September 18th, 2015
The Toronto Star
A city councillor is requesting “accurate, reliable information” from staff on the Scarborough subway and other transit projects when they return to council for debate.
But just when those projects will be back on the table is now in question, with the necessary planning work behind the scenes delaying reports for what could be several months.
After controversy over whether council’s narrow decision to build a Scarborough subway was justified in the first place, Councillor Josh Matlow asks — in a letter to chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat — that this time, the public will be given all the facts.
Matlow, who argued against a subway in favour of a seven-stop light-rail line already fully funded by the province, pointed to a fluctuating ridership number in a report used to justify the subway plan championed by then-mayor Rob Ford.
The TTC originally determined that the number of people who would ride the new transit route in Scarborough was a mere 9,500 per direction during a peak hour — a standard unit of measure in transit planning. But in a city report released shortly before council voted to approve the subway that July, the number jumped to 14,000 riders per hour.
Pro-subway councillors used that figure to push for the higher-capacity train, while critics questioned its veracity.
“Toronto residents and council were not provided with any of the data or inputs used to derive this new figure, just a fairly vague justification that didn’t even fill a page in the report,” Matlow’s letter says.
Keesmaat herself, since council’s vote, has called that rushed analysis “problematic,” arguing there are new numbers on the way.
Matlow noted that the published final terms of reference for the subway project make no mention of the 14,000 ridership number, saying instead that “it would carry volumes upwards of 9,500 passengers per hour per direction.”
Behind-the-scenes, staff have been working with a new model being developed in conjunction with the University of Toronto. That model will be used to provide new ridership numbers for the subway, which is backed by Mayor John Tory.
It will also be used to model the mayor’s own plans for a heavy-rail line called SmartTrack and the downtown relief line.
Matlow asked that all of the data, including the assumptions and inputs used in the modeling of the new transit lines, are made publicly available “to ensure that Toronto residents and council are able to make informed decisions.”
The model is expected to look at ridership on a 24-hour basis, instead of during the peak hour, as reports have done in the past. Matlow also asked that the peak hour numbers be provided because they are “needed to assess ridership in relation to capacity.”
Those numbers still won’t be ready for several months, however, after delays have set back the timeline for reports to committee and council.
In a memo sent to Tory and councillors this week, Keesmaat explained that the new model “is taking longer than the model developers anticipated, so the results are not yet available to the city.”
While a second round of public consultations was expected this month, they have now been pushed to November. And Keesmaat’s office says a report on the Scarborough subway is now not expected back until early next year.
Delays in modeling also affect Tory’s SmartTrack plans and further study of the downtown relief line subway, which were both expected to be debated this fall.
Keesmaat told the Star that the setbacks, which she said stem from difficulties in properly calibrating the model, have been “frustrating,” but said she’s confident the model will be most sophisticated of its kind in North America.
The model will compare three short-listed alignments for the subway — along Brimley Rd., McCowan Rd. or Bellamy Rd. — with a preferred route expected to be presented to the public during consultations.
What’s still not clear is how the subway line and its potential ridership may be affected by Tory’s plans for SmartTrack — running along a similar route in the east end, at most three kilometres away.
This article can be found in its original form at http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2015/09/18/councillor-calls-for-all-the-facts-ahead-of-delayed-transit-reports.html