Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Scarborough subway ridership and costs are unsolved mysteries

February 9, 2015
Toronto Star
Jennifer Pagliaro


More than year after council voted to build a subway instead of light rail in Scarborough, it remains unclear how many people will actually ride it and what it will cost to operate.

But on Monday, Mayor John Tory said he wants stay the course on the subway plans, brushing off questions over a lack of information ahead of s council meeting this week.

“I’m committed to is the present plan for the Scarborough subway, I believe it is the right thing to do,” Tory, who promised to make the subway a priority during the campaign, told reporters after touring a TTC maintenance facility Monday. “I don’t want to re-open this debate and go back to do what we do so well in this city — which is debate things to death.”



After Councillor Josh Matlow, an advocate for the LRT alternative, posed five lines of questioning on the subway to be tabled at council Tuesday, Tory argued most of those answers were already available. However, in written responses to those questions Monday night, city manager Joe Pennachetti said several of the costs and numbers tied to the subway’s design are still unknown.

Matlow said he remains concerned by the lack of information, calling the council’s decision to build a subway a “billion-dollar boondoggle.”

“While I appreciate the city manager’s response to my questions, his answers verify the fact that there is a lot of information that should have been in front of council before voting on Scarborough transit that never was,” he said.

One of the outstanding issues, which Pennachetti, Tory and TTC CEO Andy Byford all acknowledged Monday has yet to be studied, is how Tory’s proposed above-ground SmartTrack line will impact the future subway.

Both the city and TTC staff have previously provided different estimates of how many people would ride the subway — at first 9,500 riders per direction during a peak hour (a standard measure for how many people ride any transit line) and later 14,000 riders — a number that pushed the more expensive subway option into the accepted lower-end capacity for a subway.

But Matlow argued SmartTrack could cannibalize subway ridership because the systems have similar alignments — with both connecting to Kennedy station on the Bloor-Danforth line and stretching north to Sheppard Ave. East. SmartTrack’s stop at Agincourt GO station and the proposed Sheppard East station are just two kilometres apart.

Tory said ridership numbers are expected to become more “robust” in Scarborough with future development and argued SmartTrack serves a “different market” as a regional transportation system.

The city manager said that impact is “not currently available” but will be studied as part of the SmartTrack assessment.

Those SmartTrack studies are also on the agenda for Tuesday, with council expected to approve the $1.65-million cost. A report is expected back in the fall.

TTC head Byford declined to say what would happen if the projected ridership for the subway decreases.

“I’m not going to predict what the outcome of that modelling will be, the modelling will be what it is — that will determine what the ridership for both projects looks,” he said. “Let’s let the model run its course.”

What it will cost to operate the subway has also yet to be determined. Pennachetti said that price will follow approval of where the subway will run and how frequently.

It’s also not clear how any changes to the current plan would affect the total cost of the project, with Tory refusing to say the current $3.56-billion pricetag is a set cost.

Matlow’s questions won’t spark renewed debate at council Tuesday, with councillors only able to vote to simply receive his requests, effectively killing the line of questioning, or forward them to Tory’s hand-picked executive committee where they could be further debated.

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