LORINC: 8 things to consider about the Scarborough Subway

Karen and Rob are kinda-sorta-friends again. The Liberals have found a way to mollify the long-suffering, wet-footed people of Scarborough. By-elections will be won, an exposed flank defended, caucus squawkers silenced. What’s not to love?

For all those bonuses, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the cozy blanket of consensus that now envelopes the city’s neglected eastern suburb may set in motion a series of unintended consequences that could threaten the future of the Finch and Sheppard LRTs, return Rob Ford to office, delay the [insert euphemism here] Relief Line, and imperil the Metrolinx investment strategy.

Oh yes, and this: I’d say there’s a decent chance that the Scarborough RT won’t be replaced anytime soon, either by a subway or an LRT. Why? Because the resulting planning delays, funding uncertainty and potential for large cancellation penalties will trigger a simmering and unpleasant fight over who should foot the bill.

But if that’s the cost of defending a Liberal seat in Scarborough, who am I to criticize?

Let’s go down the list:

1. The Liberals, according to senior government sources and news reports, are glad to see that Ford’s going to, uh, play ball, and so they’re prepared to figure out how to split the difference, whatever the difference is. But the feds are also going to be asked to pony up, which is what we reflexively do whenever we need a distraction gimmick. So Rob will call Jim and Jim will call Steve, and Steve will text Tony and ask him to write up a nice big cheque for, say, $330 million.

But the Harper Conservatives have other problems to solve right now, and so you’ve got to think that there’s a huge temptation to simply shift the $330 million previously allocated for the Sheppard LRT — which, as we all know, was not exactly Robbie’s first choice – over to the Scarborough RT upgrade. Et voila: funding!

More to the point, they’d get twice the political bang for a single buck. And, since we’re already pulling on the LRT thread to see how far it unwinds, what’s another yank or two?

2. Now, imagine you live in York Region, and you have been lusting after that Yonge Street subway extension up to Richmond Hill. What transportation minister Glen Murray et al have just demonstrated is that queue-jumping is not only possible; it is also rewarding.

In short, York Region pols have been handed a malodorous political grievance, which, I’m guessing, they’ll be more than happy to deploy in the run-up to next year’s provincial election. Scarborough whined and whined, and they got a subway as a reward. The Liberals have vulnerable MPPs in York Region, and so they’ll be surely pondering whether a short subway line may be the price to pay for a few more 905 seats. (James Pasternak, he of the Sheppard West connector, must surely be thinking the same sorts of thoughts today.)

3. All this means the Downtown Relief Line, contrary to Metrolinx’s earlier claims, is suddenly no longer the next major subway priority project, if I’m not mistaken. But that’s okay, because we don’t have a name for it yet, so we shouldn’t start planning it seriously.

4. Now, when Murray emerges from the Tarot card reader’s tent in the fall with a sorta-kinda-maybe plan for the Metrolinx Big Move investment strategy and the desired revenue tools, many people in the GTHA may find themselves pondering the following intriguing question: How is it, that after being told countless times that there’s no money for transit and therefore we need to create a system of “dedicated” taxes and levies, all of a sudden there’s money for transit. Poof! And not just chesterfield change, but almost $1 billion that no one knew we had.

Besides making the Board of Trade/Civic Action crowd look like a bunch of chumps, such gestures may prompt many voters to conclude that they’re being had on this revenue tool thing. Certainly, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath, neither big fans of such taxes, will be inspired to ask probing questions in the Legislature about how the Liberals pulled this chubby rabbit out of the hat.

And you know what? They’d be right to ask. I’m wondering, too.

5. Say you work at Metrolinx, and many smart and dedicated people do. What did the Liberals just tell you? Answer: that what you do doesn’t matter. Metrolinx officials can plan, consult and tender until they are green in the face. But it’s not important. What’s important are elections.

6. Here’s another group that’s no longer important: all the thousands of Torontonians who are (naively) participating in chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat’s three-phase consultation about made-in-Toronto revenue tools and transit priorities. But hey, zap, zap! Decisions are being made, and quickly. But the city has to pretend these consultations are about, well, consulting residents. Yet the truth is, residents and their views don’t matter. What matters are, you guessed it, elections.

7. Finally, let’s loop back to this money question. Metrolinx officials say that $85 million has already been spent on the RT conversion, and that some of the funds have gone towards the design and construction of an LRT storage facility that, well, doesn’t need to be quite as big as it was going to be.

Hey, what’s a little waste when we have a big happy summer consensus?

