February 5, 2015
Councillor Josh Matlow has raised questions over the numbers used to justify the Scarborough subway and the cost of cancelling an LRT alternative.
Questions over the real cost of the Scarborough subway and what the city owes for cancelling an LRT alternative will resurface at Mayor John Tory’s second city council meeting next week.
Sixteen months after councillors under former mayor Rob Ford voted to change direction and endorse a three-stop subway plan over the fully funded seven-stop light-rapid-transit line, staff will face questions about both the justification for the subway and the costs.
Councillor Josh Matlow, a staunch supporter of the LRT and one of 20 councillors who voted against the subway switch, has filed five administrative inquires to be heard next week.
Administrative inquires, though not often used, are a way for councillors to clarify or request information from staff about issues that were previously discussed.
Included are questions for city manager Joe Pennachetti, who recently told the Star the cost of cancelling the already agreed-upon LRT — what could be $75 million and has been cited as high as $85 million — is already included, but hidden, in the capital budget.
Pennachetti said the city has been negotiating costs with Metrolinx, but has refused to say what cost they settled on.
“We are close to finalizing an agreement and in the process of preparing a report where we will seek approval through the 2015 Budget process for the revised Metrolinx sunk costs,” Pennachetti said in an email.
He earlier told the Star those costs would be reported to councillors this month.
Asked again about the costs this week, Pennachetti said the city has always budgeted for the $85 million number within the total $3.56 billion project cost — a practice that continued this year.
The city manager pointed to an October 2013 report that claims the city has already subtracted the $85 million owed to the province from its funding calculations for the subway, which include a provincial commitment of $1.99 billion. According to the same report, the $1.99 billion number is simply adjusted for inflation from the $1.48 billion the province promised in 2010 dollars.
Matlow’s other inquires ask for clarification on one of the key numbers used to justify council’s decision for the switch — the number of people who will actually ride the subway.
The councillor is asking how staff came up with the 14,000 upper limit ridership number, which was presented just months before council would vote to commit to the subway.
The TTC originally provided an estimate of 9,500 persons per hour, per direction at a peak hour — the standard way of calculating the ridership for current and future transit lines. But in a July 2013 report, city planning staff said that figure was outdated and that the ridership projection was actually a 14,000 persons per hour. But staff cautioned this was a preliminary estimate.
It is largely accepted amongst planners that a 15,000-person ridership is the base estimate to justify building a subway.
“The work to date is not sufficient for councillors to make a final decision that will have significant cost and transit planning implications far into the future,” Matlow wrote in his inquiry.
The councillor also argued that future plans to build Tory’s proposed SmartTrack above-ground rail plan — that would run entirely on existing GO track lines in the east — could suck riders from a Scarborough subway extension.
Matlow questioned why Agincourt GO station, utilized in Tory’s plans for SmartTrack and parallel to the proposed Sheppard East subway station, was left out of the current subway option. He asked whether that potential impact on riders will be taken into consideration.
Though much of the work done is simply estimates, there is a way to see how the two lines might compare.
During Tory’s campaign, his team released an online calculator to show how fast someone could theoretically ride SmartTrack from any two points. According to the tool, a trip from Agincourt GO station to the existing Kennedy station on the Bloor-Danforth line on SmartTrack would take 10 minutes.
According to a staff report, TTC estimated it would take the same time to travel from a Sheppard East subway station to Kennedy station.
But Tory’s SmartTrack proposal aims to get riders from Agincourt to Union Station nearly 15 minutes faster — estimating the total trip downtown at 30 minutes compared to an estimated 45 minutes on the subway.
Also included in Matlow’s inquiries is a request for how many new subway trains will be needed and at what cost after reports raised doubt that the estimated six cars at a cost of $125 million would be enough to run regular service on all lines.
Pennachetti and staff are expected to speak to the questions next week when council meets, starting Feb. 10.
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