From City Hall: Council Approves Scarborough Subway (UPDATED)

Update (July 2016)

Again this month, John voted with the minority of Councillors that preferred an LRT option in Scarborough as a replacement to the existing SRT. John previously voted against the Scarborough subway in 2013 believing that spending more than $1-billion of City money was wasteful when the Province was prepared to assume 100% of the LRT cost.  Recent reports have the cost of the subway going up even more, leaving Toronto residents on the hook for cost overruns.

The majority of Council however again backed the subway plan that will now see Line 2 (Danforth) extended by a single stop to Scarborough Town Centre.  Though especially disappointed with the decision three years ago, John has been optimistic that the City has been making real and badly needed progress towards an expanded transit network.

Council also approved the addition of up to 6 stations as part of the province’s Regional Express Rail (RER) project – better known as SmartTrack and an Eglinton West LRT extension to Pearson Airport.  The City will also now move forward on planning activities around the Relief Line subway, Eglinton East LRT and waterfront transit.

Original Post (October 2013)

After a series of debates spanning several years, City Council has approved construction of a Scarborough Subway. The line will extend the Bloor-Danforth Subway along the McCowan Road corridor to Sheppard Avenue East. The estimated cost is $2.47-billion (in 2010 $), of which the Province will contribute $1.48 billion; the federal government has promised up to $660 million (in 2019 $). That leaves the City covering close to $1 billion (in 2019 $) plus any cost over-runs, which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, plus all operating costs.

The vote was 24-20. I preferred the much less expensive LRT.  The reasons for my vote were as follows:

Arguably, both the LRT and the subway provided an equally valuable improvement of transit services to the residents of Scarborough. The subway consists of three stops, with a projected ridership of 36-39 million annually. The LRT had five stops, including Centennial College, with similar ridership projections, but significantly more residents in walking distance to a station.  As the LRT would have been built through an existing rail corridor, there would have been no delays at signalized intersections, meaning both would move at comparable speeds.  My conclusion was that the difference between a subway and an LRT, in this instance, was not worth a billion dollars, and considerably more in operating costs.

Paying the City’s share of construction cost translates into a 1.6% tax increase for the next 30 years. For most Willowdale homeowners, that means more than $100 per year added to your tax bill, for a total cost per household of approximately $3,000. With the real cost likely to be higher than the estimates, the amount raised from local property owners could be much higher. Because municipal taxes are based on property values, and property in Willowdale is among the most expensive in the City, property owners in our area pay much more than the City average. This means a retired couple living in a small bungalow in Willowdale would pay approximately twice as much for the Scarborough subway as would the same couple living in an identical house in parts of Etobicoke or Scarborough.  If I’m going to support a large tax increase for residents of Willowdale – in addition to any annual tax increase to maintain services – I need to be convinced that the extra tax is necessary. In this case, the evidence did not support this.

Finally, I believe relieving congestion on the Yonge line must be a higher priority.  As those of you taking the Yonge subway in rush hour already know, this line is beyond congested.  Several solutions have been identified, including construction of a “downtown relief” subway line and a major reconfiguration of the Yonge/Bloor station platform. These solutions, which virtually all transit experts have identified as Toronto’s highest transit priority, would cost several billion dollars to implement.  By using all available federal money, and hitting residents with a $billion+  tax increase for the Scarborough line alone, the prospects for reducing congestion on the Yonge line are reduced. To make matters worse, the Scarborough line will itself cause more congestion on the Yonge line.

If choosing between subways and LRTs was as easy as asking people which they’d prefer to ride on, the choice would be simple. People prefer subways.  But a subway generally costs about three times as much to build as an LRT, and the cost of exclusively building subways on all new rapid transit routes over the next 50 years would come close to doubling your property taxes. Some routes require subways and others can function well with LRTs. Our long term transit expansion needs to include a mixed solution, with subways where the cost is justified and LRTs where it is not.

Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts.  Please take a moment to complete my survey on transit options.