Let the LRT run

If talk alone could build or expand Toronto’s public transit network, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) would be the envy of the world. Too much public transit talk and not enough action is what has suburban residents complaining about poor TTC service.

What to do about public transportation was also one of the talking points that won Rob Ford much attention during the recent municipal elections. If Ford really wants to make a mark in this city and respect the hundreds of thousands of suburban Torontonians who elected him as mayor then he should step back from any attempts to replace light rapid transit (LRT) with subways. For this would surely kill an already badly needed service.

Quite simply, at an underground construction cost of $130-$160 million per kilometre and between $30-$50 million per kilometre at street level for the LRT, compared to subway construction costs of $200-$250 million per kilometre underground and $150-$200 million per kilometer above ground, the bottom line should make the choice clear. After all, Ford’s mantra throughout his campaign was that he was going to cut spending at City Hall.

Ford’s statement that he would turn the Transit City project around is unhelpful since LRT construction preparation is already underway on the Eglinton line. Would Torontonians stand for a second round of seeing construction on Eglinton Avenue West stopped by yet another conservative politician as happened during the Mike Harris era?

While politicians fiddle with this vital service, suburban Torontonians are left to suffer from the weaknesses in the system. If it is difficult for people to travel to places where they can find work (or get to work), especially those who cannot afford to own a car, they are automatically at a disadvantage. It is no mere coincidence that so-called target areas of the city that need extra social service support and other interventions are also areas that are poorly served by public transit. Building a strong economy has to have as a critical element an adequate public transportation system.

Premier Dalton McGuinty says he will keep an open mind regarding any suggestions from Ford about building subway lines in Toronto. During the municipal election campaign, the impression was given that there will be more construction of surface streetcar lines. But the Eglinton LRT, for example, which is set to begin construction in 2012, will be mostly an underground line for which the province will be carrying the cost. Machines to bore the tunnels have already been ordered and are now being built.

Yet, Ford promises to throw away years of consultations and planning with no solid plan to replace all the groundwork, because he does not like driving on streetcar tracks. Perhaps he hasn’t heard that dedicated lanes are the solution to that concern as is now the case on Spadina Avenue and the recently completed St. Clair West right of way.

Toronto has earned a reputation as one of the worst cities to get around in by car, resulting in thousands of productive hours lost to the tune of billions of dollars. A person on foot can move at a faster pace in some cases than someone in a car. The health cost from daily exposure to air pollution from cars idling in heavy traffic is another reason to get on with expanding the transit lines.

Even so, people living in the far reaches of the city cannot wait for the completion of the LRT lines, as desirable as they are. There is an immediate need. It would be a dream come true for residents of the northern reaches of Toronto to have an expansion of bus service and extended hours, to have the same level of service that Toronto commuters downtown already have. That is one reason many vented their frustration through their vote.

Will Rob Ford now step up to the plate and strengthen the plan to expand public transit for the people who turned out in their numbers to make sure he is their voice at City Hall? Will the Scarborough Malvern LRT ever become a reality? For the sake of this city’s future prosperity we certainly hope so.

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