JOHN LORINC: Subway Sarah’s Tunnel Vision

Mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson wants me to write about her campaign, so here goes:

Let’s start with a fact check of her plan to “complete” Toronto’s subway system by building 58 kilometres of new lines (33 km along Eglinton, the Downtown Relief Line and an extension of Sheppard to Scarborough Town Centre).

Claim: “Construction cost estimates, based on forming a public-private-partnership to help finance, build and maintain a subway line are approximately $200 million per kilometer.”

Fact: The 5.5 km Sheppard line cost $1 billion or $180 million/km (2002 figures). The 8.6 km Spadina extension to Vaughan will cost $2.6 billion (2009), or $300 million/km — 50% more than her claim.

Claim: A 33 km Eglinton line, from Lester B. Pearson to Kennedy, will cost $6.6 billion.

Fact: Using a cost-per-kilometre estimate based on the Spadina project, we’re looking at $10 billion, and that’s in 2009 dollars. But even if Thomson commenced the project on her first day in office, such a massive undertaking would take well over a decade to plan and build. Inflation alone would drive up the budget by at least 20% to 30%.

Claim: The city could generate $400 million to $500 million by imposing a $5 toll on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner, “based on 2006 traffic counts.” [PDF]

Fact: Her math suggests daily average volumes of 220,000 to 270,000 cars. According to the City’s transportation department spokesperson Steve Johnston, the number is 160,000 vehicles, which would yield a more modest $290 million annually, and that’s assuming no toll-related decline in traffic.

Claim: “While surface networks appear cheaper to build, they only have a 30-year life span and must be completely rebuilt three times in order to match the 90 year life of a subway system.”

Fact: If Thomson would care to scrutinize the TTC’s capital budget, she’d see that over 90% goes toward state-of-good-repair/legislated upgrades, with much of that associated with subway maintenance (track replacement, tunnel repairs, signals, etc.). She may also want to bone up on the reasons behind the 1995 Russell Hill subway collision.

Thomson recently admitted that she hasn’t yet turned her business-like focus to the small matter of the operating side of her grand vision. So allow me:

First, she’ll need to almost double the size of the subway fleet, so add up to $2 billion to her tab.

Second, the TTC, like most transit agencies, operates at a loss: fare and ad revenue covers 74% of expenses, and the city pays the balance (the subsidy was $140 million in 2008, and is now closer to $400 million due to ridership growth). In other words, more TTC means more subsidy, payable by Toronto residents and businesses. There’s no easy way to calculate how much 58 kilometres of new subway line will add to the operating deficit*; suffice it to say the number won’t be trivial.

Third, she’ll need to account for financing costs, overruns, business interruption fees, contingencies, strike delays and profit margins. Had enough?

No one expects Subway Sarah to win in October, but the persistence of this dream — Jane Pitfield ran on a similar pledge in 2006 — points to two unavoidable conclusions: one, that a city this size should, indeed, have a much more extensive subway system than it does; and two, that the disconnect between the Toronto’s aspirations and its wherewithal has never been greater.

The oft-touted panacea of private sector involvement doesn’t necessarily lead to savings, and can, in fact, backfire, as London’s spectacularly over-budget Jubilee Line extension showed (the final tab exceeded $7 billion Cdn. for the 16-km project).

On the other hand, the Region of Madrid, over the past twenty years, managed to drive ahead with a massive expansion of its now 284-km Metro, underwritten by very long-term bonds, innovative project management and — here’s the kicker — the financial heft of a regional government serving a national capital.

Point is, Thomson can spin her subway visions until she’s blue in the face, and the think tanks can keep cranking out those headline-grabbing gridlock/smog studies. But in the end, only one number really matters, and that’s the quantum of the Ontario government’s political will. Which, as we all know, is zero.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

* Allocating costs and revenues among the TTC’s bus, streetcar and subway lines is notoriously difficult. There are about 1.3 million daily boardings on the subway system, slightly less than the total for TTC buses and streetcars combined. One dodgy interpretation of the rider data suggests the cost recovery from the fare box for the surface network is below 50%, which implies the subway service may be in the break-even range. But without a feeder network of buses and streetcars, the subway would be starved for passengers. (Thanks to Steve Munro for the analysis.)

photo by Arieh Singer


  1. John: A small correction. The operating deficit for the TTC this year is over $400-million, not $250m as you state in the article. The big jump from earlier years is the absence of subsidy from Queen’s Park for 2010.

  2. Thanks for the positive outlook reflected in this article. I’m glad that Sarah Thomson is out to lunch and that nothing is possible with regard to building a subway system. Clearly other cities that manage to build them are lying, and their extensive modern systems are entirely a mirage. Yes, let’s all go kill ourselves now, because that is the only way to decrease TTC operating subsidies to zero, and the system will finally break even. With inspiring minds like Spacing columnists on board, we will be able to sit and stew and blame the Ontario government forever. Hurray for ‘Facts’!

  3. Much of Sheppard was over budget because it most of it wasn’t cut and cover, though. The TTC bought a very expensive tunnel boring machine that was originally supposed to dig a lot further, but due to budget cutbacks had to be costed into a much shorter distance.

    What we need is to slowly, but consistently build out the subway. If we spent $200M a year dedicated to only capital expansion since 2000, we could’ve had a 10km Queen subway from Woodbine to Ossington costed out by now at Sheppard prices.

    These grand visions and projects keep getting canned because as very expensive endeavours and they’re the first to get cut when times get tough. The original plan for the Queen subway, Eglinton, the Sheppard line’s original length, transit city…of course “steady as she goes” isn’t sexy for a politician.

    Also, the Spadina extension into Vaughn (and the Sheppard line itself) is all the proof you need that transit isn’t governed by supply and demand, but by political interference (and further subsidizing sprawl) – which is why both Ottawa and the province chipped in money. Otherwise, the line being built would be on Queen or the DRL.

    You’re very right about the subway cars, though. As much as the TTC could rationalize a lot of costs in labour, capital costs for the fleet themselves aren’t going to change much. At best you’d save a few million by removing Canadian content rules and allow some other country (Korea? Germany?) to subsidize the cars.

  4. Another question to ponder is why does the per km cost of building a subway increase by 70% in 7 years. The CPI rose by 15.89% in the same time period.

  5. Thank you for this solid post John.

    I agree with your assessment and am glad you put the time into crunching the times but I also appreciate that a lot of Torontonians likely agree with Znoosle’s comment. If the city can justify overpaying for something like garbage collection then it should also be able to justify going massively into the red for something that will have long-term gains and benefits for all residents.

  6. Great line by the way…

    “…that a city this size should, indeed, have a much more extensive subway system than it does; and two, that the disconnect between the Toronto’s aspirations and its wherewithal has never been greater.”

  7. The subway issue is one of those things that demonstrates the general innumeracy of the voting public. Many people seem simply incapable of understanding that council salaries are an insignificant fraction of the city budget, or that a subway line costs 100-1000x as much as might be saved by contracting out garbage collection. Any number with more than 5 zeroes on the end is essentially the same thing to them, much like the apocryphal rainforest tribes that have no concept of numbers larger than 5.

    What this means is that in order to drive forward meaningful change, politicians must become much more effective at communicating to people who can’t, or can’t be bothered, to do the math themselves.

  8. Sarah should have looked closer at the traffic flow maps. She would have seen that ~50% of AM flows are outgoing. The Gardiner @ Royal York has an outbound peak hour AM flow of 7,045 vs. an inbound 6,326. Not surprising considering that 25,000 more workers commute to jobs in Mississauga than leave. I wonder how the growing number of outbound drivers would feel about subsidizing the inbound oriented transit expansion.

  9. Mikeb: costs skyrocket when things like gas double in price (vehicles and machines use them), when steele prices go through the roof. Commodities do not stay in line with inflation.

    Znoozle:Its *not* about spinning positive articles; its about discerning the facts about what a candidate is promising to voters. If its all fluff — and Thomson seems to have only figured out what she wants to do but hasn’t costed it out — than its up to folks like Lorinc and Spacing to call bullsh*t. And anyone who has paid attention to how cities in North America and Europe are building-out their transit networks you’ll see that her ideas are going in the opposite direction.

