Councillor Josh Matlow

Provincial Transit Plans Leave More Questions Than Answers

As many of you have heard, Premier Doug Ford announced a new transit plan last week. As the map below shows, the dotted blue lines represent 5 new lines or extensions.

While there is merit to aspects of the Premier’s proposal, there are more questions than answers after last week’s announcement.

A: Yonge North Extension

Planning for a subway extension of Line 1 north to Richmond Hill was begun several years ago under the previous provincial government. The extension is predicted to cost $5.6 billion, with most of the cost to be borne through a partnership with the federal and provincial governments, as well as York Region.

As many Midtown residents know all too well, the Yonge Line (Line 1) is already over capacity. Transit riders at Eglinton, Davisville, and St. Clair frequently must wait as at least 2 or 3 full trains go by, just to get on during rush hour. Any extension of the line further north will only exacerbate the pressure on Line 1. A better option would be to look at enhancing the existing Barrie GO line to provide express rail for riders north of Toronto. Commuter transit will allow our neighbours in Richmond Hill, Markham, and other places to travel downtown faster than on a subway with many more stops, while putting less pressure on riders further down the line and could likely be built for much cheaper.

B: 3-Stop Scarborough Subway Extension

The 3-stop Scarborough subway option was already deemed “not a worthwhile use of money”  by Metrolinx, the province’s transit agency, in 2013 and the City’s process, which developed inflated ridership numbers was “problematic”. Further, the TTC has been working toward an also flawed 1-stop plan for the last 3 years. The Premier has admitted this will further delay rapid transit in Scarborough till at least 2030.

The fully-funded, 7-stop LRT from Kennedy Station to Sheppard would have been running this year if Doug Ford and his late brother hadn’t cancelled Transit City. The 3-stop Scarborough subway is not a proposal worth reconsidering.

I have provided additional information specifically on the future of Scarborough transit below.

C: Ontario Line

The Province has rebranded the Relief Subway Line as the Ontario Line, which is proposed to run from the Science Centre at Eglinton and Don Mills to Ontario Place. There is obviously a lot to like in this plan. Transit experts have had serious concerns that the City’s current Relief Line, which only goes as far north as the Danforth, will not take enough pressure off the Line 1.

While this idea looks appealing on paper, there are still many unanswered and substantive questions regarding the Ontario Line:

What is the “new technology” the province is proposing? Premier Ford has stated that the Ontario Line will not be built using a traditional subway. There are suggestions that they may use Light Metro- with capacity between a subway and an LRT, but uses an overhead catenary system. We don’t know yet.

This technology allows engineers to construct the line without going under the Don River and, in general, digging tunnelled portions at a shallower depth; saving billions of dollars. This certainly sounds promising, but the province has yet to make any details public.

When will construction start? The City has been working on their designs for the Relief Line for several years and claim that the project will be shovel-ready next year. It is unclear how much work has been done on the province’s Ontario Line. Line 1 riders cannot afford further delays on this critical piece of infrastructure. Yonge-Bloor station is already dangerously overcrowded.

Why extend the Line to Ontario Place? I’m not sure there is enough ridership potential to merit the cost of extending the line to Ontario Place, especially with so many other pressing transit priorities in Toronto. Local community groups are worried that a subway stop could facilitate a casino on the site.

More information is clearly needed on the Province’s proposal before the public can seriously evaluate the Ontario Line. I am hopeful providing relief for Line 1 continues to be a priority for every order of government.

D: Eglinton West Extension to Pearson Airport

An extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to Pearson from its current terminus at Keele is a project originally approved under the Transit City plan, and one I have strongly supported for many years. However, the province is proposing to bury the entirety of the line at a cost of $4.7 billion. More than double the price tag for the project.

The City has already done considerable work advancing this extension. As part of their planning work, the City has ruled out tunnelling the line as there is ample room for surface infrastructure on Eglinton in Etobicoke. The wide boulevards will allow for construction of the line without losing a lane of traffic.

Burying the Crosstown West extension will add years of delay and billions of dollars to an important transit project. What is important is extending rapid transit west on Eglinton, at reasonable cost, based on planning evidence, and to the airport with regular fares.

E: Sheppard Subway Extension

The province is proposing to extend the Sheppard subway from Don Mills to McCowan where it would link with the proposed 3-Stop Scarborough extension. This plan is a textbook example of throwing good money after bad. The Sheppard subway is already the City’s biggest white elephant infrastructure project. Taxpayers subsidize the underused line $10 for every rider.

An analysis conducted by an expert panel convened by the City in 2012 found that an extension of the Sheppard subway further east would generate insufficient ridership to support such a large investment. The panel proposed sticking with the fully-funded and approved LRT for this corridor, which was slated to run all the way to the zoo, serving many priority neighbourhoods along its route.

