Councillor Josh Matlow

Bumper-sticker rhetoric waylays transit debate

Toronto Star

July 12th 2013

Josh Matlow

Most transit debates in Toronto these days largely consist of deceptive, bumper-sticker rhetoric rather than the facts residents need to be informed. And some politicians, such as Mayor Rob Ford, use these slogans to manipulate residents in vote-rich Scarborough who are justifiably upset with their lack of rapid transit. For anyone with mayoral ambitions in the megacity, Scarborough has become Toronto’s Quebec.


Next week, Toronto City Council will decide whether to plan our city’s transit system based on facts or cynical politics.




Council will vote to either reaffirm support for the nearly defunct Scarborough RT with Metrolinx’s plan for a fully-funded Light Rapid Transit (LRT) line or change tracks with a three-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line that could cost Toronto taxpayers an additional $1 billion.


To be honest with residents we must begin by considering some facts. For example, when Mayor Ford suggests roads will be clogged and lanes will be removed if the Scarborough RT is replaced by an LRT, he is wrong. The new LRT, just like a subway, will be on a completely grade-separated line. No lanes removed. No traffic lights. No cross streets.


And far from being a streetcar, the new Bombardier-made LRT trains will average 36 km/h — that’s faster than the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth lines, which average 32 km/h. The LRT line will be more than two kilometres longer than a subway extension and have four more stops serving major trip generators, including Centennial College. The LRT’s alignment places it within walking distance to over 20,000 more people than a three-stop subway extension would.


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. On this specific route, the LRT is clearly the most efficient and fiscally responsible project to move Scarborough residents


So why are Mayor Ford and some councillors pushing for an unnecessary subway extension?


Some will argue that a transfer at Kennedy Station, which would not be necessary on a subway, is too onerous. The reality is the Scarborough RT’s current three-storey trek to change lines would be eliminated with the new LRT and commuters would only have to walk a few metres across the platform to a waiting train — a much shorter transfer than what they regularly make at Bloor and Yonge and St. George stations today.


Others point to the two and a half years that current RT riders will have to ride buses while the LRT is built. But the city manager has confirmed that a subway extension will require a new two- to three-year environmental assessment process, extending the timeline past the RT’s life expectancy in 2015. Either option will likely require short-term inconvenience for improved transit in the long run.


To put it plainly: choosing an unnecessary subway extension over the existing plan has more to do with politics than sound transit policy.


If council chooses to reopen its agreement with Metrolinx next week, the following years will see Torontonians paying for cancelled Bombardier contracts as well as $85 million in sunk engineering and design work. These costs are in addition to the tax increases and raided surpluses necessary to fund the changed project. We simply cannot afford to make a $1-billion down payment on the political futures of a few individuals when the city has so many pressing infrastructure needs.


The recent storm, along with last week’s subway delay caused by a signal failure, demonstrated the importance of ensuring a state-of-good repair for our water, roads and transit infrastructure. Torontonians are not willing to delay urgent repairs to the Gardiner. They want action on building evidence-based transit priorities like the Downtown Relief Subway Line and will not support further cuts to our parks, child care and affordable housing.


The mayor and council must finally stop reopening transit plans and move past dishonest and divisive politics. The debate should not be about subways vs. LRTs — we need them both. It should about how best we can provide residents across our city and region with rapid transit.


It’s time to move forward with a plan to build the public transit system residents need now and for generations to come.


Josh Matlow is the member of Toronto City Council for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.

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