    As Lorinc states, we all want subways and tolls but we have to figure out the best way to pay for them. But I’d hate to see anyone get sold on Thomson’s ideas because she clearly has no idea how to properly finance them and see seems to have no idea of the benefits of LRT and what it can do the urban design of neighbourhoods.

    Anthony: Comparing “Overpaying” for garbage collection to transit is like comparing buying a bike to a B52 bomber. Garbage collection and transit costs are so astronomically different you cannot pay for them.

    And it is certainly debatable since records show that the Etobicoke collection in Toronto (done with a private sector company) is only marginally cheaper than union (something akin to 3% cheaper, plus they can strike as well). Paying for ALL the employees of the City government is something like 16% of the operating budget, and I suspect garbage people is less than 1% of that. While the TTC is about 50% of the operating budget.

  10. @Znoosle, I am not trying to be a nattering nabob of negativity, as the joke goes, but rather seeking to link rhetoric to commitment. Positive outlooks don’t pay the bills. Nor do I buy Thomson’s bromides about private sector involvement. I’m sure there would be some cost-savings, but not enough to make such a venture affordable through existing revenue streams.

    So how about this. Let’s take Christopher Hylaride’s proposal of a $200 million annual outlay to make sure we keep boring the tunnels. This figure translates into a property tax hike of 10%, annually, or about $200 on an average home.

    Now a throw to Subway Sarah. Why not propose the following referendum upon taking office: “Do you support, over the next twenty years, a $200/year special levy, to be recalculated every five years to allow for inflation, with all the revenues flowing into a Dedicated Subway Expansion fund?”

    If Toronto voters agree, we’ve solved…part of the problem because, mentioned in the post and noting Steve Munro’s correction above, such a fund would not address the TTC’s operating deficit. But perhaps if Toronto voters expressed their support through such a vote, the upper levels would respond with some kind of ongoing subsidy. Maybe.

    I guess it’s worth noting that many Torontonians screamed bloody murder over the land transfer and vehicle registration levies, though the Subway fund may play out differently because we’ll know what the money is buying for us.

    The bottom line is that this is what political commitment to subways looks like. I’d pay. Anyone else?

  11. In the absence of an election based on “vision,” I would be happy with one based on simple reality. Over the next few decades, some one million people are expected to move to Toronto. These folks will need a place to live, a way to get around, and we all will need to find new ways to get along with each other. Any candidate who ignores this central fact is just spreading delusion.

    Transit City is billed as the best solution for a City that wants rapid transit but doesn’t want to pay for it or allow the sort of intensification that would make a subway feasible. It is possible that TC represents a reasonable compromise. But I keep sensing reasons to believe it may actually be an unreasonable compromise between two reasonable but incompatible positions; ie: subways with intensification vs. maintain Toronto as a low-tax, mid-size city with backyards, cars and free parking for everyone.

    I wonder if the Official Plan, with its protections for neighborhoods, similarly straddles these two potentially incompatible positions, especially since it still allows downtown residents to successfully oppose highrises on top of subway stations for fear of a shadow crossing their azalea gardens.

    2010 could be the “Let’s Get Real” election. I sure hope so.

  12. The typical voter knows better transit is needed, and doesn’t trust either buses or streetcars to fill those needs. Subways are the default solution — the ones we have serve their corridors quite well, and more extensive subway networks are found in lots of cities around the world, so it seems pretty obvious. (And if money grew on trees that could be planted atop the tunnels, it would be.)

    Personally, I think the TTC, the city, and Metrolinx have all done a poor job offering much in the way of alternatives. People aren’t familiar with LRT and understandably don’t trust the TTC to get the design right. Transit City may be a fine light-rail plan, but it’s tilted more towards providing high quality local service to the inner suburbs than moving people quickly across the city (which is what the public perceives as the greatest need). And while it may be Metrolinx’s role to handle those longer commutes, so far they’ve only shown that consultants can get carried away drawing lines on maps just as well as transit enthusiasts can.

    Maybe a candidate with a fiscally-impossible subway plan isn’t such a bad thing, if it forces other candidates into specifics about how they’d address the city’s commute problems.

  13. The province needs to decide upon a consistent source of revenue for transit expansion like a gas tax, and then channel the money towards rapid transit in its dense capital. It should be continuous. In Toronto, rapid transit is logically subway expansion because of how underdeveloped the system is, how overcrowded Yonge is and because it’s a proven mode.

  14. Excellent article John. Thank you for taking the time to thoroughly discredit Ms. Thomson’s ill-conceived, poorly researched and one-dimensional “subway idea” that she is incessantly parroting around town.

  15. Leaving aside the particularly merits of Thomson’s plan, I find the moniker “Subway Sarah” to be on the snide and disrespectful side of things. (at least, using it multiple times in a row) It reminds me of the Sun’s oh-so-clever “Pantalooney” and “Giamboner”, which really isn’t the impression I like to get from Spacing.

  16. Anthony Furey: any evidence that the City is overpaying for garbage collection? Miller has in fact been cutting costs in garbage collection by taking controversial steps that included insourcing collection in the former City of York and the pay for large bins model.

  17. @Lorinc I would support it in theory, but we all know what happened to the billboard tax. Personally, I think the city should cut back elsewhere and just start building, but the left isn’t willing to do that and if a right-wing candidate wins for mayor he’ll be held back by the weak mayoral system (and the right isn’t willing to raise taxes to fund it anyways). But if they started, just like all other city spending, it would be hard to stop the momentum once it started and even the right wingers support subways. So we may as well take advantage of the way government works now.

    @John Interestingly, Miller is against “high density” and wants mid-rise. While it’d be nice to have Toronto have a uniform 6-10 story density like Paris or Barcelona, Toronto just isn’t a European city. For developers to want to build at those levels they’d have to charge a lot more and/or build a lot smaller units- which is what most apartments in those european cities are like. So much for affordable family housing. There’s a reason poor people in Europe are often pushed to the periphery of cities. :-/

  18. garbage collection is NOT going to bankrupt the city; building subways where they are not needed, or ill-adivsed, will certainly do that.

    To Ryan: calling Not sure that your examples are good ones. Giamboner and Pantelooney are personally insulting; calling her Subway Sarah may be a tad snide, but its the only thing she’s campaigned on. And when she’s got it as wrong as she has, a little bit of laugh is worthy (I will say I loved the Giamboner headline, though they used it way tooooo soon and should have saved it for january).

  19. @Rami Bringing the York garbage collection in house was only cheaper because they weren’t willing or able to fire the full time (unionized) employees who were pretty much just sitting around before.

  20. Her math on the toll revenue may not be that far off, but it depends on the details.

    Since she is advocating for a flat fee rather than a mileage-based rate, I assume she would select a point somewhere on the expressway to put a toll gantry… everyone passing that point would pay the toll regardless of trip length. So right off the bat, it depends on where you put the toll gantry.

    Let’s assume that the volumes on the City’s daily traffic map are correct. If you pick the Gardiner around Humber Bay, that’s nearly 180,000 vehicles. If you pick the DVP south of Lawrence, that’s about 175,000 vehicles. In total, you have about 355,000 vehicles per day currently passing those points. If you assume a 30% traffic reduction (onto transit, onto other routes, trip consolidation etc.), that gets you to about 250,000 vehicles per day.

    I am wondering if the City’s estimate is based on the assumption of collecting tolls in one direction only… or at certain times of the day only… etc. There are any number of variables that would impact volumes and toll revenue.

    As another example, back when the Land Transfer Tax was being debated, a study (PDF) prepared by Hemson Consulting estimated toll revenue based on a per-km toll on the Gardiner/DVP, or a London-style congestion fee. Estimates ranged from $74-120M for the tolls, substantially less than Thompson’s assumed revenue, but it’s worth noting that the toll per trip would be much less than her $5/trip — no more than $2.30 to travel the full distance of the Gardiner/DVP ($1.15 outside rush hours), and less than that for anyone traveling a shorter distance.

