September 16th, 2013
The ongoing and seemingly endless debate regarding how to best serve our residents with new rapid transit in Scarborough has been a difficult one for all of us. We have had to balance the wishes of local residents, the needs of Toronto's transit system as a whole along with real budgetary constraints. These factors have been weighed amidst imperfect or incomplete technical information on route and technology choices while federal and provincial commitments and plans continue to shift.
At the July meeting, Council approved a subway extension to Sheppard while continuing to have a signed Master Agreement with the TTC and Metrolinx to move forward with an LRT plan to replace the aging SRT. The approval for Council's preferred subway extension was contingent upon provincial and federal funding commitments by September 30 which have yet to fully materialize. As well, the plan required over $500 million in added debt and property tax hikes equal to between 1 and 2.4% for Toronto's residents - above and beyond their regular taxes. This was decided contrary to Council's previous decision against supporting the use of property taxes as a revenue tool for transit.
At this upcoming October Council meeting we will yet again be faced with a very important decision. We can either reaffirm our support for the Metrolinx Master Agreement that will deliver a fully-funded, planned and ready-to-go, 7-stop rapid transit LRT line for Scarborough or spend additional tax dollars on a 2 or 3-stop subway extension.
It has become increasingly clear that the best way to serve Scarborough residents, and the entire city, is for us to move forward with the original Metrolinx plan.
The new LRT will be in a completely traffic-separated right-of-way. No traffic lights. No cross streets.
The new Bombardier-made trains will average 36 km/h - faster than the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth lines, which average 32 km/h. The line will also be considerably longer, with at least 4 additional stations serving major trip generators including Centennial College.
In addition, the LRT will have a capacity to carry 16,000 passengers per hour. It is anticipated that it will carry 8,000 passengers per hour by 2031, leaving more than enough capacity to serve the area well into the future.
The provincial government has made it clear they are not providing any funds beyond the $1.48 billion that they have committed to a subway that only reaches Scarborough Town Centre. The Minister of Transportation and Metrolinx has made it clear that under this plan the City is responsible for:
- $85 million in sunk Metrolinx costs from the LRT project
- Any cost associated with renegotiating the LRT contract with Bombardier
- Operation and maintenance of the new subway extension
- Any cost overruns associated with the subway project which could be significant as the initial estimates do not include cost of interim bus service, additional subway vehicles or a maintenance and storage facility
None of the aforementioned costs would be incurred with the LRT plan. As well, Metrolinx has stated that a new Environmental Assessment will be required and provincial monies for this project will not flow prior to the 2018/2019 budget year. The new subway plan recently announced by Minister Murray will require a shutdown of the Scarborough RT, removing one of the advantages of the previous Council-approved subway extension plan. They have also said that if we choose the Province's preferred subway extension plan, the construction timeline and budget of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT could be in jeopardy, adversely impacting residents and small businesses across our city.
Given the proposed subway runs in virtually the same alignment and is mostly at or above-grade, we are being asked to allocate additional taxpayer dollars only to eliminate a platform transfer, similar to what riders on the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth line use on a daily basis. This has clearly not dissuaded riders from using our existing system. In fact, Bloor/Yonge station is already overcrowded during rush hours. This is clearly not worth serving far fewer residents at a much higher cost.
Moreover, I am very concerned that this recent debate has distracted us from working with Metrolinx on other pressing priorities such as relieving congestion on our existing system which is already facing overcapacity challenges during rush hours.
Next month we will have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, turn our backs on the divisive and cynical politics that has clouded this debate and at long last move forward with an evidence-based and fiscally responsible plan that will serve the most residents and priority neighbourhoods.
Our residents want us to act now and without further delay. Let's make the right decision and finally plan a transit system built on reason rather than politics.
Councillor Josh Matlow
Toronto City Councillor
Ward 22 – St. Paul's