transit system and you’re doing a big project like this, you have to execute it well, because it’s, if you don’t, you could destroy your transit systems reputation, which in Canada, you know, since the transit systems generally do ride on their reputation quite a bit, I think it’s really important that the reputation stays really high.

Jeff Wood (19m 20s):
Is it possible for them to get it back? You know, with expansions or with the fixes, you said they’re starting to fix things, but is it possible? Yeah.

Reece Martin (19m 26s):
Yeah. I definitely think it’s possible. And, you know, Ottawa is the city where I do think there’s a lot of people moving to, and from it, it’s got a, quite a dynamic economy and obviously it’s where the government’s located. And so I think there’s a, a decent turnover of people moving in and out all the time and they are working on, you know, 50 kilometer. So what like 30 something mile expansion of the rail network right now, which will kind of alleviate some of that congestion at the ends. So I think there’s lots of opportunity to fix things. I think one of the best times you can kind of change the public’s perception around a transit system is when you open a big new expansion. So Crossrail is a good example of that, but so it could be auto as big expansion. I think it’s a good time to kind of maybe change some of your branding and change your public messaging and try to push for some increase ridership.

Reece Martin (20m 12s):
And so, yeah, I think they can sort it out, but it’s something that should probably have been avoided in the first place.

Jeff Wood (20m 18s):
Let’s stay on the east coast and talk a little bit about Montreal too. I’ve visited a few times for, I think UATP conferences and Michelin moving on conferences. And I loved it every time, but what’s happening in Montreal because they’ve had a little bit of controversy lately as well.

Reece Martin (20m 30s):
So which controversies controversies that we referred to there, the REM, which the REM stuff.

Jeff Wood (20m 35s):
Yeah. Well, so apparently they wanted to run one of their lines through downtown and that was nixed. Yes. Actually elevated and elevated. Nobody really wanted that one.

Reece Martin (20m 43s):
Yeah. I think it was unfortunate that that project got canceled. I’m pretty big fan of elevated rail. And I think that, unfortunately, particularly on the east coast, there’s a lot more of an opposition to it. Not entirely based in the fact that people think transit is bad, but more that there’s a lot of people who will go and compare it to like an elevated freeway, which Canadian cities like Toronto Montreal both do have. And it gives people this perception that it’s going to be this really loud and ugly thing through their, their city, which is this really effective organizing tool against, you know, elevated rail infrastructure. So I think it’s unfortunate that that’s happening. I think it definitely sets Montreal back a bit, but at the same time, the initial phase of the REM project, which this was going to be kind of a second phase, the initial phase, which is a 67 kilometers.

Reece Martin (21m 33s):
So it was something like 50 mile network is actually, you know, moving ahead, full steam. And so that first part of that is set to open later this year. And so on the whole I’m excited. I think Montreal is not building nearly enough. Toronto is building an immense number of transit projects. It’s truly crazy. And I think Montreal, even though that 1 67 kilometer project is a lot, I think Montreal needs to build a lot more to kind of stay competitive.

Jeff Wood (21m 59s):
What do they need? Do they need more downtown lines? They need more lines kind of peripheral. What, what does Montreal need to improve to catch up to some of the other places?

Reece Martin (22m 7s):
I think for Montreal, definitely a line headed downtown. There was one proposed by the current mayor kind of called the pink line or the Roseline because in French pink is rose. I think that would be very useful Toronto for the longest time. As I mentioned, both Toronto Montreal have this issue of the really congested subway line that goes into the downtown core. I think in both cases, the ridership, you know, there’s latent demand. There’s people who don’t get on the subway every day, just because they don’t want to get jammed into a train. And so I think in both cities building that kind of second relief valve line and into downtown, they both have second lines into downtown, but not really into the areas where people are working generally building those second lines is just a potential opportunity to open up a massive amount of new ridership.