  21. Christopher: you seem to think mid-rise is not high-density, but you’d be wrong. Secondly, Miller has never been against high-density; he supported the Official Plan, has overseen huge development with super high-density, created Tower Renewal to retofit all the high rises in the city, and lives within a community surrounded by high-rises in High Park.

  22. The airport terminals/art galleries planned for the Spadina extension explain much of the sticker shock:

    Sheppard West Station – $102 million
    Finch West Station – $134 million
    York University Station – $115 million
    Steeles West Station – $145 million
    Highway 407 Station – $134 million
    Vaughn Corporate Centre Station – $177 million

    Accessible Bloor-Danforth-style stations make more sense.

  23. The only thing that bugs me is all the press Thomson got a few weeks ago without any one of the papers or media doing the background research like Lorinc and Spacing did here and asking her questions about te plan. They just let her spin her campaign without an ounce of analysis. Kudos to you and phooey to the big media in this city who keep acting lazy.

  24. Christopher Hylanrides: I favor mid-rise as well! But as far as I can tell, the only way to do this on a large scale is to knock down huge sections of existing low-rise buildings. In European countries this has been accomplished mainly through fire, war or totalitarianism. Barring one of these, I can’t see how Toronto can add sufficient density quickly enough without going high at key locations. Adding a few floors here and there on an incremental basis just doesn’t seem sufficient. I hadn’t connected this issue to the rise of suburban European ghettos before, but your analysis seems plausible. I would love to support mid-rise development, but I fear this is just another free lunch delusion.

  25. @Moses I didn’t say that and existing structures has nothing to do with intensification. He’s been anemic for high rises outside of specific areas that already have them. His speech at the Spacing launch party and here point otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice idea. It’s just not as practical and it’s more top-down planning than is needed.

    @Chad Your costs for stations remind me of one area that Public-Private-Partnerships could dampen the cost and better serve the rider. Why not sell off much of the stations to private interests to run retail in? It would also encourage more underground tunnels around the stations like PATH, around Eglinton, etc of which would be paid for by private interests.

  26. From the Hemson report…..

    Businesses are likely to take road pricing into account when they consider space decisions affecting downtown Toronto, even if the economic scale of the charges is in fact minor. Although downtown Toronto has recently seen a resurgence in office construction, development has been generally
    stagnant since the early 1990s compared to activity in 905 municipalities. This recovery could be dampened were road tolls and cordon charges to be implemented.

    Finally the argument could also be made that downtown Toronto is not in fact congested compared to other cities or other parts of the GTA. Thus, the question as to what Toronto might achieve by implementing road pricing would need to be addressed before making a decision.

  27. One of the key issues here that bears further examination – especially when it comes to the operating subsidy the Thompson subway plan would require – is where these subways are planned to be built. The right-wingers who want to build subways in lieu of Transit City are by extension proposing to build subways in low density areas (ie. areas where the density does not justify a subway). As a result, these would require a much higher passenger subway than the existing Bloor and Spadina/University lines. I would venture that the only new subways in the city that would approach the ridership of the existing lines (sans-Sheppard) would be the DRL and some part of Eglinton.

  28. I agree with McKingford. There is really no area in Toronto, save Yonge St., south of the 401 that has enough density to support a subway.

  29. There is more than just a semantic difference between “road tolls” and “road pricing,” and folks who want this idea to proceed had better figure this out.

    Road tolls are taxes created to raise government revenues, perhaps to fund things like public transit. In contrast, road pricing allows car drivers to purchase access to clear roads, and its purpose is to match the supply of such roads with their demand. The fact that price-setting generates revenues is an nice benefit, but it is not the main point.

    Properly understood, road pricing should be welcomed by car drivers, or at least those who have better things to do than sit in traffic. But if such drivers oppose road pricing, they are literally saying that the value of a clear road is zero, and politicians can take this into account when determining relative transportation priorities.

  30. The last time we built a subway for the heck of it, based on using up limited funding, we got the Sheppard line. It’s short, it just carries people from Don Mills to Yonge and vice-versa, and it isn’t much faster than the Finch East bus. It shows the problems with the “just build a bit of subway at a time” approach.

    I’m all for “moving people quickly across the region”, seeing as how I’m currently doing a 70km round-trip commute by TTC each day: Long Branch to Seneca Finch/404 campus, with occasional trips to York University’s Keele campus.

    However, the pleasant parts of the trip are the Queen car (should I decline to take the bus to the Bloor line) and the Finch East bus (I never thought I’d ever write *that*!); the unpleasant parts are the subway legs. I can avoid the Bloor line by taking the streetcar, but there’s no palatable alternative to the Yonge subway.

    Transit City is designed as a larger network, to provide alternative routings. The more alternative routings, the better. Unfortunately, building 1km of subway per year won’t give us a true city-wide subway network until most of those reading and posting here are dead.

    Yes, if we had kept on building subways since the 1980s, we’d be thirty years closer to a goal of networks. That hasn’t happened, and going back thirty years isn’t an option.

    Transit City aims to get a network of routes in place quickly and at reasonable cost. Building a Queen St. subway would cost an enormous sum, because of all the stations you’d need, and endless utility relocation issues (which is one reason why St. Clair ROW turned into an epic mess).

    As for maintenance, even those “minimal” Bloor-Danforth stations are falling apart and require a major overhaul — which the TTC can’t afford and therefore has postponed.

  31. John,

    Something always gets lost in the subway LRT debate. Too often it is presented as subway being better but too expensive. In fact, LRT is better. Look at the portions of the current subway sytem that work best for neighborhoods: Yonge and Bloor-Danforth. They both began as streetcars in trainsets – much like LRT. Only when the passenger volumes surpassed what surface transit could do did transit passengers get moved underground. By contrast, the areas where subway was just plunked down are often quite desolate.

    There are something like 45 cities in North America who have either built LRT in the last decade or have construction plans in the next few years – everyone from Honolulu to Houston.

    LRT integrates better with neighborhoods, is a more pleasant travelling experience and of all transit modes has the greatest positive impact on property values, which isn’t important in it’s own right but is a good proxy for neighborhood desireability.

    Also, LRT is better suited to medium passenger density. Medium densit does not support subway passenger capacity, which means either costly empty trains or infrequent service.

    I’m disappointed that Sarah Thompson and others know so little about the relationship of neighborhood form and transportation. Simply say biggest is always best is a road (track) to ruin.


  32. @McKingford,

    Agree with you that subway building should focus around areas with existing high density, rather than extending into the subdivisions and malls of Vaughan (of course the latter makes much more sense politically for federal and provincial government, but that is another story). If the city can really bite the bullet and just build one stop a year no matter what, how different Toronto will be in 10 to 15 years?

  33. Speaking of building transit here’s a quote from my week of April 8 1990 diary entry:
    “The province announced several transit initiatives for the 90’s. Extending the Bloor line west to Sherway Gardens, joining the Yonge and Spadina lines via a loop north of Finch, a streetcar line on Eglinton from the Spadina subway west to the Allen then a busway into Mississauga, a subway west of Yonge under Sheppard partly privately financed and extending the RT north-east to Malvern are the major items. As well, the Harbourfront RT should go north on Spadina and west to Exhibition Place. We’ll see!!”

  34. @Znoosle I find your comment to be more depressing than the article. You don’t seem to consider any arguments Lorinc makes before writing a knee-jerk response reiterating your own personal biases. How are we supposed to advance as a society with this level of debate? J.L. is just pointing out that the “subways everywhere” vision is totally unfeasible, and that we need to be a little more flexible in the transportation systems we use and the ways we choose to fund them.

    We’ve got a whole slate of mayoral candidates who make ludicrous proposals and are still treated seriously because we’d rather just be told what we want to hear rather than considering any new ideas. So people running for mayor can say things like “I’ll fire all the union members!” (not legally possible) or “I’ll cut council in half!” (council itself would have to vote yes to that) or “I’ll just build subways under everything and road tolls will pay for it all! Problem solved!” and we don’t laugh them out of the room.

