Thoughts on the Scarborough Subway Extension

The key to planning and developing a successful city in the modern age is building an efficient, reliable and effective rapid transit system. In recognition of that, there has been a strong and consistent push for construction of new transit infrastructure in Toronto and the replacement of aging rapid transit infrastructure in Scarborough is a major part of that endeavour. Two main proposals have been put forward and discussed for replacing the TTC’s obsolete Line 3: a subway extension and an LRT line. Unsurprisingly, the economic factors relating to the decision on which proposal to adopt were on the forefront of the debate on this topic.

Building a subway extension is the sensible decision. It will provide a strong transportation backbone as communities in the area continue to develop and while the upfront cost may be quite significant, it is a one-time investment that will continue to serve the community for decades to come. Additionally, plans and arrangements to build the subway extension have already been put in place between all levels of government and having to renegotiate those arrangements in the event of a switch to the LRT proposal would waste valuable time.

Efficiency

Image result for ttc rush hour
Commuters exit a crowded train during rush hour at the TTC’s Dundas station Source

Subways allow for rapid movement of large numbers of people. As congestion in the area rises, the capacity of a properly constructed and operated subway system allows for the fastest possible movement of the largest number of people in the given circumstances. Despite reports that the extension will attract lesser numbers of new transit users in the short-term, the long-term benefits are far greater. Those benefits include incentives for property developers to build more residential and commercial developments in close proximity to the proposed extension. Units of these developments would have easier access to rapid transit and would therefore fetch a higher price on the market.

Fairness

The subway extension proposal is a fair solution. It will provide the local community with a lasting transit infrastructure backbone that can support expansion and growth for decades to come.

Costs and Benefits

Upfront costs of the project are significant, with the current estimate being $3.35 billion. In the short-term, the costs outweigh the benefits and in the short-term, an LRT would provide greater benefits for less cost. However, in the context of city planning it is important to note that decisions made now will continue to define the city’s growth, expansion and progress for decades into the future and that a subway provides lasting, high capacity infrastructure that will be able to handle higher demand in the future. Indeed,  the subway extension is ideally suited to support potential growth and development well beyond the short to mid-term.

Opportunity Costs

The primary opportunity cost of the subway extension is that it means that an LRT will not be built. The LRT would provide greater benefits in the short-term, including better coverage and significantly lower cost, with the downside of lower capacity and more limitations on future expansion.

Funding Scheme

The project will be jointly funded by the municipal, provincial and federal governments. The municipal government enacted a special property tax in 2013 to pay for the city’s $910 million share of the project’s total cost. This is an optimal and fair way to fund the project as the high cost is spread out and absorbed by gathering funds from a large number of people over a longer period of time without significantly impacting taxpayers’ finances and without cutting other municipal services.

Priorities of public transit development in Toronto

After decades of neglect and next to no development with respect to Toronto’s high capacity rapid transit system; it is imperative that the municipal government, along with their provincial and federal partners, takes immediate action to commence construction on new rapid transit projects such as the SSE. The last few decades have seen Toronto outgrow the capabilities of existing transit infrastructure, and in the interest of ensuring that new residential and commercial developments have sufficient and fair access to mass transit, these projects must be undertaken efficiently and responsibly.

To that end, the TTC should focus on completing the long overdue Line 1 extension and then shift its focus to completing the Crosstown LRT project and the SSE. It should then focus on projects such as the proposed Yonge relief line. The overarching objective of all of these developments should ultimately be to ensure that the city’s residents have adequate access to efficient and reliable mass transit. This will bring Toronto’s transit infrastructure in line with other major cities across the globe and ensure that Toronto remains a competitive option for both new residents and new businesses alike.

Final Thoughts

The proposed Scarborough Subway Extension is the right decision for Toronto’s future transit development.  The long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs. It is a long-term investment that will provide the area with a strong rapid transit backbone that will encourage new residential and commercial development and support economic activity in the area for decades to come.

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