Reece Martin (22m 53s):
So Toronto is building a line like that. Montreal is not yet. And so that’s one thing Montreal has to do Montreal also really could use kind of modernizing its regional or commuter train system. The REM is kind of doing that for some of the lines, but there are a bunch of other lines kind of to the cities Southeast and east that really could use, you know, electrification and more frequent service. And so I would love to see that happen.

Jeff Wood (23m 18s):
Is there a system in Canada you feel is a little bit underrated?

Reece Martin (23m 20s):
Ooh, that’s a, that’s quite an interesting question. I think the Calgary LRT though, in the transit sphere, I think some people have started to appreciate it. Calgary’s LRT. It only has like 40 stations or so 45. I think it’s not that big. It’s only two lines. It doesn’t look super impressive, but it moves 300,000 people a day. So it’s like one of the most used light rail systems in north America. A good comparison is like Portland. So Portland has roughly twice as many stations, but only carries about a third as many people every day. And I think it’s a great case of where Calvary has a really strong downtown core with a strong concentration of jobs. And they’ve worked really hard to make parking expensive in the downtown.

Reece Martin (24m 1s):
And so, you know, people are taking buses or park and ride to the C train stations as they’re called and using that to get into the downtown of the city. And given the system is almost all above ground. It was built quite affordably. I think it is a good model for how you can definitely make progress to getting even a pretty transit skeptical city onto the rails or on the buses.

Jeff Wood (24m 25s):
Is it also correct me if I’m wrong? Is it powered by wind? Is it wind powered? Like in terms of where it gets its electricity?

Reece Martin (24m 30s):
I actually believe it is. And I think that’s the kind of policy that’s pretty cool to see in north America. Cause obviously like the Dutch railway is do that, but Calgary, that area around in Southern Alberta has a lot of wind energy generation. And so I think it was a cool policy that they implemented that.

Jeff Wood (24m 45s):
So you, you moved to Toronto at one point and I imagine that you’re very well steeped in the system. What’s your favorite part of it?

Reece Martin (24m 52s):
Well, that’s a really interesting question. That’s a hard question. I have many favorite parts. I think I don’t have a favorite part. I like many elements. I think the subway is kind of the unsung hero, you know, when people talk about the streetcars a lot. And I do think it’s really cool that we have the streetcars still. I think that there’s a lot of work that we have to do to make them better and more similar to systems in places like Europe, but the subway, I think it’s under appreciated because you know, it moves more than five times more people every day than the entire street car network. And it is as we were talking before, one of the most well-used rapid transit systems in north America. And so I think it’s really exciting and we’re building a bunch of expansions for it as well as other parts of the transit network.

Reece Martin (25m 36s):
And it just has me excited.

Jeff Wood (25m 40s):
I like all the discussion about expansion. It seems though that there’s always arguments about it as well. It feels like the suburbs and the city have different opinions about how much expansion should happen or whether it should happen at all, or how much money is going to be put into the expansion. What’s the politics like?

Reece Martin (25m 55s):
Well, the politics isn’t great, but I would say that actually the disagreements are less to do with whether expansion should happen. I think that expansion happening is something that is very much universally seen as a positive and something that should happen. I do like to remind people, and this is something that I think is probably really strange for listeners in the us, but the current conservative government in Ontario who was reelected recently, really, I’m not a huge fan of them, but what they have done is spend more money on public transportation expansion than any government in history basically. And so there’s a lot of kind of bipartisan support for transit building. The big divide historically was kind of between light rail and subway expansion.

Reece Martin (26m 38s):
So quite famously mayor Rob Ford in Toronto was a very big subway supporter. And his kind of opponents at the city were more supportive of light rail expansion, kind of akin to the existing street cars that a lot of people are so fond of. I think what has kind of happened over time is the debates have kind of waned. We’ve started building some light rail lines. We started building some subway lines. People are kind of tired of the arguing and there’s generally a sense of like, okay, let’s not litigate these battles again and again. And like, let’s just get stuff built. And so we’re kind of building a mix of everything we’re building in the Toronto region right now, five light rail lines.

