The province has committed $8.4 billion to Toronto transit. The City of Toronto has a responsibility to ensure that the spending of this money:
– benefits a critical mass of transit users (current and potential);
– aids in reducing the over $5 Billion annual cost of gridlock;
– increases development opportunities, and;
– is beneficial to our beleaguered economy.
However, what we are witnessing is the uncritical adoption of a particular technology (light rail) and, the deliberate misrepresentation of the costs and benefits.
Eglinton Crosstown – (to paraphrase David Gunn) Mayor Ford’s Dumbest Decision
This is an infill line and it would be a useful later enhancement after a suburban transit ethic has been established. At this stage, it is set to create more problems than it resolves.
Underground light rail is more expensive than a subway to build and operate but, with one third the capacity. Fare box revenues will need to rise, i.e. ticket prices, because of TTC’s very high revenue/cost ratio.
Sheppard Subway – A Success Story
November 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Sheppard Subway. The return on under $1 Billion has been enormous and, transit ridership growing. Good planning justified. The increase in new residential and commercial property taxes coming into city coffers, along with the rise in market value of pre-existing properties, validates the expression “subways pay for themselves”.
According to RealNet, the Sheppard Corridor ranked third out of 19 active high-density development areas across the GTA at the end of 2010. This is based on the number of projects, units and sales. It ranked 13th when it came to average unit pricing: $485 per square foot compared to the average GTA price of $547. RealNet president George Carras attributes the area’s popularity to low price, highway access, public transportation and convenient shopping.
The Transit User: Where are they and where do they want to go?
Toronto has 2.6 million residents, a 4.5% growth rate in 5 years. The bulk of the growth has occurred in the suburbs and will continue to do so into the future as new immigrants tend to settle in Toronto’s suburbs. Scarborough alone accounts for one quarter of the city’s total population – of which, 82% are low to very low income earners.
The majority of transit users are travelling to and from work. As the Conference Board of Canada’s Report, “Connecting Jobs and People” shows, there is an “increasing suburbanization of employment”.  While employment is growing in the suburbs there have been no provisions to ensure better transit access.
In the 50’s to 70’s period the downtown area represented the major employment area in the GTA. Even by the 70’s the area south of Bloor St represented approximately 25% of total employment. Yet today the same area has less than 4% of total GTA employment in spite of the fact that our rapid transit network basically feeds this single downtown market.
There are significant populations north of the 401: Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough. With most of the employment in the suburban areas (especially Markham, Vaughan and Mississauga), an east-west transit corridor in the north of the city is long over-due.
Network is of paramount importance in any transit plan; it is what makes all great transit systems work beyond the level of their individual components. The Network concept of direct, interconnected and continuous line routing is critical to the success of any system. Riders are lost due to detours from direct line routes and/or requirements to transfer between different technologies.
It is important to understand how our surface transit system works. Toronto has a unique feeder bus system -over 75% of subway users arrive via bus. Rapid transit lines must be placed where interconnections (rapid transit lines and buses) are effective and efficient. There is a compound affect of an integrated Network: the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.
Let’s be clear, there is no debate about the efficacy of light rail over subways. For urban transit, there is no method more capable of moving more people faster, more efficiently, and more cost effectively than subways. Subways have the strongest influence on land shaping and promote high-density residential and commercial development (Sheppard extension estimated at $6 Billion). Environmentally subways are the greenest choice. Their ability to provide rapid, reliable, frequent, comfortable and, safe service is what attracts people out of their automobiles.
Development density is often used as an argument against further subway building. This is a red herring, because there are less than twenty stations along the existing Toronto system with sufficient density that generates a significant amount of local walk-in traffic.
Mass transit rail, built at grade in an urban environment, interferes with vehicular traffic. The result is increased traffic congestion/gridlock. In order to be rapid, transit requires its own right-of-way. Competing for travel time with traffic signals along a route significantly adds to travel time and potential erratic round trip running times. Underground light rail makes no economic sense as shown in the Eglinton Crosstown analysis: high cost, low return. As documented by Metrolinx, along right of ways, light rail negatively impacts property values by as much as -15%8.
Putting $8.4 Billion Effectively to Work
The Sheppard Subway is a critical linchpin in developing a suburban network that eventually will see the Scarborough Town Centre linked as far west as the Airport. This route would improve existing east/west transit travel times by over 300%, provide more rapid, reliable, frequent service, improve safety, security and transit access to employment areas. Such tremendous increases in “transit utility” are what generate high ridership levels – particularly among discretionary riders.
Extensions of the Bloor-Danforth line, that network with the Sheppard Subway Line, will create a circle system of rapid transit. Effectively integrated with our bus system, transit riders would finally be able to get around the entire city in an expedient manner.
East: replacement of the SRT with a subway extension from Kennedy to Scarborough Town Centre
West: extending Kipling to the Airport / Mississauga (a major employment centre)
To Sum Up
In Toronto, we have seen the principles and practices of good governance sacrificed to greed, ideology and politics.
MPP Frank Klees has brought to light the coercing of the City of Toronto and TTC to enter into an agreement with Presto/Accenture by the provincial government through Metrolinx.  This should raise warning flags concerning the Eglinton Crosstown project.
Sheppard Panel Report; Torontonians aren’t as stupid as they think. My neighbours and I find it difficult to believe that a newly formed panel can, in a few short weeks, conduct a proper analysis and issue a recommendation that will have tremendous implications on the economic and social conditions of Scarberians.
As a citizen, I have done my due diligence by researching the facts and exploring the options.
As a taxpayer, I want: value for money; evidence-based decisions; accountability and; performance.
As a voter, I want representation.
As a Councillor, you have the responsibility to ensure our $8.4 Billion allocation is used wisely to improve and expand the City of Toronto’s transit system. Toronto needs to create an effective overall transit plan. There is no room for biased, ideological decision making.
On March 21st, we are depending on a majority of City Councillors to see through the willfully ambiguous reports, distortion of facts and, grand standing to bring forward common sense solutions to ease our transit woes and realize the positive impacts of good planning.
 John Barnes, retired TTC/York Regional Transit Senior Planner