    I think the mainstream media in this city are, for a large part, to blame for this. It’s much easier just to quote the outrageous claims of two sides rather than spend a few hours doing research on what the facts are. During the city garbage strike, I read the same article over and over: the city makes a vague claim, the union makes a vague claim, someone else makes a vague claim, some resident is quoted on how frustrated they are, in very general terms. End of article. I had no idea what specifically the city and the union were negotiating over, or whether these compensation terms were above or below average.

    “2010 could be the “Let’s Get Real” election. I sure hope so.” -John

    I hope you’re right. People are really worried about where Toronto is heading, and the media-coronated “frontrunners” Rossi and Smitherman don’t seem to be bringing much vision to the table. Pantalone seems like a decent guy, but unless he changes his campaign message he’ll enter office with all of Miller’s baggage sacked on him. We need someone who can break through the Royston Jamesesque Mediocrity Barrier which affects our city’s media, and put way more PR heat on the province and the feds for their long-standing neglect.

  35. I beg to differ, John, about how reasonable Thompson’s subway routes are (especially in the context to which I objected, namely ridership/density). Thompson proposes as a first measure a crosstown Eglinton line. Yet there is likely only a fraction of Eglinton that has the density required to make a subway viable. Going all the way west to the airport, and all the way east through Scarborough is going to produce empty trains and/or infrequent service.

    The DRL *is* truly required – and would likely have the ridership to support itself (while providing necessary relief to the Y/S line), but it isn’t a Thompson priority. The fact that Thompson would put Eglinton ahead of the DRL is simply further evidence that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and simply sees subways as shiny new toys.

  36. While it is good to see an article dissect Sarah Thomson’s claims, I agree with Znoosle that the entire article came off with a defeatist attitude. Yes, there are problems with her plan, but it is the best plan from any major candidate (this says more about the other candidates than anything else).

    Also, if there is one place where tolls could be placed, rush hour flow into the downtown is by far the most fair you can get! During the rush hour, the subways are operating at peak efficiency, and GO trains are running from every corner of the GTHA to provide alternatives to driving. This cannot be said for crosstown commutes, yet we have the 407 tolled. And while there are people that have to drive, their trip will be far less congested.

  37. As we have seen lately the political will for expanding transit within Toronto really is ZERO, you’re right that this is the most important point. So the real question should be: how do we correct our political system to properly reflect the needs and desires of the city? In this sense John, you are bang on that Sarah Thomson is doing more harm than good by focusing on the wrong issue. It seems that in the long run a regional agency, with some kind of stable revenue source will have to be given responsibility for improving GTA transit. That way the provincial government can be freed from its paradoxical position of having to fund things in Toronto that are unpopular to voters outside the city.

    If the current federal arrangement of government has produced no transit in Toronto during the largest stimulus push since the depression, when will anything ever be done??

  38. “There are something like 45 cities in North America who have either built LRT in the last decade or have construction plans in the next few years – everyone from Honolulu to Houston.

    LRT integrates better with neighborhoods, is a more pleasant travelling experience and of all transit modes has the greatest positive impact on property values, which isn’t important in it’s own right but is a good proxy for neighborhood desireability.

    Also, LRT is better suited to medium passenger density. Medium densit does not support subway passenger capacity, which means either costly empty trains or infrequent service.”

    Can we have some facts, please, Gord?

    Those all sound like your unsubstantiated opinions. The idea that LRT increases property values more than subways is refuted by empirical studies like this one:

    And what the heck is “neighbourhood integration”? Can you tell me with a straight face that Windermere and the Queensway is better integrated than, say, the Annex or the area around Chester subway station because the former has an LRT stop?

  39. To respond to Ed’s comments:

    “The last time we built a subway for the heck of it, based on using up limited funding, we got the Sheppard line. It’s short, it just carries people from Don Mills to Yonge and vice-versa, and it isn’t much faster than the Finch East bus. It shows the problems with the “just build a bit of subway at a time” approach.”

    Sheppard was conceived with the fine idea of connecting the YUS line branches, the burgeoning city centres of North York and Scarborough, and to promote suburban development. It has definitely achieved the latter ridership is excellent for such a tiny stretch of subway.

    You’ve misinterpreted the “just build a bit of subway at a time” approach. It’s supposed to be continuous construction that never stops until the size of the network is satisfactory, funded by constant source of revenue dedicated in legislation to funding expansion. If the arrangement was to build 1.25 kilometres of subway per year, and 2002 marked the completion of the Sheppard line from Yonge to Don Mills, this year we’d be opening the completed line to Scarborough Centre, and shifting workers and machinery to start construction of the Downtown Relief Line.

    “However, the pleasant parts of the trip are the Queen car (should I decline to take the bus to the Bloor line) and the Finch East bus (I never thought I’d ever write *that*!); the unpleasant parts are the subway legs. I can avoid the Bloor line by taking the streetcar, but there’s no palatable alternative to the Yonge subway.”

    If you find the Queen car the most pleasant part of your trip, with its speeds that can be outpaced by a bicycle, then you must like the scenic route and have a lot of time on your hands. I respect that because Queen is a great street, but most people on medium or longer commutes prefer the subway for its practical value.

    “Transit City is designed as a larger network, to provide alternative routings. The more alternative routings, the better. Unfortunately, building 1km of subway per year won’t give us a true city-wide subway network until most of those reading and posting here are dead.”

    We already have a underdeveloped city-wide subway network, and the new lines will simply provide alternate routings. DRL will be the YUS alternative, Eglinton will be the BD alternative. They’ll bring reliable rapid transit to new areas at the same time as well as providing alternative routings.

    “Transit City aims to get a network of routes in place quickly and at reasonable cost. Building a Queen St. subway would cost an enormous sum, because of all the stations you’d need, and endless utility relocation issues (which is one reason why St. Clair ROW turned into an epic mess).”

    Transit City demanded an enormous an unreasonable upfront sum, hence why it was effectively cancelled. We can’t rely on $15 billion checks from the province. In terms of Queen, we can build it because we’re a well developed western country; we have to economic capacity to take on massive infrastructure projects.

  40. @Marcus, “If the current federal arrangement of government has produced no transit in Toronto during the largest stimulus push since the depression, when will anything ever be done?” It won’t.

    Here’s what’s going to happen. Nothing is going to be done without the Province or the Feds on board, and they have no reason to care: 416 seats are completely stable, so neither Liberals nor the Reform Party have anything to gain by spending a dime in Toronto (of Torontonians taxes). The past and present show that all funding decisions are political. This is defeatist, but accurate. Just watch.

    Eventually, the seats in the 416 will be shaken up. Maybe it is when we have traffic like Bangkok, but not sooner; maybe we lose a war over resources with the US. Who knows? However, these are fifty-year out scenarios. In the meantime, try to work where the commute is not brutal, as it is going to double.

  41. I’ve been reading about this subway/LRT debate from Montreal for a while now and a number of things leave me puzzled.

    1. Subways vs. LRT has now become an ideological war. Those who support subways will defend it the death. Those who support LRT will follow it to hell and back. This is most evident when one scrutinizes the choice of starting Transit City construction first with the Sheppard East LRT – in order to prevent the Sheppard subway from ever actualizing its proposed length to Scarborough – which would have given the citizens of that neighbouhood the improved transit they desperately need.

    2. Toronto should stop selling itself short.
    You shouldn’t ask yourself: subways vs. LRT
    You should tell your politicians: subways AND LRT (and BRT and streetcars [which are different from LRT] and night buses, and RER-style commuter rail…). All of these play a part in the hierarchy of mobility we here in Montreal like to call the cocktail de transport. They all work on different scales, they all need to be fully developed and they are all necessary to improve citizen mobility in the fast-growing Toronto region

    3. Toronto’s subway system is skeletal to say the least. Transit City doesn’t address this issue; instead it pretends as if the current subway does not even exist. And then it tries to paint the proposed “LRT” lines as subway lines.

    4. Has anyone backing transit city actually defined what an LRT is? Will it follow the model of Calgary (which is essentially a light metro, with stations spaced at subway-like intervals on its own, completely separate right of way) or will it follow the example of Spadina or St-Clair(which is essentially a bus on rails, stopping at every cross street). And will they stick to the definition they decide upon?

