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Toronto's Transit Future

posted Feb 7, 2014, 7:31 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Feb 7, 2014, 7:31 PM by Tyler Johnson ]

Public Transit in Toronto could be a lot better. Long wait times, poor maintenance, and lack of access are common complaints. Every political actor has played transit politics to win votes, and every level of government has come up with its own transit plan. I couldn't possibly do justice to all proposals in a single blog post, but I will cover two transit projects that will likely define Toronto’s upcoming election this October.

If you want to raise any political junkie’s blood pressure, just mention one word – ‘Scarborough’. The suburb has been under-served for the past 30 years, with no new transit being built in the region despite a burgeoning population. Last year, City Council deliberated whether to build Light Rail Transit (LRT) or a Subway in Scarborough. The LRT option would be very similar to the Spadina subway – it’s slightly smaller than a typical subway train and runs above ground (Note: it doesn't actually run on the road).

Most of the facts stack up in the favour of LRTs: a subway would have 3 stops versus the LRT’s 7, a subway would serve 24,000 residents versus 47,000, and the LRT would provide a direct link to the over 10,000 staff and students at Centennial College. And here’s the clincher: the LRT option is $1.5 billion cheaper than the subway, requires no tax hike, and is funded entirely by the Province (no cost to the City of Toronto!). City Council however, egged on by Mayor Ford’s aggressive cheerleading, decided to go against the advice of Toronto’s Chief Planner and the President of the Toronto Region Board of Trade and voted to build a subway. What made this vote so tragic was that Mayor Ford hadn't even read the two proposals being debated, and bizarrely claimed that the LRT would “tear up roads”.

But the saga isn't over yet. The Scarborough subway will dominate transit discussion in this election year and one Mayoral candidate, David Soknacki, has vowed to repeal the subway (and thus cut taxes) if he gets elected.

The second major transit project, slated to cost billions, is a subway line dubbed the ‘Downtown Relief Line’ (DRL).  The line would run in a ‘U’ shape from Dundas West Station down to Union Station and then east to Pape Station. By 2031, several other rapid transit lines will be feeding into the YUS line, and it is expected to reach 150% capacity. It is imperative that the DRL be built to alleviate this strain on Toronto’s subway system and ensure its ability to function.

Unfortunately, the word ‘Downtown’ makes the project politically toxic for suburban politicians. Mayor Ford has denounced the line claiming “downtown people have enough subways already.” He ignores the reality that without the DRL, the entire TTC subway system would face a massive capacity overload and become unusable. However, the Downtown Relief Line has won the support of all major Mayoral candidates except for Rob Ford, so it’s a fair bet that the line will be constructed.

Once Toronto finalizes its plans on the transit portfolio, the next step is to decide how to fund these multi-billion dollar projects. Will it be a property tax increase, a reinstatement of the Vehicle Registration Tax, or a new 1% regional sales tax? Nobody knows the answer for certain, but what I do hope is that this election brings out the best ideas for Toronto.

-Rishabh Kumar

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