Reece Martin (27m 18s):
And then we’re building a couple of subway, expansions and a new subway line. And so there’s kind of a big mix of all kinds of different projects getting built now. And so I think there’s kind of something for everyone, no matter what someone’s preferred flavor of transit is

Jeff Wood (27m 33s):
Now what about just outside of Toronto and Hamilton? There’s a loud group of folks online specifically. I have really big designs on getting light rail and in Hamilton, I’m curious what your thoughts are on that.

Reece Martin (27m 44s):
Yeah. I think Hamilton is a difficult situation because the light rail line is, and this is kind of something I think you see generally with light rail is if you have a really successful bus system, light rail, in some ways it’s a positive, but it can be a negative too, because in a lot of cases you have to run the buses really frequently to meet the demand. You actually scale back your frequencies when you move to rail. And so you have to really make sure that that rail system does a lot of positive stuff for it to actually end up penciling out and being an improvement over the status quo because buses can be really good. I think people don’t always appreciate that currently with Hamilton though, there was a little bit of back and forth, the conservative government that I mentioned kind of canceled their light rail project initially, but because of a lot of pushback, both at the federal level and also at the local level, they’ve kind of come around to it and they’ve funded a project now.

Reece Martin (28m 35s):
So the Hamilton will get a light rail line. I think it’s going to have around 15 stops over around 15 kilometers of track. And yeah, it’s really exciting though. I think something that goes under the radar a bit is now Hamilton finally has hourly train service to Toronto all day long. That’s something that started up last year, I think, and it’s pretty soon going to be half hourly. So Hamilton is getting quite a bit of transit improvements and I kind of hope that continues

Jeff Wood (29m 2s):
Well. That’s an interesting thought about inner city rail just because, you know, we’re having discussions here in California. Obviously the rail line has been under construction, the central valley, but what about Canadian high-speed rail? Are there big discussions about connecting places? Obviously you’re not going to connect Vancouver to Toronto with high speed rail, but, but, but maybe, you know, Toronto to Montreal or Toronto Ottawa places that are kind of closer together, it feels like that there’s some possibilities there. Yeah.

Reece Martin (29m 27s):
Yeah. This is something that is a complicated subject.

Jeff Wood (29m 31s):
We love complicated subjects.

Reece Martin (29m 33s):
There’s sparkly been lots of different proposals for high-speed rail and things like that most recently via rail, which is kind of our equivalent to Amtrak that has maybe some issues that Amtrak doesn’t have a little less support broadly, I would say because via rail, you know, I’m from Vancouver and you get one train every couple of days in Vancouver. And so it basically doesn’t exist in the minds of most people that live west of Ontario in Canada via rail has basically, they’ve slowly been growing their ridership year over year. And they, you know, in the past couple of years have had this proposal for high frequency rail, which doesn’t sound super sexy, but it would basically be a dedicated line where they wouldn’t be sharing with freight for at least most of the distance.

Reece Martin (30m 17s):
And that would allow them to operate more service right now they operate eight trains a day between Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto. They would be able to do more like an hourly service and they’d probably be able to go a bit faster as well. And I do think that there’s a lot of promise to that plan. The current government at federally has kind of opened the door. It sounds like maybe they’re open to considering high-speed rail because the value of building a new line that isn’t high-speed seems a little questionable. So it’s not entirely clear what we’re doing, but it does seem like there’s commitment to improving inner city transport kind of in the Eastern part of the country. And we’re getting some new trains finally. So we have some trainings from the eighties and nineties and some from like the war period, still running on the rails and, and we’re getting some new Siemens trains that are, you know, very similar to the ones running in the U S already chargers and ventures, which will be able to improvement.

Reece Martin (31m 11s):
But yeah, I definitely think that a dedicated rail line of some sort is long overdue and would be super popular. I think it’s mainly just a question of, you know, how are we funding this? Where’s it going? And that sort of thing,

Jeff Wood (31m 23s):
What would the popularity be like? I mean, who are the folks that are taking these trips between cities on inner city rail in Canada?