But the more intriguing question has to do with Bombardier, which was expecting an order for about twice as many LRVs as it will now receive. That’s easy: let’s just tell them to build subway trains instead, and all will be forgiven, right? Yet aren’t big equipment tenders supposed to go out for competitive bidding? That’s what Rob Ford says. In this case, tenders will be inconvenient, inefficient. It will be much, much easier to placate a potentially litigious supplier with an inflated replacement contract than to get the most cost competitive product.

8. If you’re a swing voter in the 905, and you’ve watched ehealthgate and ORNGEgate and gasplantgate and now you’re pondering whether the Liberals are trying to buy a by-election by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a subway that doesn’t add much utility, you might conclude, next year, that this party really needs to spend some quality time on the Opposition side of the Leg.

For the record, major RT conversion contracts, according to Metrolinx, were supposed to be let as early as this fall. But now the good people of Scarborough are going to have to wait for many more months and perhaps even years as the parties to this excellent consensus bicker over the nitpicky details of what they’ve wrought.

But hey, waiting for the transit to arrive is what we’ve always done in this town, so why should 2013 be any different. It’s kind of like waiting for Godot.

photo by Tim Anders

28 comments

  1. I’m a resident of Scarborough-Guildwood and I am appalled by this. Stintz has lost all credibility and De Baeremaeker and Beradinettti are not helping Scarborough by pandering to Ford voters. More wasted years. Josh Matlow is speaking more sense than any Scarborough Councillor.

  2. Shocking that some (not Rob Ford) can’t seem to see the mess they are creating with such a dumb decision. Evidence based transit is sadly being replaced with Election based transit.

  3. 1. In 2010, Ford wanted to send the B-D subway to STC.
    2. In negotiations with the Liberals, they went with the combined SRT / underground ECLRT option since the vehicles had already been ordered and that could not change.
    3. Council killed that solution in 2012 and reverted to the LRT plan.
    4. Stintz proposed the B-D subway extension in the middle of 2012 and Council killed it.
    5. In fall of 2012, Council voted for the LRT plan.
    6. In spring of 2013, half of Councillors changed their minds and now want B-D subway extension.
    7. Summer of 2013, it appears the Province now prefers B-D subway extension.

    The Conclusions are;
    i) It appears to be the Provincial Liberals and Council who are responsible for the time and monetary delays, and not Ford.
    ii) Such a controversial line with significant opposition should not be started until both levels of government are on board and neaar the start of their mandates – take note regarding Sheppard.

  4. To get any heavy rail subway to replace the SRT, and get the (Downtown) Relief Line, the city will have to implement additional revenue tools to pay for it. That means sales tax increases, parking fee levies, development charges increases, etc., basically public revenue sources since the private sector will not come up to pay for it.

  5. I have to wonder if Murray is a completely loose cannon, or is Wynne really that desparate? I would hope that they’re playing some more subtle game.

    I live in Long Branch, and you don’t hear me whining that we need the subway extended to Sherway. Yes, it would be helpful for me, but a stupid waste of money on the whole.

  6. John, it’s worse than you think. We don’t need more subway trains for Bloor-Danforth (http://stevemunro.ca/?p=8024#more-8024), even with an extension. So we’re either paying Bombardier penalties, or throwing away money on trains we don’t need. Lose/lose.

  7. We’re talking about the better part of a billion $$$ to turn a grade separated LRT into a grade separated subway. Think what other projects Toronto & the TTC could be building with this wasted money. Waterfront East? Eglinton to Pearson? Water infrastructure? Social housing? The Gardiner? And while the Libs are playing along in this dangerous political game, it’s the City that ultimately has to find the extra cash. The optics on this are appalling

  8. On Number 5 and 6, I think that the message was already delivered when the Government decided to promise HOT lanes in the most recent Budget…sure, it didn’t preclude any of the other revenue tools but it clearly not a ‘Big Tool’ that would make a huge difference. And never mind that HOT lanes (and HOV lanes as well) hadn’t been fully studied…the government already decided.

    The sad thing about this story is that Metrolinx has been around 5 years and they have accomplished a lot … well, they’ve absorbed many of Gary MacNeil’s GO transit projects and tried to fix Presto and the Air Rail Link … but they’ve just been able to focus on building infrastructure and not been able to seriously look at integrating service and fares.

    That is why we are still talking about extending the subway eastwards so people can get from Scarborough to Downtown Toronto despite the fact that Scarborough has 2 GO lines (potentially 3) with 6 stations (potentially 9) that could easily accomplish that task … except TTC and GO fares aren’t cooperative and TTC buses don’t give great service to GO stations.

    If we could just stop focusing on technology and start focusing on service, we could build and build and build to the point that no one in Toronto would be more than 10 minutes away from fast and frequent transit.

