Royson James Calls For Subway 401

Royson James, columnist for the Toronto Star, and potentially a decent candidate to be mayor one day, has taken the city, the GTA and the province to task for not doing more to solve the transportation woes of our commuters. In his column (found here), he calls for David Miller, Hazel McCallion, Bill Fisch (Regional Chair of York) and Roger Anderson (Regional Chair of Durham) to sit down and hammer a skeleton GTA transportation plan that they can take to the province with the full weight of the GTA’s four million voters behind it.

Among James’ favoured projects:

a cross-GTA subway line, along Sheppard-Highway 401, stretching 58 kilometres from Pickering Town Centre to Mississauga Centre — 27 stops, nine of them underground.

It’s interesting that this proposal, raised by John Stillich of the Sustainable Urban Development Association, was among the projects I proposed as a part of my subway fantasy, written up almost six years ago.

The thing is, I’ve changed my mind since then. The only way we can get a Sheppard/401 subway line within the next twenty years is if we spend at least $300 million per year for the next twenty years putting this line together, and that’s over and above other valuable capital projects.

As transit activist Steve Munro notes, there is an unfortunate propensity to refuse necessary transit improvements unless they come plated in gold, and subways represent that. They offer capacity far in excess of immediate need, and they are grotesquely expensive to build — so much so, that other transit initiatives that could increase ridership to a greater degree get missed out.

Munro noted that if the money committed to the York University extension were committed to purchasing more buses and streetcars, and paying the drivers to operate them, we could increase the size of the TTC’s rush hour fleet by 33%. Instead of waiting nine minutes at a particular stop for a vehicle to come, you’d only have to wait six, and you’d be more likely to find a seat once you boarded. The impact of such an investment would be felt system-wide, rather than in a particular section of the north of Toronto, and it would generate far more new riders to the system than a subway extension.

Even if we didn’t just buy new buses, if we invested in cheaper LRT technology, we could dramatically increase ridership on the TTC for far less expense. The Sheppard subway could have been built to its full and useful length for the cost of the current stub line if it had been built as a surface LRT rather than a subway.

The TTC already has a Ridership Growth Strategy capable of increasing ridership on the commission by twice the amount the York University subway extension provides. All we need to do is enture that surface transit is more reliable and frequent; that full service operates on all TTC routes, and one never has to wait longer than twenty minutes for a bus or streetcar. This can be done for less money than any subway extension.

This is what should get priority in terms of our government’s spending. Only if more money is available should we turn to the big ticket items like creating a GTA-wide subway network. This may not excite some people, but if we sit on our hands until we find perfection, we’ll end up doing nothing more than sitting on our hands.


  1. (on buying buses/LRT instead of the Vaughan subway) – but how would that help the Sorbara Group? 😀

  2. james bow, you’re one of my favourite people and i’m glad you posted about royson james’ article.

    what gets to me is the absence of political will to take space on toronto’s roadways away from private vehicles. the ttc’s “ridership growth strategy” and the city’s “bike plan” are both suffering for this reason. changing the amount of space allocated to various uses is a very, very cheap way to make a huge difference.

    there is also the problem of using transit budgets to achieve non-transit goals, such as boosting ontario’s streetcar and subway construction industry, to the detriment of our transit system. it looks like we’re about to travel this route again with the new subways.

  3. Building massive amounts of subway boils down to a city and its nation’s mentality. Of course, subway construction is massively expensive, but that still hasn’t prevented Madrid from building 10km a year, or cities like Beijing to forge ahead with building 1000km of subway eventually. Lest we forget, in Toronto, we were able to build more than 3/4 of our present network between 1960 and 1975 alone. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    Of course, adding hundreds of new buses would offer greater bang for the buck but there’s a ceiling in terms of expansion, whereas subways can really pack it in. One only needs to look at Ottawa’s Rideau street at rush hour to see the folly of bus gridlock.

  4. There have been plenty of official and unofficial plans for subway expansion in the last two decades, yet the only actual expansion has tiny. It isn’t a lack of ideas or a lack of interest that’s stopping subway expansion, and yet that’s all Royson James offers here. I have a hard time seeing why his plan would succeed where past plans have failed.

    A different approach would be to build LRT lines to meet the demand for transit not met by subways. That will encourage transit-friendly development and build ridership; if/when demand grows beyond their capacity then you can build a subway. Substitute “streetcar” for “LRT” and that’s exactly how the original Yonge and Bloor subway lines were built, replacing surface lines of double-length streetcars so heavily used the need for a subway was undeniable.

  5. I never want Royson James as mayor. The man switches sides and flips flops like no tomorrow. And I don’t think he is as smart as he thinks he is.

  6. Toronto does not need more subways, it needs better in-city design. To build a massive inter-city subway or LRT system would only encourage urban sprawl and reduce the greenspace in the province. Why bother making the city liveable if you can commute from a distant, sprawling suburb?

    People should be able to raise a family 3 blocks from where they work, and an big transit undertaking does nothing but discourage that. What we need are narrower roadways to make room for bikes, more greenspace to make walking pleasurable and most importantly, development of housing for families *in* the city.

    Let the big transit undertakigns happen when we grow to a big city. We can’t compare ourselves to Moscow, London or Beijing… not for another 30years at least.

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