Reece Martin (31m 29s):
I mean, so it’s a huge mix right now. It’s a lot of tourism, a lot of business people, a lot of students going to universities in the towns that are between Montreal and Toronto or going to university in one or the other city. So there’s just a wide variety of stuff. I think the big issue right now is that there are a lot of flights between the cities and the train service is definitely, I would say competitive it’s unreliable, which hurts, but it takes about five hours to go between Toronto and Montreal. So you look at a flight, which is probably an hour between the cities, once you factor insecurity on stuff, you know, you’re close to being competitive trains used to only take, I think roughly four hours, but all of the freight traffic over the years is kind of solely ground at down and hold that back.

Reece Martin (32m 14s):
I think that if we had a time competitive option, even if it wasn’t high speed, it would be really well used. And so I think getting something built is definitely a priority.

Jeff Wood (32m 23s):
All right, let’s go to Vancouver where you’re from Uber. Yeah. I’ve written SkyTrain before, and I know that there are places trying to emulate it like Hawaii. What makes Vancouver generally an interesting case study overall in terms of transit?

Reece Martin (32m 35s):
Well, I just think that really going all in, on SkyTrain as a technology, it was a really smart decision that was made in Vancouver. There have been maybe some missteps here and there, but overall for a city of its size. Again, I like to compare with Portland is not because I don’t like Portland, but because Portland is kind of seen as like this really good transit city. Right. And so I think it’s really, it’s instructive to look at it. Vancouver SkyTrain has again, roughly a little more than half as many stations, but carries about five times as many people on a daily basis. So it’s super convenient, super well-used. And I think that’s largely because in Vancouver you can show up at 10:00 PM on a Sunday and you have a train coming every three or four minutes and it’s just so convenient.

Reece Martin (33m 18s):
And people sometimes talk about like, oh, is, do people really care if the train is more frequent? Once it comes every 10 minutes or every five minutes, but they do, if you know that the next train is coming in, like a minute or two, that’s a big deal and people really respond to that convenience. Right. And so I think that’s a huge thing. The whole system is kind of built on, on having a lot of services and frequency. And then I think the transit oriented development in Vancouver is just crazy. Like it’s definitely, in my opinion, the leader in north America, it has just an insane amount. When I go back to Vancouver, maybe once a year, I’m always astounded because the amount of new high-rises you see, and not just in the city of Vancouver, but in all of the suburbs along the SkyTrain lions is just insane.

Reece Martin (34m 3s):
So much so that the tallest buildings in the region now aren’t even in Vancouver, the city itself, they’re in the suburbs near SkyTrain line. So it’s just a really cool system. It’s awesome to be able to ride outside and see stuff as you’re going along instead of being in a tunnel the whole time. Yeah. I can’t say enough. Good stuff about it.

Jeff Wood (34m 21s):
It’s also interesting, you know, speaking of Tod that, that there’s a first nations tribe. I can’t remember the name, but they’re trying to build, you know, really intensely dense housing around the SkyTrain line. And it’s a pretty amazing what can happen when you have this kind of connection to the city and a plot of land.

Reece Martin (34m 37s):
So these Squamish first nation has a project whose name, I do not know the correct pronunciation of, so I will not try to say it, but it’s really an impressive, it’s a number of towers it’s kind of near the downtown core of Vancouver. And they actually, because, you know, we’re guests on their land, not the reverse, they don’t have the same restrictions that traditional developers would have for the things like height and stuff. And so they’ve been able to do something that looks really impressive. Their development is going to have very little, if not, no parking, if I recall correctly, and it’s going to have a map of underground bike per Cade. So it’s super impressive, definitely worth looking at. Yeah, I think it’s just, it’s a great model. It’s one of many mega projects going on around the transit system in Vancouver that just helps to make transit more convenient for people are living and working there, but also has the dual benefit of if you’re along a transit service, it’s easier for people to get there without having to spend a crazy amount on gas.

Jeff Wood (35m 32s):
Now what’s going on on Broadway.

