To call this city’s progress in the development of public transportation foot-dragging is to be more than kind. Glacial is more like it. Looking back on the history of the building of Toronto’s public transportation network, it is truly a miracle that any subway lines were ever constructed and, in that vein, the very existence of the University-Spadina line could be regarded as perhaps the eighth wonder of the world.
We could probably outline the last hundred years of Toronto’s history by the debates that have gone on over building a modern, viable mass transit system.
Today we are haggling as we did during the 1990s over the building of the Eglinton line underground. This time it’s the Eglinton Ave. East line and, added to that, the hot debate over Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s pet project, the as yet unfunded Sheppard subway extension.
Ford won strong electoral support from Scarborough with his promise to build a subway from Victoria Park to Markham along Eglinton Ave. East, so the pressure is on him to fulfill that pledge.
We believe, for many reasons – not the least of which is the incompatibility of cars and public transit at street level – subways is the way to go. Most Torontonians are on side with Ford regarding the preference of subways over the surface level Light Rapid Transit (LRT) plan. However, with the appeal of its relative affordability, the LRT is the plan that already had funding in place.
That plan was fully funded by all three levels of government and was haltingly on its way to being shovel ready when Ford came in with his unfunded subway proposal; hence the debate on Monday by Ford’s executive on a report on the feasibility of the Sheppard subway extension, and how to fund it. So the crux of the problem is money.
The city manager is to report back to the committee on a plan to complete the line, but set no date for the report.
Council, which opposes Ford’s proposal, also has an advisory panel set to report in March on whether a surface or underground extension is best on Sheppard.
Ford’s plan will serve more people, making it the winner according to estimates by the Pembina Institute with 339,400 being served within 500 metres of new construction, as well as 22,700 low-income users. Ford’s plan would also bring annual overall ridership to 111 million. But all this is at an estimated cost of $12.4 billion or $335 million per kilometre for a total of 37 kilometres.
The LRT plan that is currently funded at $8.2 billion has a lower projected ridership of 69 million and would, by extension, reach 7,000 fewer low-income users. This plan calls for adding 25 kilometres.
Ford can have the plan everyone seems to want most, but to do so the money has to come from somewhere, and so far his private capital has not materialized.
An analysis by the firm KPMG determined that Toronto would have to find between $736 million and $914 million just for the eastern extension. And this amount is only relevant if the city gets $650 million from the provincial government, the $333 million promised by the federal government and is able to raise $670 million on its own.
If we want subways instead of LRTs then we have to stop building castles in the air and look at the very serious matter of how to fund it.
This is where Ford has to come back to earth. He will have to accept that road tolls have to be instituted as well as other levies such as reversing his cancelling of the vehicle registration tax. After all, people in cars also want the LRTs off the road and will have to accept that they must pay a price to have that realized.
Transit users should also have to help bear some of the costs and that would mean further fare increases. Sure, it is going to be tough for everyone, but if we really want it, we all will have to help pay for it.
We, and the mayor, can’t have it both ways; either take the already funded alternative of sharing the streets with LRT that clutter our roads, or pay up for construction of subterranean mass transit.