There are so many moving parts to the ongoing ‘discussion’ on what to do to improve Toronto’s skeletal public transportation system that we might need a scorecard just to keep track. Most directly involved of course are the provincial government and Toronto City Council.
The latest entry into the shameless politicking that surrounds this vital and emaciated service comes from provincial transportation minister Glen Murray who made some kind of pre-emptive move with his announcement of plans for extending the subway line into Scarborough, essentially replacing the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) line but only going as far as Scarborough Town Centre. Murray is promising that the province will build two subway stops that would follow the same route as the current SRT.
Days later Premier Kathleen Wynne weighed in giving the distinct impression that the provincial government is rearing to go with the $1.4 billion allocated for this long overdue construction. This apparently is the result of a meeting Wynne held with TTC Chair Karen Stintz, another one of the key voices in this ongoing debate about public transit.
Wynne’s statement must be seen in light of objections from Stintz and other city councillors to the provincial plan since it is not the extended, and more expensive, version City council approved in July for Scarborough which would have the line go farther north to Sheppard. The city’s plan, however, was contingent on funding from the province and the federal government.
No stranger to drama it seems, Murray took a dime out of his pocket and laid it on the lectern in front of him with his announcement for the new line. The dime, Murray said, was more than Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has come forward with to fund his campaign promise of building subways into the underserved eastern region of the city.
These cheesy ploys make light of a congestion and mobility problem that continue to undermine economic progress in this city.
As if to appease the public, just days after Murray’s announcement, officials put on a public relations show to remind us of the progress being made in construction that will extend the Spadina line up to York University and beyond into the city of Vaughan.
York University has been in dire need of a subway line for at least 40 years, but the extension into Vaughan is not without critics, since there has been no hue and cry from commuters for a line going all the way there. That money could have gone to Scarborough.
To give a sense of how much politicians are failing us on the public transit file, Chicago, a city that is often compared to Toronto, has a network of 173 km long and 152 stations on eight lines, in a city of some 2.7 million. Paris, France with a population of 2.2 million has a subway network of 303 stations on 16 lines over 214 km. With a population of 2.8 million, Toronto has four lines and 69 stations on 68.3 kilometres of track.
How Murray could keep a straight face while promising to replace six stops on the Scarborough Rapid Transit (RT) line with two subway stops is a skill that must be acquired at politician training school.
So if we are keeping a scorecard, Ford played into the penny-pinching side of the Liberals, as they sought to balance their budget, by putting a halt to the funding that had already been agreed to build extensive light rapid transit (LRT) lines, telling the Dalton McGuinty Liberals that he would find private funding to build subways. Almost three years on, no such funding has materialized. Hence, Murray’s dramatic waving of the dime. Various city councillors, including Stintz, came out against subway construction but later reversed themselves.
Stintz’s reversal could give her political mileage as she wades into the 2014 mayoral race. We know it will be on Ford’s campaign agenda.
One thing is sure, this story has not ended, which leaves many commuters to wonder if they will live to see the day commuters will be able to travel to and from the far reaches of this city by subway or even by Light Rapid Transit.