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The One-Stop McCowan Alignment: There’s No Light at the End of This Tunnel

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Don’t you just love the TTC?

If you live in Toronto, you have probably used the services of the TTC at least once in your life. Even if you haven’t, you would’ve definitely heard about the fantastic service it provides. From subway delays, to weekend closures, to buses passing by your stop even though you’ve been waiting for AN HOUR, there’s never a dull moment when riding (or at least trying to ride) the TTC. If you haven’t heard already, the TTC wants to build a single subway extension that costs $3.35 billion. I bet you’re not even surprised. As you might have realized, this is NOT the best way to spend the hard-earned money of taxpayers. If you haven’t realized, you will very soon.


The Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) first opened in 1985 and currently consists of six stations running Intermediate Capacity Transit System Mark I trains. Unlike regular subway trains that are used on lines 1, 2, and 4, these trains are much smaller and run on a mostly-elevated track. Although the SRT has provided great service for more than 30 years, the time has come for this system to be replaced. Now you may be wondering, why is the TTC making such a big deal out of this? Why can’t they just perform regular maintenance by closing off that portion of Line 3? Everyone is used to these wonderful scheduled weekend closures anyways. The City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission released the following statement in regards to that question:

“Relatively simple system enhancements – such as replacing and adding RT vehicles – are not possible because the existing vehicles are outdated and no longer available for purchase.”

This means that there will soon be huge changes to public transit in the Scarborough area. I bet you can’t wait for there to be even more delays and closures!

After much debate over how the SRT would be replaced over these past few years, the decision makers seem to have come to an agreement. On March 28th, 2017, the Toronto City Council approved of the Scarborough Subway Extension, also known as the one-stop McCowan alignment. This alignment is a 6.2 km extension of Line 2 that enables passengers to travel by subway from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Centre. This extended subway line is planned to run through Eglinton Avenue, Danforth Road, and McCowan Road.

The new Scarborough Centre Station will be between Progress Avenue and Triton Road while Kennedy Station will remain in its current location. The cost for this extension is an estimated 3.35 billion dollars, a number that has increased significantly since this plan was created. Three levels of government have provided $3.56 billion in funding for transit in Scarborough. A large portion of this money will be used to pay for the alignment. Under the current plan, the alignment should be in operation by 2025-26.

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Proposed one-stop McCowan alignment.

The Toronto City Council had also approved of a large bus terminalthe Triton Bus Terminalon the same day. This station is planned to have enough platforms to support 34 local and regional buses. The current cost for this bus terminal is $187 million dollars.

Following lots of research and careful analysis of how efficient, equitable, and fair this decision is along with the costs, benefits, and opportunity costs associated with the approval of the one-stop McCowan alignment, I strongly believe that the City Council’s decision should be reconsidered. There is no doubt that the SRT needs to be replaced. However, I think that the one-stop McCowan alignment is not the way to do so. Let’s take a look at why.


How Efficient and Equitable/Fair is the McCowan Alignment?

When making any decision, it is important to look at the effects that the decision has on the people involved. Do many people benefit or does it make their lives worse? One way this can be done is by examining how efficient and equitable/fair the decision is.

Efficient

Something is described as being efficient when all opportunities are taken to make a group of people better off without making others worse off. It can also been seen as a society getting the most that it can from its limited resources. In this case, we need to determine if the implementation of the one-stop McCowan alignment makes the users of the SRT better off without making any one of them worse off.

When you look at the McCowan alignment from a broad perspective, you may be tricked into believing that it is efficient. Why wouldn’t it be, you ask? Won’t a new system replacing the old SRT ensure that “high quality transit” continues in Scarborough, therefore benefiting everyone? The answer is no. Not everyone benefits. If you look more closely at the alignment plan, you will come to realize that it benefits a certain group of public transit commuters while putting the remainder at a huge disadvantage.

A report released in June of 2016 states that if the SRT were to be replaced with the McCowan alignment, riders could cut “up to five minutes” off their commute time. However, what most people fail to realize is that this only applies to people living relatively near Kennedy Station or the new Scarborough Town Centre Station. Riders who are not near these stations will see their travel times increasing as they now have to spend more time on the bus to reach a subway station. For example, people living east to the STC will have to bus to STC station instead of the current McCowan station, lengthening their usual transit time.

If the TTC wanted to implement a plan that is more efficient, the only way to do so is to replace the current SRT with the exact same Rapid Transit System. This way, all SRT riders will benefit from the new and improved service and no one is worse off than before.

Therefore, we can conclude that the one-stop McCowan alignment is NOT efficient.

Equitable/Fair

Equitability means that the benefits of the available resources are shared fairly among the members of society—everyone gets their fair share. For this analysis, I will be looking at whether or not the McCowan alignment is equitable/fair for the people that are paying for it.

I’m sure everyone can agree that $3.35 billion is a lot of money—especially when it is taxpayers’ money we are talking about. Will every single taxpayer benefit from the McCowan alignment? No. Understandably, it is near impossible to come up with a way to replace the SRT that will benefit all taxpayers since not all citizens use public transportation in that area. However, do we really need to spend this much money on one small section of the transit system? Clearly, the McCowan alignment is also not equitable or fair. With this in mind, there are ways to make it more fair to those that do not benefit. One way to do so is by finding another method to replace the SRTone that costs significantly less than the $3.35 billion we are currently scheduled to pay.

There have been many suggestions over the years on what should be done to replace the aging SRT. One possibility is replacing it with a Light Rail Transit (LRT) and we will take a closer look at this option later on.