    Ultimately, who cares if subways or LRTs or etc. are expensive? If they will improve the quality of life in Toronto, then build them! Imagine if the leaders of Toronto said the same thing in the 50’s. Imagine Toronto with no Yonge subway; with no Bloor-Danforth subway. Back when population and density was far lower than it is now.

  42. All I want to know is why can’t I hop on a GO train at Dundas West station and go to Union station with a TTC transfer, token or Metropass? You get a DRL for free!

  43. @Marcus The province and feds are not going to take Toronto seriously until we have a broad and organized pro-Toronto political movement in this city. We need to stop waiting for them to feel sorry for us, and start making them scared of losing their ridings.

  44. @John Lorinc: Sarah’s map on the link you provided in the comment above ( is a plagiarized version of a map found in Transit Toronto which was done by Miguel Syyap.

    She has not gotten back to us about it. We have been in talks with Miguel and Transit Toronto’s James Bow.

    In fact one tweet on @Spacing ‘s account (

    We sent her an e-mail asking for clarification, we even CC’d the e-mail to Spacing’s editors (among other local media). Look at Downsview station, the symbol for that station on her map is an INTERCHANGE symbol (like bloor-yonge, St. George, Spadina, Sheppard-yonge and Kennedy). but no other lines comes there.

    Her numbers seemed so fishy, we say $350 million, others might say $300 million per subway km, and all her numbers. Add the plagiarizing of the subway map. How can we trust anything that comes out of her mouth?

  45. A subway train really isn’t a high technology item. It doesn’t make sense that we an built subways 50 years ago and now somehow its unaffordable. We need to figure out how to do this economically. This means lowering so-called “quality standards” and cutting down on the corruption in the construction industry. It means leaving out platform doors and fancy decor. It means being aggressive on construction so interest charges don’t add up and waving ridiculous environmental red-tape.

    But we still need to do it. The price of gas isn’t going down.

  46. @Marcus The city of Toronto isn’t a battleground for higher levels of government, whereas Ottawa and Vancouver will shift back and forth between all the parties at all levels of government and Montreal shifts between the bloc/parti quebecois and the liberals, so they’re willing to spend. Notice how they’ve gotten significant funding for expansion? Toronto just always votes liberal with a smattering of NDP. The result is the liberals take the city for granted, the NDP will never hold a government again, and the conservatives don’t bother.

  47. As I mentioned previously in another post, costs for new subways and other related transportation infrastructure is bloated by a conservative 30-35% simply due to the requirement to use Unionized staff for construction. When there are delays, that 30-35% jumps to about 45-50% due to “overtime”. Until the city can work out this requirement to use unionized workers, subways or other surface infrastructure is just too cost prohibitive.

    Sarah Thomson’s claims are mostly (not all) correct, but it just wasn’t based on the requirements of Toronto, rather, they were based on North American industry costs/standards for subways, surface networks, and tolls.

  48. At least there’s a good deal of discussion, (or is that disscussin’)…
    The costing of larger projects tends to have some degree of mathemagics, and it is a Huge Problem to give residential and job sprawl good, affordable and frequent transit.
    The Transit City plan wasn’t/isn’t perfect – and we have a mistake going along with the use of the Weston corridor for regional transit, and not sub-regional transit with busways, or a surface subway, that could swing down through to the core via Front St. – an idea which had some merit merely maybe 20 years ago, and there’s also an indication in Unbuilt Toronto of that route having acceptance in 1946ish.
    And speaking of Front St. – it’s most curious that the local Front St. to go from Dufferin to Strachan is now undergoing a Class C EA, with a cost of who knows? $60M – and Gord Perks, the good transit guy is kinda been keen on it, and Joe’s running for our Mayor – but I don’t see any real transport need.
    I did try to introduce a surface/cheaper route to the unbuilt Queen subway at one TTC meeting, but the Chair was ruling me out of order.
    And the City and progressives have been doing a good job of ensuring that we don’t expand the Bloor subway by providing safe biking, though I imagine many riders would take the bike if it were made safe. Ditto for a lot of east-west core trans*it, and the new streetcars will be longer, and bigger, therefore the TTC thinks it’s the same capacity, and so they will come less frequently, but we can’t provide safer east-west biking either….though the City will be trying something on College soon that may help.

  49. Great article, excellent discussion. I hope other candidates are put under a similar microscope (e.g. the Ford’s idea of getting rid of half of Toronto’s Council).

    I believe that LRTs are better than subways. The LRTs proposed in Transit City are NOT like the streetcars on Queen, King, etc. They will have their own ROW, are longer (to hold more people) and yet narrower (taking up less road width).

    I prefer LRTs (and streetcars) for the same reason that I don’t live in a basement. Surface level transit lets me see the life of the street while in transit (as well as when waiting).

    As well, consider someone who lives at, say, Main and Danforth and works downtown. Their daily commute ‘hides’ them from the all the stores, restaurants and life of Danforth. They’d never see the shops that interest them. If they never see the stores, how can they stop and buy something?

    Compare the behaviour and ‘gaze’ of people on a subway and streetcar. On the subway, people tend to immerse themselves in a gadget or newspaper or stare at nothing. On a streetcar, people are more ‘alive,’ looking at the city as they go by.

  50. @mark, I prefer to see where I am going, but it comes at a price: a crawl at rush hour. Streetcar flanneurism is nice, but usually I just need to get to work and back. In this city’s state, the priority has to be to efficiently (time and money) move the most people the fastest. In some areas that is buses, in some streetcars (which is what LRTs are, traffic-separated and signal-prioritized, or crap), and downtown, subways.

  51. @Patrick
    I realize indeed that I am
    “writing a knee-jerk response reiterating [my] own personal biases.”
    yes, that’s what blog comments are for
    ” How are we supposed to advance as a society with this level of debate?”
    Sorry to disappoint you by my failure to advance society but you are asking a bit too much of this medium. 🙂

    @John Lorinc – your article is well-researched and written. Just depressing and smacking of a sense of helplessness. Change must come from Torontonians. Power will never be given from Ontario. It must be taken.

  52. The Conservatives should develop policies to win seats in Toronto that are appealing and relevant to urban living. Incremental subway construction could be a visionary issue for them, because it’s a feasible alternative to grand expansion schemes that come off as modest and rational.

    I can see Rossi attracting support to stop the Sheppard LRT not for the fearmongering of a St. Clair West part II, but because of simple apprehension among people over the project. A lot of people don’t get how you can open a first phase of subway and a few years later build a tram line where the rest of it was supposed to go. Especially if the first phase is well used and has sparked an incredible amount of development.

  53. @Geronimo I appreciate the sentiment, but the LRTs aren’t going to be ‘in’ traffic (so cars won’t hold it up like on Queen, King, etc.). I think they are good balance between life and efficiency.
    Also, the deafening demand for efficiency kinda freaks me out. I can’t help but imagine some dystopia where art has no place in the public (people will stop and look, interrupting the flow of humans!), where we aren’t allowed to pause, where all we do is for profits (usually someone else’s). No benches! They’re for idlers! No walking! It’s too slow! Your life is reducing my bottom line!
    I’m kidding…sort of…

  54. @mark – The Transit City LRT’s will be like the streetcars currently on St. Clair–bafflingly slow. When I see that the new LRT’s will be “narrower,” I hear “more cramped.”

    Exposing captive streetcar riders to the local businesses encourages consumerism, exactly the opposite of what is needed for a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious society.

    I have little trouble occupying myself on the subway. Immerse in a good book, people-watch along with your fellow riders, and enjoy the whoosh as the train pulls into a station. I prefer arriving at my destination more quickly so I have more time to actively engage with the city, over passively absorbing it through a streetcar window.

  55. Some of the comments here baffle me.

    I must say that the article is well written, but I hope Lornic is as tough on each and every mayoral candidate, including Pantalone.

    But I don’t like how there’s no real alternative presented here. At least she got some serious debate going beyond the bike lane Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. That said, I also don’t think she’s got the right stuff to be mayor, but at least she’s got the debate refocused on the bigger picture and took a big risk.

