How long did it take you to get to school or work this morning?
If you said 30 Minutes or less, then you are very lucky. Unfortunately, the people of Scarborough are not going to be lucky for much longer. Their only High Capacity Transportation, the Scarborough RT is approaching the end of its useful life. Once the RT is permanently decommissioned, the people of Scarborough will be forced to use buses in order to reach the closest subway station (Kennedy) which is located 6.3KM from the current terminus McCowan. If a commuter were to take the RT, their trip would only take 13 Minutes. If however, the commuter took a bus, the same trip would take, 26 Minutes.
To resolve this problem the TTC, City of Toronto, and Province of Ontario, are looking for a replacement for the Scarborough RT.
The current system uses the UTDC/Bombardier Mark 1 trains. These trains operate differently from conventional rail in that, they are designed to be completely autonomous, and their wheels are not directly responsible for accelerating the train. The Mark 1 trains accelerate by lifting the car an extremely small distance and using magnets to accelerate forward by repelling against a centre rail. This design is complex but it is actually better in terms of maintenance costs compared to a normal train since this allows the Mark 1 to have very little moving parts. This explains why the RT is still running 32 Years after it’s installation. The Mark 1 is also able to operate completely autonomously through an onboard computer that communicates with a control centre. In the control centre, the employee simply selects a destination and the car runs completely by itself stopping at all stops. In all other locations like Vancouver, New York, and Detroit the cars run without an onboard operator. In Toronto, there is one operator whose only job is to close the doors.
The most logical and least costly option is to simply upgrade the existing line to make it compatible with newer Mark 2, and Mark 3 trains. This is what Vancouver has done and all three generations run without conflict on the same lines. The cost of the conversion for the TTC was 190 million dollars in 2006 and the cost of new trains was 170 million dollars in 2006. The benefit is the construction will be very minimal with only an 8 month downtime. The downside is that the line will not serve any new people. The opportunity cost which is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen is that more people will not receive access to high capacity rapid transit. A decision is efficient if it takes all opportunity to make as many people as possible better off without making others worse off. According to this definition, this decision is very efficient since it improves reliability and comfort for all of the people currently using the line while leaving money in the coffers of the city to improve transit in other parts of the city. A decision is equitable if it gives everyone his or her fair share. This decision is equitable since the people of Scarborough will get the same level of transit in proportion to their population density as the other residents of Toronto.
Another option that was proposed in the past was building an LRT Line in Scarborough. In 2010, the City of Toronto commissioned a study on the environmental impact of an LRT line. The line would have run from Kennedy to Malvern, stopping at all existing RT stops and several new stops. If the city had gone with this option, more people would have benefited from being closer to a stop/station. A drawback of this option is the line would have been built above ground and since the power lines of LRT’s are not fixed/immovable like those of a subway or Mark 1/2/3, strong winds could potentially break the lines and force the line to be shut down for several hours or even several days. The City’s estimation in 2010 placed the cost of the 7 stop LRT at $1.48 Billion 2010 dollars. The opportunity cost is that the construction will take several years during which the people currently being served by the RT will be forced to use other forms of transit like buses. This decision is efficient since it maximizes the number of people being served by high capacity transit in Scarborough without making other people worse off. This decision is fair and equitable since the people of Scarborough will get the same level of transit in proportion to their population as the other residents of Scarborough.
The current option being pursued by the City of Toronto is an extension of Line 2 Bloor-Danforth. There is currently no official proposition in regards to route and number of stops as the consultations have not yet completed. The latest proposition was a one-stop extension to Scarborough Town Center. This would mean that fewer people would be served by this expansion as 4 stations would be eliminated. This option is also by far the costliest with the latest projection showing costs would be approximately $3.56 Billion dollars. The opportunity cost is that fewer people will be served than the other options and the city will have less money to improve transit in other parts of the city. This decision is not efficient since the number of people being served by high capacity transit will decrease and the cost will increase. This decision is not equitable since fewer people will be served by High capacity transit compared to now.
In my opinion, the TTC should upgrade the line to handle larger Mark 2 and Mark 3 trains since the costs are less and the upgrade will be finished quicker than all of the other options. Additionally, due to the decreased costs, the TTC will have money to expand the line in the future and/or improve transit in other areas of Toronto.
The Billion Dollar Question
You may be asking yourself after reading my blog post, Why didn’t the TTC follow-through on the 2006 report?
The Answer according to Toronto Star Columnist Royson James is Politics. He writes that the TTC decided to not to pursue this option due in part to the election of Rob Ford. As he writes,
Another pharaoh rose up in Egypt, er Toronto. And he wanted subways instead of LRTs. So the subway option everyone considered “overkill” or “overbuild” for a corridor barely dense enough for a fully separated LRT or RT, became a political talisman.
Another question that you may be asking is, Can we still go back to the plan of upgrading the RT line? The Technical answer is yes, but the bureaucratic and political answer is no. Technically speaking the line has not deteriorated past the point of no return, but since the City has already agreed on a subway extension and most of the current councilors and mayor were given a mandate by voters to build the subway, the subway will be built(Probably).