February 9, 2015
It’s widely understood that Toronto’s planned Scarborough subway extension is a bad deal for the city. But residents don’t yet know how rotten it really is. It’s time they found out.
Councillor Josh Matlow is at a city council meeting starting on Tuesday. Relying on a rarely used provision in council’s rules, he has submitted five “administrative inquiries” demanding answers from staff on key subway-related questions. The public would be well-served if Matlow succeeds.
It’s remarkable how much still remains unknown about an ill-judged decision that had a fully funded, ultra-modern, seven-stop light-rail line replaced by a three-stop subway that will cost the average Toronto household a total of at least $1,200 in additional property tax.
Local residents are on the hook for sunk costs in connection with that flip-flop — a loss initially pegged at about $85 million. City officials had insisted the actual damage would be much lower and negotiations with Metrolinx are reportedly now complete. This expense is included in Toronto’s capital plan but city manager Joe Pennachetti has, so far, refused to disclose the figure. Matlow wants to see that number.
Bureaucratic fog shrouds even fundamental points such as how many riders the proposed subway is expected to carry. At the beginning of 2013 a Toronto Transit Commission report estimated that this underground line would carry “upwards” of 9,500 passengers per hour, per direction, during peak service. That’s low. The generally accepted figure necessary to justify a subway is 15,000.
Just six months later — to the delight of Scarborough subway proponents — staff came back with a revised estimate of up to 14,000 riders. Staff warned that this was “preliminary” and done in haste, but it was enough to fuel a and approving the subway.
Matlow, quite rightly, wants solid figures. And he wants to know how Mayor John Tory’s planned SmartTrack “surface subway” plan would affect Scarborough’s underground route, since there’s considerable overlap between the two.
It’s vital that Matlow and the public finally receive straight answers regarding this subway. Taxpayers are, after all, being stuck with the bill.
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