    What needs to come out of this discussion is maps showing a fixed amount of money and the lines that could be built…depending on a combination of technology and capacity needs…so the message would be less about “we cannot afford subways…. ” and more about “look what we can do with the right combination of Buses, BRT, LRT, Subway and GO train service.”

    Cheers, Moaz

    PS. Further to #6, why has Jen Keesmat (not to mention Adam Giambrone and Mitzie Hunter …. and let’s add John Tory and Olivia Chow for fun…) been so quiet on this topic? I’d love to see the media ask them point blank for opinions. Even a ‘no comment’ would say a lot about their leadership abilities. M

  9. @Moaz,

    With respect to your PS: I asked both Mitzie Hunter and Adam Giambrone the question of which they’d prefer. Hunter’s communications director responded thusly: “With regards to your question, in her conversations at the doors, Mitzie has stated that if elected she will work hard to support subways to Scarborough.” Giambrone didn’t reply.

  10. The weakness of the Scarborough LRT plan, as presently being planned, is that is not interlined with the planned Eglington LRT. This works against one of LRT technology, with it’s overhead power traction, big advantages; the ability to work in both exclusive and non exclusive rights of way. The Scarborough LRT, if it was interlined, with it’s greater coverage area, plus the simple ability to extend to Malvern, could deliver customers to Bloor/Yonge with a connection at Kennedy, the financial district with a future DRL with a connection at Don Mills, or to Eglington/Yonge, or the airport with future extension.

    With respect to other commentators:

    Walter:
    Your first point is false. Ford campaigned and continued in this position in the spring of 2012 is for a subway from the Don Mills/Sheppard to the STD. He never suggested an extension of the B-D line. The ridership projection of that line are about 4000 ppdph, far less than those proposed by the B-D extension of 9500. Both of those levels are below the normal criteria for a subway which usually start at 20000. The DRL, however, does get you to the projected ridership which would make a subway prudent.

    Ed:
    You missed a third possibility; he simple doesn’t know his file!

  11. I have lived in Scarborough (mostly) my whole life. I watched the SRT being built. The biggest problem with the SRT aside from the agedness of its technology is that to get from the subway to the RT is an epic journey equivalent to a five storey climb. Totally inconvenient. If they could just get whatever new rail technology replaces the old RT to meet up at track level with the BD subway at Kennedy, that would be a huge improvement. Whether the rest of the line is above or below ground is irrelevant, so an LRT would be just dandy (other than the years-long shutdown of the line while it gets re-built. Ugh.)

    I don’t really get all the whining out here about subways. We need transit. The people in Malvern and other neighbourhoods in outer Scarborough need transit. Spending $1B on a subway to the Scarborough Town Centre does not meet the needs of those people.

  12. Glenn, your comment about Ford never suggesting an extension of the B-D line is incorrect. His “Transportation Plan that makes sense for Toronto”, dated September 7, 2010 includes this, on page 3: “We will also extend the Bloor-Danforth Line along the existing Scarborough Rapit (sic) Transit (SRT) route to connect with the Sheppard Line.” The accompanying map showed the B-D line being extended from Main Street to through to McCowan by 2015. Yes, that’s correct — either no one on the Ford team proofread the plan, or they actually thought that the line ended at Main Street. A later version of the map corrected the mistake, but, interestingly, both versions showed a new Sheppard Line station a Willowdale, but placed it in an impossible location, east of Bayview.

  13. @Moaz,
    I thought not proceeding with HOT lanes was one of the conditions the NDP had for supporting the budget. Besides, it would probably cost more to develope than it actually can raise.

    @Gleen,
    My first point is correct. Ford did campaign on the Sheppard subway as his number 1 priority, but his next priority was to extend the B-D to “close the loop”.

    Regarding John’s point #5, I have heard 3rd hand that Metrolinx prefers an elevated ECLRT combined with SRT and also using SkyTrain. I think they are used to being over-rules by politicians since its been happening since their inception.

  14. Jeff one of the major expenses of the planned Scarborough LRT, is a practical connection to the subway at Kennedy.
    Glenn – While campaigning Rob told people. “We could look at doing Eglinton… whatever the people want. This is all after public consultation, the whole nine yards.”
    The consultation never happened. Instead Rob met secretly with the city’s top developers and a month before the election announced via youtube video that a Sheppard subway would be built. Developers apparently told him they would pay “a minimum of $1 billion… as much as $2 billion” to build that line.
    Rob’s “subways, subways, subways” paid by somebody else plan has invariably included every suggested suburban transit improvement; the SRT to subway, the Sheppard line from Downsview to STC, the Eglinton line to subway & the Finch LRT subway.