Reece Martin (35m 34s):
Oh yes. So Broadway is, you know, currently the most heavily used bus route in the U S or Canada,

Jeff Wood (35m 42s):
What’s the ridership

Reece Martin (35m 43s):
It’s to 58,000 today. Yeah. Geez. On the bus route. It’s actually interesting. Most of the other, most you use ones are in New York and Toronto. So it does really well. So Broadway, the Eastern part of it is going to be replaced by a subway extension of one of the sky train lines. That’s already under construction and should be done in the next couple of years. And so that’s the huge project going to be super successful from day one, I’m going to slash carbon emissions because those buses are diesel right now. And those passengers will all be getting on electric trains. So it’s kind of just a huge win obvious transit project that should have probably happened 10 years ago, but it’s real exciting to see it happening. And yeah, hopefully that line gets extended in the next 10 years or so all the way out to the west, to the university of British Columbia, which is kind of one of the major transit nodes in this city that the bus route mainly serves.

Reece Martin (36m 33s):
Actually.

Jeff Wood (36m 34s):
Now you’re talking about Cascadia Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. I’m wondering, you know, you mentioned the connection to Portland, but you didn’t mention much about Seattle. I’m wondering if there’s a reason for that.

Reece Martin (36m 44s):
Yeah. I think Seattle is just underwhelming transit wise. I hate to say it. I think Seattle has done some great stuff with buses in particular with the rapid ride system. I would like to say that Vancouver and Seattle have kind of bounced ideas off of each other for two years with that. So Vancouver had its beeline, which I just talked about on Broadway, which was kind of, I think the original iteration of this idea Seattle kind of did some stuff with rapid ride, which is this network of high quality, not BRT services, but high quality bus services with signal priority and nicer stops and nicer buses. And then Vancouver has done a new kind of project with a bunch of lines called rapid bus. So that’s been really cool to see the thing that I think Seattle is lacking is it doesn’t have a really solid rapid transit network.

Reece Martin (37m 26s):
I think it’s kind of in this weird in-between of light rail and light Metro, that is, you know, it’s kind of trying to be a bit more like sky train these days, but it just, it doesn’t serve the city as well as SkyTrain does. And the development patterns don’t as closely mapped to transit as they do in Vancouver. And so I just don’t think it’s happening as much success though. They’re spending a lot of money on trans in Seattle, obviously. And hopefully through things like east link and through the link extensions down to Tacoma up to Everett, they can start to really recover and start to have a lot more competitive of a rapid trends in the network.

Jeff Wood (38m 2s):
What’s the most frustrating thing to you about Canadian transport?

Reece Martin (38m 5s):
I think it’s just that we don’t get the little things, right. So I am really happy as I’ve mentioned about all this expansion and stuff, but things that I wish we had are things that a lot of places in other parts of the world have like really good wayfinding. We have decent wayfinding in Canada, but when I’m in Tokyo and I see the wayfinding on the trains where you have these LCD screens that tell you, oh, at the next stop, if you’re in this carriage, you want to walk this direction to get closer to your escalator or your exit, or this is the amount of minutes until the stop you to get off at things like that platform, screen doors, these elements that you see in systems like in Tokyo and Paris and London, these are the things that I think we kind of fall down on.

Reece Martin (38m 46s):
We have a good basic service it’s frequent, but we don’t have those little touches that kind of elevate things. And so that’s what I want to see the most of in the future.

Jeff Wood (38m 54s):
And what about ticketing and fair payment? I know that here in California, they’re starting to talk about a statewide program for thinking about, you know, open-loop tickets and stuff like that. I’m curious what the general consensus is throughout the country.

Reece Martin (39m 6s):
Yeah. So that’s like another example of something that I think Japan does really well that we don’t. So obviously in Japan, they have fairly unified nationwide fairer systems where a lot of cards work from city to city. Canada doesn’t really have that. So we have a bunch of different smart card systems, the big three cities, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto all have different systems. It would be good to see kind of a Countrywide standard approach to that. But I think in absence of that, what would be great to see here is what holds in the states is just like let’s have open payment across the whole system, so you can pay with a credit or debit card. And as London does, let’s have fair capping. So, you know, you tap a certain number of times in a month and you don’t have to pay any more once you’ve written transit a certain amount.