While I don’t believe that this extension will ever be built, I am concerned that the promise of the line will only serve to further delay residents in North York and North Scarborough from being connected to rapid transit.

For more information, please see my interview on CP24

Council Conditionally Endorses Provincial Plan with No Time to Properly Assess Proposal

The transit plans above were debated only hours after the City Manager’s report was presented to Council.

Moreover, the report recommended endorsing the proposals from Premier Ford despite itemizing 61 questions regarding the plan. Transit planning in Toronto, especially for Scarborough as detailed below, has been set back by rushing forward with incomplete information ultimately causing delays and poor decisions. This must change. I do appreciate that Council amended the report by clarifying that it will only support funding the Ford plan if it does not result in delays.

Scarborough Subway Scandal Deepens

In 2016, Mayor John Tory and Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat told the public and Council that the 1-stop subway and the 17-stop Eglinton East Crosstown extension could be built for the same price as the then-approved 3-stop subway in an attempt to find middle ground with Councillors, such as myself, who supported the original LRT from Kennedy to Sheppard. However, in just a few short months, the estimated cost of the subway rose to $3.2 billion, leaving little funding for the Eglinton East LRT.

In a series of articles over the past month, the Toronto Star has revealed that Senior City officials, including the Chief Planner, did not conduct proper cost estimates misled Council regarding the estimates presented as having been verified by a third-party, when they weren’t.

Further, in 2017, City Staff did not provide the total internal cost estimate to the public or Council, which made the subway seem less expensive than was then known.

Toronto residents and Council need to trust the City’s public service to provide accurate, unbiased information that paints a complete picture of the issue presented. The actions detailed in these articles represent a serious breach of that trust.

I will continue to demand accountability for what happened and that proper systems are in place to prevent this from happening again.

For further analysis, please see this column.

Let’s Move Forward with 24 Stops for Scarborough

Amidst all the misinformation and changing of plans, Scarborough residents have been left on the bus. Doug Ford’s return to his late brother’s plan for a 3-stop subway extension to Sheppard and McCowan was not before Council this week. Below is an update on the subway and the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) network choices that Council voted on this week.

The Plans

The $3.87 billion 1-stop subway shown on the map on the left would provide fast service from Scarborough Town Centre (STC) to Kennedy Station. It would also eliminate the need to transfer at Kennedy Station. But Scarborough is a big place, comprising 35% of Toronto’s land area. What about the rest of Scarborough that would be left on the bus?

There is currently $3.9 billion available for transit in Scarborough ($1.99B Province, $1.237B City, $660M Federal). For approximately the same City funding, we can choose instead to build 2 LRT lines shown on the map on the left. One would have 7 stops using the existing RT corridor to link southwest Malvern to STC and Kennedy Station, with a completed Environmental Assessment for a stop at Malvern Town Centre. Then, with money saved by moving forward now with the approved LRT, Council could fund a new 17-stop extension of the Eglinton Crosstown ($1.6B).

As the chart above shows, the subway will only save residents 5 minutes on their current trip from Malvern Town Centre to Kennedy station. That’s because riders will still have to take the long bus ride on the 131 Nugget to Scarborough Town Centre. The proposed LRT extension to Malvern Town Centre will allow residents to travel to Kennedy Station in 16 minutes.

Source: TTC

I included this picture of the proposed Malvern Town Centre station as a reminder that the LRT will go through its own corridor on trains that have the same top speed as a subway (80 km/h).

There is no doubt that Scarborough has been short changed with poor transit for far too long. That’s why I will continue fighting to build a 24-stop network for all of Scarborough instead of just one subway stop.

Moving Forward

Unfortunately, Council yet again voted to support a plan that, whether it ends up being 3 or 1 stops, will delay rapid transit in Scarborough, serve fewer people, and waste available funds that could be used to build a 24-stop LRT network. My proposal would also connect the Malvern community to rapid transit with less time on the bus- and was the only plan that could be fully funded within the available envelope.

While I am disappointed, I am hopeful that as more residents understand the options, they will demand that their representatives provide them with transit that truly serves their needs.

To hear my speech at Council, please click here.

I am optimistic about the fact that both City Council and the province seem committed to providing relief to the overcrowded Line 1. I am hopeful that every reasonable question is answered, along with a realistic timeline and committed funding in place to move forward with this priority immediately.

Ultimately, I will continue advocating for honest and evidence-based transit plans that use every tax dollar wisely and can serve the most people- and fight to get them built now. And, I will also continue to challenge those who don’t.


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