    I would like to echo the comment about LRT vs. subway being an ideological war. There isn’t a rational discussion about the right technology for the right place, and we have TC (a plan that came out of nowhere) crowding out some other important projects like the DRL, which should have been an integral part of a “Transit City” plan, of which some aspects make no sense.

    This article to an extent, but the discussion as a whole, is part of a pattern though; there is a very strong pro-LRT bias amongst many of the Spacing staff and writers. Indeed, the publisher of Spacing has the PR design contract for Transit City. And of course, when you live downtown and work downtown, streetcars are great, and so are bikes, but maybe forget the long hauls that suburban residents have to make, for which Transit City, for the most part, will have a minor impact.

    I’m not trying to do a wholesale slag of Transit City either. Finch West TC isn’t a bad idea, not at all, and it’s not the place for a subway. Eglinton is in large part a subway anyway, though I think they really should use the field beside Eglinton in Etobicoke to run trains faster, Calgary style. Build that and the DRL and incrementally build up Sheppard, and you’ve got a lot of the pieces in place that suburban surface ROW trams and high-quality bus corridors to feed into with consideration to cheap to implement “superbuses” like York VIVA or the LA Rapid bus network.

    But some of the best neighbourhoods – gasp! – have no streetcars. Like the Annex. Or the Danforth or Bloor West Village. New York has a lot of great neighbourhoods, but no trams. The Junction seems to be gentrifying quite nicely. Disappointing to see a city councillor say such silly things.

    We have also seen the projected costs of Transit City explode from the early launch, and that’s without a single shovel in the ground, unless you want to count moving some dirt around a railway crossing in Agincourt.

    Sheppard’s cost was so high because of 1) the expensive and complex connection to Yonge Subway and building on top of an active station; 2) an inability to control costs, despite “plain” stations; and 3) buying all that infrastructure for a line that was supposed to go as far as Victoria Park in Phase I (but cut back) and for the dead Eglinton subway.

    I like the idea of a system with more subway AND LRT and BRT and plain old bus enhancements. Let’s be productive and debate what a mixed system expansion should look like, not the sillyness of what I see here.

  56. Mark and Gord Perks, wouldn’t it be great if it was constantly a sunny Sunday afternoon in Toronto, and everyone was either a blogger or owned a twee microroast cafe? In that case, it would make lots of sense to run slow surface transit lines all over the city. But back in the real world, I have a busy job and small children at home, so you bet I need to pick the fastest mode to get between the two.

    I’ve seen plenty of thousand-mile stares on the streetcar, too. Also, you know what’s nice about the subway? No loud cellphone conversations, so I can actually get some work done.

  57. Chad,

    “Exposing captive streetcar riders to the local businesses encourages consumerism, exactly the opposite of what is needed for a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious society.”

    People still need to replace stuff that wears out. People need to eat. Small businesses need customers. This is hardly out-of-control consumersism; I don’t want to live in a world where the smallest purchase is judged against enviro-ideology.

  58. This is an interesting discussion. Nothing like transit and politics to get things going!

    I am a bit puzzled by Gord Perks’ comment. I think Leonard had it right. There’s lots of factors that make a neighbourhood vibrant and liveable, and while transit is one of them, it needn’t be surface transit either, nor does surface transit with people passing by store fronts magically change things either.

    Most of Bloor Street does just fine, as does Yonge Street. North York Centre is one of the most vibrant parts of the city these days. There are sections along the Carlton, Dundas, King, even Queen cars that are struggling to retain businesses (just as parts of Bloor West past Ossington until Dundas West)

    I like the idea of road tolls financing transit expansion, and I am glad Sarah Thomson had the guts to raise it again (after John Tory’s, and even more pleased it didn’t get booed off by the media either.

    Her plan has a lot of holes though, I would have preferred a more nuanced launch of her idea, push for the DRL (and yes, Pat, we do promote subway construction!) and a steady stream of funds for more general transit capital and operating funding.

    Understandably, she had to have her own plan rather than piggy back off of someone else’s legacy, and I think that’s half the problem here. Subways help to differentiate her plan from Miller’s, but results in issues Lornic raises above.

    She could have been the DRL Mayor, with a few other new ideas to ensure continual transit improvements, including at least the best of Transit City. It’d be smart – the DRL has right and left wing support and is clearly needed, but not funded.

    And with a DRL, Eglinton is just fine as a LRT with some fine tuning (like the Richview lands), making the plan more fiscally credible.

  59. @Chad You write: “Exposing captive streetcar riders to the local businesses encourages consumerism, exactly the opposite of what is needed for a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious society.” Actually, I’d say that being exposed to local shops helps promote sustainability and environmental consciousness. It helps to promote a local economy rather than ‘big’ trips to the mall (Walmarts, etc.), and helps keep money in the local economy. If you’re underground when in transit, you may never know there’s a shop close by that you can go to rather than the mall.

    @Andrew Your life sounds terrible 🙂 Kidding aside, I think LRTs are a good balance between inhumanly efficient travel and maintaining a connection to the city (with all its chaotic random messiness).

  60. Hi John,

    Thank you for publishing this post, it’s definitely been a cause for great conversation within the campaign. 🙂

    I cannot comment on the numbers as I am not familiar with all the intricate cost details. That said, I do believe that the costs you have outlined that will be incurred by our transit plan are yet another reason why we cannot go cap in hand to our provincial and federal government for funding, and must start considering other methods of funding the construction of an expansive subway system.

    DuÅ¡an, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that the campaign team hasn’t gotten back to you yet, and I’d like to right that wrong. I would like to meet with you in person with respect to the transit map and your (valid) concerns. Could you send me an email to with a date/time that works for you?

    To all other commenters: thank you for your feedback and comments, we appreciate that you’ve taken the time to do so.

    We’re learning a great deal about finer points of transit, what people want to see, how they feel it should work, and what can be done to improve our system. This is a daily process that we intend to continue throughout our campaign. We love that Torontonians are passionate about transit. We hope that Torontonians continue to show their passion and interest in our transit system.

    I’d like to table an offer to all the commenters on this thread: Let’s talk about transit. While I am not the most knowledgeable when it comes to the issue, I want to hear from you. I want to hear how you feel our transit can be improved, and how we can make that happen for you. I can be reached via email at Feel free to send criticisms, suggestions, ideas, and feedback (or anything else on your mind) my way, and let’s have a discussion to learn how we can help make the TTC a better system for you.


    Justin Kozuch
    Director of Social Media
    Sarah Thomson for Mayor
    3 Church Street, Suite 300
    T: 416 964 5850

  61. Wherever did we get this idea that subways are disconnected from cities? I love going on the subways when I travel to other cities, to soak up the smell and the sounds and decipher the route maps, and to be with crowds of people going to work when I know I’m a stranger in the city. Can you go to London without experiencing the Tube? Come on.

  62. “the disconnect between the Toronto’s aspirations and its wherewithal has never been greater.”
    The disconnect between what Toronto needs in a mayor and the individuals who think they can do the job has also never been greater. Why does a person who runs a small (some might say vanity) newspaper and has never held public office think she should be the mayor of Canada’s largest city? The candidates in this mayoral race … enough said. David Miller just looks better every day.

  63. Lots to chew on here. Some thoughts from the ex-pat perch:

    – I’ve been reading Traffic and it makes some interesting points about congestion. Sure, Toronto was at the bottom of the recent multicity congestion survey, but isn’t it also true that Toronto has had the best economy of those cities over the last couple years? Congestion, as Buffalo might point out, can be a sign of success. And there is so much traffic from such a wide area that building either new subways or highways will simply not make a dent in it. (Look at what is happening in Beijing.) New Yorkers routinely wait 45 min or more just to cross a bridge at rush hour, never mind the traffic-choked streets that await them on either side. London is a complete nightmare to drive in. Yet those cities remain global superstars.