What Are the Costs Versus the Benefits of the McCowan Alignment?

Costs

As with any public transit replacement, there is a high cost. Nevertheless, the costs for this particular replacement appears to be higher than necessary. Councillor Anthony Perruzza makes this clear:

“The subway would burn through the available funds for Scarborough transit while serving a small number of residents. We are making a colossal mistake.”

First of all, let’s take a moment of silence for the soon-to-be empty wallets of all Ontario taxpayers. As of March of last year, the estimated cost for the one-stop McCowan alignment was an astonishing $3.35 billion in addition to the $187 million cost for the Triton Bus Terminal. If you thought it couldn’t get worse, think again. A report from the Star tells us that these costs could increase:

“[City] staff said in the report that because the new $3.35 billion estimate is still based on very little design work being completed at this point, the range of accuracy for that estimate is massive. The estimate, staff said, could be off by up to 50 per cent—putting the high-end estimate at $5.02 billion.”

Since the McCowan alignment plan was first proposed in 2016, the cost has increased from $2 billion to $3.35 billion. The Star’s Andrew Wallace described the cost as “a runaway train and there’s no telling where it’s going to stop”. Is it really worth it to pay this much for a single subway stop?

Additionally, during the summer of 2016, it was estimated that the McCowan alignment would attract 4,500 new public transit customers. Half a year later, a report comes out stating that the number of new riders has significantly decreased to 2,300. This means it will cost approximately $1.45 million for each new rider. Talk about expensive.

Clearly, these unreasonably high costs indicate that something needs to be changed.

Benefits

Thankfully, the one-stop McCowan alignment does not only come with high costs—it also has a few benefits:

  • Riders no longer need to transfer at Kennedy Station and can stay on the subway.
  • It attracts more people to the Scarborough Centre which helps with the centre’s growth and development.
  • It is the fastest connection between Kennedy Station and the Scarborough Centre.
  • Throughout the construction of the alignment, the SRT can continue operating which is very good for people currently using it.
  • The time saved by passengers can be put towards other things, such as spending time with their families.

Despite how great the benefits may seem, don’t be fooled! The costs significantly outweigh the benefits. Furthermore, there are other ways these benefits can be achieved without having to go through with the costly McCowan alignment plan.


What Are the Opportunity Costs Associated with the McCowan Alignment?

After learning about all the costs associated with the McCowan alignment, I bet you though that was it. There’s no way there could possibly be any more costs to the McCowan Alignment. Well, what if I told you that there still is one very important cost to look at?

When making any decision, another thing that should be considered are the opportunity costs associated with the decision that is being made. Opportunity cost refers to the value of the benefits of the next best alternative that was not chosen. In this case, they refer to all the things that could have been done with the money and time used to build the McCowan alignment.

Here’s a list of opportunity costs:

1. Building a Light Rail Transit System

One of the main opportunity costs of going with the McCowan alignment is building a Light Rail Transit system in Scarborough to replace the SRT. Not only is this option significantly cheaper (approximately $1.8 billion), it also passes through low-income neighborhoods, Centennial College, and University of Toronto Scarborough campuses, providing a larger group of people with access.

If the seven-stop LRT was chosen instead of the McCowan alignment, the funds provided by the three levels of government would not only be enough to cover the costs of building the Scarborough LRT, but also the costs of building the Eglinton East LRT.

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Comparison between the one-stop McCowan alignment and the seven-stop LRT.

As you can see, the Scarborough LRT is a significantly better option compared to the McCowan alignment.

2. Funding the Eglinton East LRT

Another opportunity cost of building the McCowan alignment is having enough funding for the Eglinton East LRT. With the money-hungry McCowan alignment in existence, people are starting to get concerned about the Eglinton East LRT. This is what Councillor Paul Ainslie had to say:

“[My] residents are concerned that with the subway taking up nearly all of the money earmarked for Scarborough transit, the Eglinton East LRT is at risk of not being built.”

Scarborough transit was given $3.56 billion in funding from the government. This budget was supposed to be shared between the Eglinton East LRT and the Scarborough Subway Extension. As the cost for the extension continued to increase however, the Eglinton East LRT is now $1.4 billion short on funding.

3. Fixing Major (Or Minor) TTC Problems

An additional opportunity cost of the alignment is fixing the many problems the TTC has. I’m sure you can think of more than one problem that needs to be addressed. As stated in this article, there are many things that the TTC needs to work on if they had the money:

“At the same time, the money now earmarked for the one-stop Scarborough extension would better serve as a down-payment on other transit projects that Toronto truly needs — in particular, on a subway “relief line” designed to ease pressure on the massively over-crowded Yonge line.”

Hopefully you noticed a trend between all three of the opportunity costs. What needs to happen is clear. By switching to a less costly replacement of the SRT (such as building a LRT system instead), a large sum of money can be freed up for other pressing matters.


It is imperative that the City Council reconsiders their decision as the one-stop McCowan alignment should not have been approved in the first place. Not only is it not efficient, equitable, and fair—the opportunity costs are also greater than the benefits the alignment provides.

The main priority of the TTC should be to provide riders with the best service possible through affordable means. They should always make decisions based on their principles, which are to “Serve People, Strengthen Places, and Support Prosperity”. By choosing to build a one-stop extension that costs $3.35 billion, they are not choosing the best option. There are other alternative solutions, such as building a LRT, that is affordable and benefits a larger group of people. If the TTC wants to live up to being named “Transit System of the Year”, they need to get their priorities straightened out.

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Throwback to when the TTC was named “Transit System of the Year”.
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