Reece Martin (39m 52s):
I think that that’s probably the most realistic way we’re going to get to a feature where we have only one card that we need to worry about paying for transit with. So that’s kind of my thinking on that.

Jeff Wood (40m 3s):
That’s cool. What are you most excited about in the future and the expansions? Any, any programs, any policies that are coming up that you think just might be blockbuster?

Reece Martin (40m 11s):
Yeah, I think it’s the two big transit projects in Toronto. So it’s the Ontario line, which is also formerly known as the downtown relief line, which is not also a very sexy name. That’s going to be basically the line that helps to provide more capacity onto that super congested young subway in Toronto. That’s, you know, kind of needed more capacity for 30 years, but didn’t get it. So that’s a huge project that’s kind of just starting now and then the modernization of the go train network in the Toronto area. So it’s being electrified for probably about 60% of its length. The lines are going to get the seven minute service on each of the electrified lines. There’s going to be kind of modern European signaling installed.

Reece Martin (40m 52s):
So ETCs European train control system, which will be a first in the us or Canada. And this is really exciting. And yeah, it’s just like a really good example that it’s setting. I wish we were getting more modern trains as Caltrain is getting in the bay area. I think if you were to look at kind of Caltrain and Toronto between the trains that Caltrain has and the signaling and kind of service design of Toronto, I think you would have kind of the perfect regional rail system that would be great to see in places like Philadelphia, New York as well.

Jeff Wood (41m 23s):
Sounds awesome. So your channel, you have videos on not just Canadian transit, but all kinds of transit around the world. If there’s a system that you would suggest that people go visit, what’s the one place. If they had a golden ticket, where should folks go if they wanted to see a transit system?

Reece Martin (41m 37s):
That’s hard. I think hell very difficult. I mean,

Jeff Wood (41m 40s):
I know I’m making you choose.

Reece Martin (41m 42s):
I mean, I can’t necessarily choose,

Jeff Wood (41m 44s):
Well, how about a top tier? How about a top tier

Reece Martin (41m 46s):
Tier? Oh yes. Okay. But a top tier is something I can definitely do. So I would say London for its design and its wayfinding and its integration of services, you know, being able to have fair zones and fair capping and stuff. I would say Paris for its various different transit modes. It’s got trams and the RAR and the Metro, and it uses them all kind of where they make the most sense. You don’t have a tram that you’ve got to take to go halfway across the city. And if you want to get around your neighborhood, you do have trams. I would say they’re also doing things like gondolas and stuff. So Paris is just going crazy with the transit modes. I would say Tokyo for kind of the scale and capacity and convenience, being able to use things like your fare card to pay for your dinner or to pay for a drink right on the train platform is super convenient.

Reece Martin (42m 29s):
And then I would say Hong Kong is kind of an example of, you know, if you’re building a system from scratch, how you can still make your system really world-class by building high capacity, really comfortable stations with air conditioning and platform, screen doors and nice wayfinding and things like that. So even if you don’t have a system with, you know, 400 stations like New York and London, you can still have something really, really nice and solid Singapore probably also should be in that tier because people from Singapore would complain if I didn’t mention Singapore. So Singapore as well,

Jeff Wood (43m 1s):
Luis, where can folks find you online if you want folks to check out your channel?

Reece Martin (43m 5s):
Yeah. So you can find my YouTube channel. It’s called the RM Transit on YouTube and on Twitter. I’m at RM Transit, same as most platforms, Instagram and the like

Jeff Wood (43m 15s):
Awesome. Well, I hope folks go and check out your channel. There’s lots of great stuff on there. Lots of great videos about transit systems around the world. Reece. Thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time. Thanks

Reece Martin (43m 23s):
So much, Jeff. It’s been great to talk to you.


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