    – That said, Toronto has definitely been a slowpoke in terms of building the network at all modal levels. Toronto got off to a huge head start relative to other N.A. cities with the legacy streetcars and early GO service and impressive densification above subway stations, but the growth over the last 20 years has been rather pitiful compared to any city on this list. For example, Minneapolis just opened its first commuter line and will soon open its second sleek light rail line, with several more in planning. Sure, it’s easy to pick the low-hanging fruit with that first line, and their transit share and ridership are peanuts right now, but there is real momentum happening outside the Golden Horsesh** that Toronto politicians need to take note of. Transit City is very much in stride with these developments and if you got even half of it built along with a rail link to the airport you could at least say you were keeping up with the Joneses.

    – Even taking note of LRT progress elsewhere, should Toronto still build more subways as per Sarah’s platform? New York is the only US city I know of that is building a new subway line, and that one has taken 40 years so far, so good luck with that. I have nothing against aping New York, so if you can get the funding for DRL, go for it, but as others have pointed out we need growth in all modes of transit and I would not stop TC in favor of a new subway line. Make the argument for both since there are valid points for each mode and a truly successful city needs a proper funding model to be able to incrementally keep building transit in all forms, including BRT, as Paris, Mexico City, or Moscow have been doing.

    – As for James’ comment about the cost of subways today vs 50 years ago, as someone who works in the development industry I can tell you that while the basic principle of electric traction has not changed in a century, everything else in the stations and system has gotten prohibitively expensive due to well-intentioned but costly regulations. Even for a bare-bones station you still need accessible elevators ($$$), multiple fire exits ($$$), additional fire exits in tunnels between stations at certain intervals ($$$), advanced signaling ($), smoke ventilation exhaust systems and sprinklering ($$), complex utility relocation ($$), business and surface traffic disruption mitigation ($$), worker safety equipment and procedures ($) and so on. All of these are for good reason and save lives but it makes it a lot different than the days when you could just tear up the street and hack a trench through it with a bunch of laborers and steam shovels.

    – One thing that would help in thinking about how to grow the TTC would be if the system stopped being so damn quirky. The streetcar system is truly unique, which is great and all, but makes it hard to apply best practices from elsewhere. Everything from fare collection to stop location to how it is shown on maps is wrong about it but somehow people don’t seem to notice because they think of it as one-of-a-kind. The thinking behind how to lay out subways as lines rather than branches is also totally bizarre. Not one person would be complaining about Sheppard if it had been built as a _branch_ of YUS rather than a separate line. Every other train would run to Don Mills instead of Finch, and you could grow each branch incrementally as needed. This is how almost every other subway in the world works. Instead, you have this oddball line from nowhere to nowhere that unless massively expanded will serve little purpose. Frustrating. As for GO, Toronto remains the model for cities just starting out with commuter rail as they copy the GO trainsets, stations and functionality to a tee. However, at some point GO needs to turn into a Philly or New York-style all-day electric two-way service if you are to get the best use of those rail corridors; instead, we get ever longer trains that run at rush hour from parking lots to Union Station and back – hardly the stuff of urban planning dreams.

    In the end I don’t really mind who becomes mayor, so long as transit remains a major voter issue and the answer is “more of it”. We can debate the details endlessly but at least seeing these aspects debated is keeping transit in the spotlight.

  64. Mark: Although you are kidding, I love both my kids and my job, and I don’t see how the highlight of my day needs to be staring at storefronts out the windows of a streetcar as I move between the two, especially when it would be the same storefronts over and over, hundreds of times a year. Commuting via streetcar is at least as dreary, and certainly no more “human”, than my subway ride. Also, what John said: I also love riding the subway in foreign cities.

  65. @ Justin (Thomson campaign spokesperson)

    “I do believe that the costs you have outlined that will be incurred by our transit plan are yet another reason why we cannot go cap in hand to our provincial and federal government for funding, and must start considering other methods of funding the construction of an expansive subway system.”

    Okay, give it up Justin. What are these “other methods”? Put them on the table and let’s have a real debate.

  66. I think people tend to drastically exaggerate the slowness of streetcars. Generally they are fine, with the notable exception of a Queen St. trip that starts west of Bathurst and ends east of Yonge or vice-versa. That particular zone needs some drastic action ASAP, whether it be a dedicated lane, tunneling underground, elimination of parking or otherwise. Unfortunately I don’t think Adam V’s constituents would reward him for doing what needs doing.

    I’m on the same page as Mark as far as enjoying the way traveling by streetcar, at surface level, lets me experience the neighborhoods I pass through. The tube may be characteristic of London, and NYC’s subways obviously have a character all their own but I don’t think other cities are really defined by their mass transit in the same way.

  67. Looks like the Thomson campaign has met their match, but not by a real candidate, but by a journalist wiling to examine Thomson’s outrageous promises. It shows just what kind of city she would run. Her campaign manager complains the City shouldn’t go cap-in-hand to the province and feds for transit funds when Canada is the ONLY COUNTRY WITHOUT A NATIONAL TRANSIT STRATEGY. With no secure long-term funding from either level of government, it is very difficult to build a subway network. Transit City seems to be an attempt to do the most with what we have. I want LRT, I want subway, and I’m willing to pay for it. But I won’t vote for someone like Thomson who shouts out an idea that has no basis in reality.

    Thanks for the first piece of de-bunking in this campaign, Mr Lorinc.

  68. This is how you pay for it:
    Take 3 cents* of every new dollar generated by the addition of the PST on gasoline sales (16.34 billion liters per year in Ontario) and dedicate that towards PT. That generates just under 1/2 billion per year to be spent province wide.

    * that would require a maximum input tax credit of 10 cents per liter for those claiming such.

  69. To be honest, I’d never thought of subways defining cities in the way “the tube” does in London. Thanks for that!
    My point was coming from my belief (influenced by Gehl and Whyte) that ‘life happens at street level.’ I was also trying to bring up the point that transit/movement isn’t just about the beginning and end points, but the space/time in between.
    I fear a city in which everything is efficient.

  70. Glen, perhaps you should get in touch with the Thomson campaign — you have a similar flair for inaccurate mathematics.

    Assume a gas price of $1/litre. 16.34 billion litres is then $16.34 billion; the provincial part of the HST will be 1.3 billion new dollars generated. You say to take “3 cents of every new dollar generated”, but that’s only $39 million. To get the half a billion, you have to take 3 percentage points (of the 8% tax rate), which is 37.5 cents of every new dollar generated.

    Plus, that money is already spoken for in the Ontario budget (partly for other tax relief to offset the HST), so it’s not actually available for new spending.

  71. Hi John,
    I do not have enough informationon on the validity of your figures.However I do believe the figures that you provide for the Shepard and Spadina line are those provided by the city/province. As we all know the city/province overpays and often gets substandard product…so I will not agree that Sarah’s figures are out of line.
    With private/public partnership…3P’s… projects come in on time and quite often for less than the original estitmate.
    You do not give the reason for the over budget of the Jubliee Line. But I will:-Tunneling problems and disputes with electricians delayed the opening planned for 1998 and have driven the cost 50 percent above budget, to an estimated £2.9 billion ($4.75 billion).

    The population of Toronto will increase by 1,000,000 in a few years. How do we move them?

    We can criticize…but so far Sarah is the only one that has come up with a solution and also a way to help fund it…which is not on the backs of the property owners.

    As you have written… ‘But in the end, only one number really matters, and that’s the quantum of the Ontario government’s political will. Which, as we all know, is zero’.Being that as it may:-Do you John, or anyone that has posted here have a better solution?

    Don’t tear apart something that is worthwhile based on partisanship. This is our city we need to move forward.

    Contrary to your opinion I strongly believe Sarah Thomson will win this Mayoral race.

  72. @Émile Thomas

    The Sheppard East LRT is to have station spacing at about 450m average. To put this into perspective, the Sheppard subway has an average spacing of 1600m. So ultimately these projects will have more in common with our streetcar lines than with our subway lines, despite the propaganda that city hall releases. They will however be an upgrade from what is currently there.

    As for subways vs LRT, it doesn’t help that subways are perceived to be faster than they really are. When you hear the vibration of the train rushing through the tunnel, and see the wall flying by an inch away, it feels as if you are traveling at highway speeds. In reality, you are traveling at 60-80km/h tops. Compare this to our streetcars which stop every few hundred meters, and produce no sound referencing speed, and you can see why the masses believe that subways are superior to LRT.