  15. Jeff: The new LRT platform at Kennedy is going to be on the Mezzanine between the subway level and the bus platform. So it’ll be just up one flight of stairs from the subway. Simple! Both Eglinton and the SLRT are to meet here, with the eventual Morningside LRT on this level, but a bit of a walk down the platform.

  16. Arg. More delays. Politics is what spawned the RT to begin with, now politics are preventing it from being replaced…sigh, typical Toronto I suppose.

  17. Glenn, if [that other Glen] doesn’t know his file, yet thinks nothing of yakking away to the press and publlic (like on Metro Morning), then I submit that he’s a loose cannon.

  18. LRVs can go pretty fast. There will be no issues in winter since it won’t be using a magnetic propulsion reaction rail like the RT.

    I lived in Scarborough for about three years not too long ago and the buses can barely meet the demand. Buses can often get so full that waiting passengers closer to Kennedy Station can get left behind.

    Also, the Transit City plan would bring revitalization and renewal to the streets served by the lines. The old high rises from the 60s and 70s could be revitalized, and residents in the new condos downtown I am sure would be drawn to them, as these older buildings often have much larger units, and they would see the appeal in the retro architecture (hopefully in renovated and restored condition). The beautified and revitalized streetscapes could be made more urban like by erecting new buildings in some of the old empty parking lots with buildings coming right up to the property line.

    Lets build what we have to work with for now. When the LRTs get more overwhelmed like the Yonge St. Streetcar did just before the opening of the Yonge subway in 1954, then we can worry about more heavy rail rapid transit options.

    The pressure from both sides of the debate could tear the whole plan and progress apart. I wonder how much money was wasted from penalty fees by the abrupt termination of Transit City back in 2010. One commenter on one of these sites said how many large corporations already have business operations in the 905. This city is in danger if we let mindfulness step aside for a more impulsive way of doing city business in this city. I vote for the LRTs, and | hope there are others out there who are with me too..

    Ti’l next time..

    ~ Jordan

  19. Jeff said: “The people in Malvern and other neighbourhoods in outer Scarborough need transit. Spending $1B on a subway to the Scarborough Town Centre does not meet the needs of those people.”

    Yes, if the subway ends at the Scarborough Town Centre, and nothing is built north and east of the subway terminus.

    But if the subway ends at Sheppard & McCowan, and the Sheppard East LRT is built, and there is a branch of Sheppard LRT towards Malvern Centre; then Malvern ill be served rather well.

  20. With all the numbers being bandied about, the City Manager’s report on this makes one thing perfectly clear: a subway provides only 3 stops in the vastness of Scarborough; the proposed LRT provides at least 7. Ready accessibility over such a wide area must surely be the major criterion in the choice of transit, rather than the emotional tie some have to subways, subways, subways. Of course, politics is messy – these days particularly – and rarely bows to rationality. Sadly, emotion is easily played on and led away from the most sensible solution to a festering problem when votes are up for grabs. John rightly addresses the problems of emotional responses to political dithering and it is those that may rule the day in the end to the city’s detriment.

  21. One other thing is, the TTC doesn’t need more subways from Bombardier because they already have enough (too many) of the T1’s. So the order for LRTs wouldn’t just convert to subway building. The LRT order would just have to be made smaller and TTC/Metrolinx would simply have to eat the penalties for that, wasting even more money.

  22. Lets order Innovia from Bombardier – they would be happy to make the switch to showcase their echnology and we would be happy to have an SRT closure of only 8 months and a one seat ride from Malvern to the spine of Toronto (Yonge).

  23. This is one of the big problems, they keep redesigning the next big project, and then nothing ever gets built. So next year the Liberals with all their scandals and problems get turfed, a pile of council gets turfed and the new government and the new council, throw all of this in the dust bin and start over for the forth time, with another $100 million or so tossed away with it.

  24. With all this on again, off again discussion of transit being built in east Scarborough (where I’m from), the only feasible option for my commute downtown is to drive…plain and simple.

  25. @Chris if the TTC order for LRVs is made smaller because of the proposal to build a Scarborough Subway there are 3 communities that would be happy to take those LRVs. Waterloo just agreed to pick up 14 LRVs as an option on the TTC order but they want 28. If Waterloo thinks they need 28, then Hurontario-Main needs and Hamilton probably need 30 each.

    @Walter, HOT lanes will be costly if implemented alongside the highways like the current HOV lanes. I’ve proposed that the express lanes of GTA highways (401, 403, 404, 427, Gardiner) be turned into HOT … with HOT on the Gardiner east of Humber and DVP…plus HOT lanes on the 400 and an expansion of GO bus service.

    HOT on Express Lanes would incentivize carpooling and transit use as well as timeshifting … and it would cost less than HOT or tolls.

    Cheers, Moaz

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