Toronto is booming, drawing in hundreds of thousands of new residents continuously, and growing as the fourth largest city in North America. Yet, our transportation network is failing to keep up. Alright, that is quite the understatement. Clearly, it sucks. The TTC drastically lags behind modern transit systems seen in other big cities, doing Torontonians no justice in being ridiculously incomparable to the high-tech, high-speed, highly reliable transit systems ranked among the best in the world. Instead, we must deal with frequent delays, closures and shuttle buses, and horrible bus schedules. The TTC certainly has a great deal of flaws, but in broad terms, it serves its purpose: to provide and facilitate accessible travel within the city for the citizens of Toronto.
With this in mind, it is indeed indisputable that a replacement for the aging Scarborough RT is long overdue. There has been enough back and forth debate – from subway, light rail, then subway again – to ensue frustration, and a ‘just build SOMETHING’ mentality. Given the following facts, a push to replace the aging system is not unreasonable:
- Scarborough is home to 650 000 residents
- Vehicles running on the 30 year old Scarborough RT are reaching the end of their normal lifespan and the system must be replaced
- The city and TTC needs to deliver a fast, efficient, and reliable subway system extending from the Bloor-Danforth (green) line north from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Centre
However, this type of push is entirely incompetent in deciding which system can better connect neighbourhoods and serve more people. Evidently, John Tory has come down with a case of this narrow-minded mentality. The push for a replacement of the Scarborough RT has become a largely political matter, with Tory insisting on a Scarborough subway while his opponent previously backed light rail. As reported by The Globe and Mail,
“He ran for mayor in 2014 on a promise to stick with the Scarborough subway plan. His opponent on the left, Olivia Chow, wanted to go back to light rail. Mr. Tory won. The provincial government backs the subway. Ottawa signed on too”
However, when we strip away the politics and look about this situation from an economic perspective, we can clearly see the gaping flaws in Tory’s insistence on seeing through with his campaign promise.
Cost vs. Benefits
In short, a subway expansion makes absolutely no sense. We can easily understand the reasoning behind this statement by thinking about the costs and benefits for a mere 2 seconds. Here it goes:
The cost that has risen to be associated with this undertaking is quite simply absurd. According to Metrolinx, the Government of Ontario has committed a $1.48 billion investment to replace the current Scarborough RT. Sure, we can push it a bit, setting a $2 billion budget in early 2016 for the subway expansion, but the problem is, the cost has currently risen to a ridiculous $3.35 billion. In fact, the range of accuracy can be off by a full 50%, meaning costs can come as high as $5.02 billion. What’s more? The plan to build a three-stop subway was cut down to one stop. $3.35 billion just to add a single new stop to the Bloor-Danforth line. If this is not enough, and you are still unfazed, I’d love to study under the tutelage of your coolheaded, strong and steady mind. Or rather, consider this: the city will be spending an estimated $1.45 million for each new rider the subway extension attracts. In what way can this possibly make sense?
Perhaps we should shift gears, and have a look at the benefits.
Sure, a subway expansion will allow riders to experience a seamless journey to Scarborough Centre without transferring at Kennedy Station, all in the spirit of relieving regional congestion. It can sound pretty good, right? Allegedly, this seamless journey saves time commuting, with Tory even invoking emotion to say that this saved time can be better spent with family. However, according to the Toronto Star:
In a report released in June, city staff said the replacement of the SRT with a one-stop subway could save riders “up to five minutes.”
That’s correct, a mere five minutes, a substantial benefit indeed. Surely, five minutes off the commutes of many people? It’s unfortunate that even there, the benefits look bleak. An estimated 4500 new riders at the beginning of project planning has halved, plummeting to about 2300 last summer.
When it comes down to it, a $3.35 billion to $5.02 billion cost, to replace an old system, shaving 5 minutes off the commute of 2300 people? The costs vastly outweigh the benefits. There have got to be better solutions.
Efficient, Equitable, or Fair?
With the scarce resource in this circumstance being money to fund the expansion of public transit and given the circumstances, I would argue that this project is far from efficient. In choosing to build a Scarborough subway expansion, one forgoes the next best choice of building a light rail, cheaper bus stations, or using the money to serve as a down-payment on other transit projects Toronto desperately needs. There are a great many alternative uses this funding can go towards – in this situation, opportunity cost would be a toss-up between a subway relief-line to ease the pressure on the massively over-crowded Yonge line, or building a light rail for Scarborough. Both of these decisions make an equal or greater amount of people better off. In the case of the cheaper light rail, it makes no people worse off as Scarborough residents still acquire their much-needed transit, however makes some people better off by leaving more funding for other transit projects. This would be a more efficient decision than the absurd subway expansion, and the TTC truly needs to get a grasp on the idea.
Equity is a difficult concept to describe in this situation, as disagreement surrounds fair methods to allocate funding for public transit. However, in short, by dedicating ridiculous amounts of tax payers’ money, upwards of $3.35 billion, the lack of equity is blatantly seen. The resources would be unfairly distributed among those 2300 riders, costing the government $1.45 million per new rider, a ridiculous plan that leaves funds in no way fairly distributed among citizens.
What are the Alternatives?
We should not allocate such an enormous budget to insist on a subway expansion to Scarborough. Instead, there are many alternatives, some of which may be more beneficial than others. These include:
- A bus terminal to help pedestrian access and free up more land for development
- Adapting GO Transit (using Smart Track)
- Network of LRTs (Light Rail Transit)
A better alternative should include the benefits of a fast trip speed, frequent service, and the currently accepted TTC fare level , 3 factors that will draw more riders with a reasonable demand. It should allow the TTC to prioritize a mission to connect more neighbourhoods and serve more people. With this in mind, I would recommend the light rail alternative to connect the Scarborough community. Despite its growing cost, it remains cheaper than the subway, a sensible project is already being planned: a 17 stop LRT can be built within the funding envelope along Eglinton Ave. E. to the UofT Scarborough campus.
Residents have even petitioned for this alternative, with one reading:
It’s time for our politicians to understand that we do not just want one stop on the subway; we want transit that takes us to work, school, and all the opportunities this city has to offer.
This TTCriders advocacy group lobbying for the LRT plan with a petition containing more than 250 signatures are on the right track. Politicians should truly take the time to understand what the people need, and no one knows that better than the people themselves. It is time set the right track in connecting the Scarborough Centre economic hub with greater Toronto opportunities by choosing to fund more realistic and sensible projects like the LRT rather than a subway expansion.