  73. Sorry Matt, I meant to say three cents of every eight new cents (the added 8% HST). Three cents of every new dollar would generate 16.34 billion(@1$per lt.) * 8% * (3/8)= 4.9 billion.

  74. Also to clear up another misconception Toronto population is projected to be 2.9 million by 2031. An increase of only 138,800 from the 2011 projection. The 1 million often heard is for the entire GTA.

  75. John:

    “Okay, give it up Justin. What are these “other methods”? Put them on the table and let’s have a real debate.”

    Well, road tolls for one. We’re proposing a 2 way, rush-hour only road toll, with a sunset clause of 10 years on such a program.

  76. @Justin,

    Yes, but tolls on the DVP/Gardiner at the level the Thomson campaign has proposed will not raise the required revenue — by the current traffic counts, you’ll get to about $3 billion with such tolls. So what else do you envision?

  77. Remember, after all this debate, only through continuous construction with a dedicated funding source will we ever build a substantial transit network.

  78. A question about LRT: what is its benefit over buses with their own ROW? It is probably greener, but what else? I suppose buses will be significantly cheaper and faster (no track work, cheaper pavement, cheaper vehicle, etc.). Would it make sense to build TC as a BRT network, saving some money for building some subway (DRL, section of Eglinton)?

    Also, any stats about the performance of St. Claire ROW? I know it is not supposed to reduce the travel time significantly, but does it indeed reduce the bunching as it should?

  79. Yu,

    LRT can be better than buses when high capacity is needed. Otherwise, BRT and LRT give about equivalent benefits of mobility:

    As the above article says, streetcars do attract more ridership than the buses they replace, though it’s not quite certain why this is. Whether LRT is a better value than BRT in the long term is where the debate is.

  80. “I think people tend to drastically exaggerate the slowness of streetcars. Generally they are fine, with the notable exception of a Queen St. trip that starts west of Bathurst and ends east of Yonge or vice-versa. That particular zone needs some drastic action ASAP, whether it be a dedicated lane, tunneling underground, elimination of parking or otherwise. Unfortunately I don’t think Adam V’s constituents would reward him for doing what needs doing.”

    @Paul: I’m one of Adam V’s constituents, and I would absolutely support that plan. I don’t know many people living here who own cars in the first place. We walk, bike, and take transit. Maybe we could use it as an excuse to expand the sidewalks on the south side of Queen Street too!

  81. Justin Kozuch: Please note that by we, I mean the staff at my employer, one of the staff is the one that sent the e-mail to The way we started was that Spacing tweeted a link that lead to a torontoist comment which had a link to urban toronto.

    Other staff member e-mailed Sarah, we gave her a chance by that Scarborough debate, but that debate ended to be one that people were not able to ask questions.

    We are still waiting for the reply to that.

    I (or the staff member who e-mailed Sarah) have no intention of talking to you, Sarah Thomson is ultimately responsible and so is her campaign Manager Wendy Stewart.

    I Dušan Kurdović will be publishing whatever comes out of your mouth if we have a meeting with Sarah and you. Same thing if you reply via twitter, e-mail, facebook, msn, icq or smoke signals.

    Giorgio, Rob, Rocco, Ford and Joe are ultimately responsible for what comes out of their campaigns as well as Sarah. I am sure Wendy looked at the material the night before and she didn’t then she isn’t the best campaign manager.

    I will be publishing the reaction/reply of what you tell me or any staff that goes to you. I will CC that reply to Spacing, Torontoist, and all local media, like we did for that first e-mail. Also the apology to the original creator of the map.

    Please note that I would be doing THE SAME THING if Giorgio did this plagiarizing.

    Sarah should not hide behind you, she is 42 years old (2010-1968 = 42) and she can speak for herself.

  82. @John:

    I am not aware of what other ideas Sarah has right now with respect to funding the TTC. The only funding method she has “gone public with” is the road tolls suggestion.

    That said, I like the suggestion Steve Munro made last week (I think?). I cannot load his site right now, but if I remember correctly, he suggested a municipal tax of some kind.

    I don’t know what the official campaign stance is on Steve’s suggestions, but now that I think about it, I’ll find out and report back.

  83. Hi Dusan,

    Thank you for providing me with the back story into the plagiarized map, and again, on behalf of the campaign: I am sorry that the parties contacted haven’t been in touch with you to discuss your concerns.

    I have sent an email to Wendy and Sarah about this issue, along with a recommendation to get in touch with you to clear up the matter.


    – Justin

  84. Hi Dusan,
    It would be preferable to try and build a better city through ideas and constructive input rather than through threats, anger and innuendoes?
    IF… and I reiterate IF… indeed Sarah Thomson used Miguel Syyap’s map in my opinion it shows she thinks highly of it. What Sarah Thomson is trying to do is build a better Toronto for US All…not just for herself. Come on people this type of cat fighting goes on at city hall. Where has that got us today?

    So far I have not seen a workable alternative plan put forward by anyone else.

  85. @Yu
    At a ‘transit oriented development’ panel, I heard an argument for LRTs rather than bus routes: the infrastructure for LRTs is permanent and thus more likely to entice business to set up shop and developers to build residential and commercial buildings. A bus route might just be cancelled and the businesses and tenants would suffer, whereas with an LRT line, they know that public transit is there to stay (customers can get to the stores, and tenants can always get home).
    Of course a bus route ROW would require some permanent infrastructure, but buses require a greater width (LRTs are ‘stuck’ on the tracks and can’t move side to side) – and because they burn gas and oil, I wouldn’t be surprised if LRTs are actually cheaper than buses in the long run. LRTs are also bigger and are found to be more comfortable to ride.

  86. Dear John,

    Thank you for writing about me and my subway plan. I appreciate that you have opened the door to discussion and debate although your position does reflect the same “second best will do” attitude that has pulled our city from the world stage.

    My comments to your article are here:

  87. mark,

    There are so many factors that determine ridership, the last thing we should be doing though is relying on dubious notions that LRTs spur investment. After all, in the latest issue of Spacing Radio, one story details using the plentiful empty storefronts on the Danforth for displaying art. The Danforth is served by a subway, nothing more permanent than that. Not only is the area not receiving commercial investment, but it has disinvestment.

  88. @Glen:

    LRT does spur investment, you can look to the US for evidence: Bergen, New Jersey, Phoenix, San Diego, Portland. Since LRT/streetcars are on the surface, riders are able to see the storefronts, and can hop on, and off and check out stores of interest. You will not have the same effect with subways.

  89. The fact that LRT/streetcars allow people to see storefronts isn’t a salient point in favour of light rail in the subway versus LRT discussion. On the subway, no one sees the storefronts, but people are lot more likely to visit a store and shopping area that promotes itself as on the subway. Subways bring much more people into an area, contributing to business activity. Businesses do well in Greektown, Yorkville, the Annex, Koreatown, Bloor West Village. Bloor and Danforth are quite vibrant.

    The “storefront effect” of streetcars isn’t convincing; look at how parts of Queen West declined into a dead zone of used appliance stores a couple of decades ago. When I’m frustrated with the slow service of the streetcar, the storefronts don’t make much of an impression on me.

  90. Justin,

    At best all one can say is that improved surface transit may have local benefits. It cannot be said if the aggregate changes. Furthermore it cannot be said that it is the vehicle type itself that is responsible. BRT can have the same impact on ridership and service while being cheaper (Sislak).

  91. Justin:

    Don’t listen to Glen. Bus routes never spur development, unless its a hub (and that is usually built into something pre-existing, like a mall).

    LRT and subways do spur development, though not in all cases. Certainly LRT has the greatest aboveground benefits as city’s tend to invest in the public realm when a new LRT line goes in; better sidewalks, planters, street furniture. While St Clair was a nightmare, all the shops that went out of business (dollar stores, used appliances) are now being filled with more sustainable businesses. This adds to the City’s coffers with better property taxes, etc.

    There are North American examples of LRT spurring development: Portland, Albequerque, San Francisco…. Naysayers like Glen want the cheapest option no matter what the argument is.

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