Is the Scarborough subway good value for money?
Council has never seen a comparison of the options when deciding how to spend $3.56 billion for Scarborough transit as critics decry a single-stop subway plan as a “white elephant”
By JENNIFER PAGLIARO -City Hall reporter
Dec. 6, 2017
Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, outgoing TTC CEO Andy Byford and transit activists sporting a “white elephant” costume and masks all had something in common this week.
All expressed support that council get a value-for-money analysis of the controversial Scarborough subway extension so it can be compared to the light-rail alternative.
Whether to request that study, will again be up for debate at council on Wednesday after it was deferred at a meeting last month.
“I think residents want council to be sure that they are providing as much transit to as many people as possible with every dollar that they’re entrusted with,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who will move a motion that his colleagues direct the city’s auditor general to do that work.
“And if council doesn’t have that basic relevant information then they’re making decisions in the dark and that’s not responsible nor acceptable.”
On Monday, both Brown and Byford told the CBC’s Matt Galloway they supported such a study.
“I support a value-for-money audit on every aspect, on everything the government spends taxpayer dollars on,” Brown said when asked specifically about Scarborough transit on Metro Morning.
In a separate interview, outgoing TTC CEO Andy Byford said he has “no objection” to that analysis being carried out.
As a debate, characterized by political rhetoric and often missing and misleading information, resumes here’s what you need to know:
What is the subway plan?
Council has endorsed a one-stop subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line that currently ends at Kennedy Station to a new station adjacent to the Scarborough Town Centre. It will replace the existing and aging six-stop Scarborough RT that runs from Kennedy Station to McCowan Station.
Wait, I thought there were going to be three new stops?
An earlier plan replaced the existing SRT with a three-stop subway from Kennedy Station to Sheppard and McCowan Aves. But last year, city staff presented a plan to build more transit, they said, within the $3.56-billion envelope of available funding. City staff said that by removing two subway stops, a 17 to 18-stop LRT along Eglinton East could also be paid for. But as costs of the subway ballooned, that LRT line has been left largely unfunded. A cash-strapped city council would have to find hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for any addition subway stations.
* Scarborough transit options [Maps from 29 Nov. 2017 email.] *
What was the LRT plan?
LRT stands for “light-rail transit” which is different, more modern technology than is currently what’s used on the SRT line and what is used in many other North American and European cities. The city originally approved a seven-stop LRT in the same corridor as the SRT, separated from traffic, that would have run from Kennedy to Malvern at Sheppard Ave. and Markham Rd.
The plan had already been studied, was agreed to by the province and city, and was just three months away from going out for contractor bids to do the construction work when in October 2013, council, under former mayor Rob Ford, voted to scrap that plan in favour of a subway that was then estimated to cost $2 billion more.
How much does the current subway plan cost? Is that the final cost?
The one-stop subway extension is currently estimated to cost $3.35 billion, but since that figure is based on very preliminary design work, it could climb by as much as 50 per cent, city staff say, putting the upper end estimate at just over $5 billion. There are also significant and necessary costs not included in that figure, including the cost to finance construction of a project of that size, City Manager Peter Wallace told council in July 2016. The former chief financial officer said that financing could cost the city an additional $200 million for every $1 billion in project costs, or roughly $670 million for a $3.35 billion project.
What does the LRT plan cost?
The province, according to a still-signed master agreement, is committed to fund the entire project, what was estimated at $1.48 billion in 2010 dollars. Since then, the design of Kennedy Station has changed to accommodate other connections and would require redesign. Since staff stopped studying the LRT in 2013, that cost has not been estimated. Though a controversial briefing note produced by the TTC put the updated cost of the LRT on par with a subway, a recent investigation by the auditor general found that cost estimate could be off by at least $570 million.
Has council ever seen a comparison of those plans?
No. That kind of study has never been requested by council and therefore never produced. Matlow moved a motion in March 2017 to request that study, but the motion lost 17-27. A buried draft report from the provincial transit agency Metrolinx found the subway was “not a worthwhile use of money” when compared to the LRT.
How did council vote? (March 28, 2017)
That City Council direct the City Manager to report to the Executive Committee by the third quarter of 2017 with a Business Case Analysis comparison of the Scarborough Subway Extension and the Scarborough LRT replacement of the Scarborough RT ...”
“Motion to Amend Item (Additional) moved by Councillor Josh Matlow (Lost)
Paul Ainslie* Ward 43 (Scarborough East) Y
Maria Augimeri Ward 9 (York Centre) Y
Jon Burnside* Ward 26 (Don Valley West) Y
Shelley Carroll Ward 33 (Don Valley East) Y
Joe Cressy Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina) Y
Janet Davis Ward 31 (Beaches-East York) Y
Sarah Doucette Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park) Y
John Filion Ward 23 (Willowdale) Y
Paula Fletcher Ward 30 (Toronto-Danforth) Y
Mary Fragedakis Ward 29 (Toronto-Danforth) Y
Mike Layton Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina) Y
Josh Matlow Ward 22 (St. Paul’s) Y
Pam McConnell Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) Y
Joe Mihevc Ward 21 (St. Paul’s) Y
James Pasternak* Ward 10 (York Centre) Y
Gord Perks Ward 14 (Parkdale-High Park) Y
Anthony Perruzza Ward 8 (York West) Y
Kristyn Wong-Tam Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) Y
Ana Bailao* Ward 18 (Davenport) N
John Campbell Ward 4 (Etobicoke Centre) N
Christin Carmichael Greb Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence) N
Josh Colle Ward 15 (Eglinton-Lawrence) N
Gary Crawford* Ward 36 (Scarborough Southwest) N
Vince Crisanti Ward 1 (Etobicoke North) N
Glenn De Baeremaeker Ward 38 (Scarborough Centre) N
Justin Di Ciano Ward 5 (Etobicoke Lakeshore) N
Frank Di Giorgio* Ward 12 (York South-Weston) N
Michael Ford Ward 2 (Etobicoke North) N
Mark Grimes Ward 6 (Etobicoke Lakeshore) N
Michelle Holland Ward 35 (Scarborough Southwest) N
Stephen Holyday Ward 3 (Etobicoke Centre) N
Jim Karygiannis Ward 39 (Scarborough-Agincourt) N
Norm Kelly Ward 40 (Scarborough-Agincourt) N
Chin Lee Ward 41 (Scarborough-Rouge River) N
Giorgio Mammoliti Ward 7 (York West) N
Mary-Margaret McMahon* Ward 32 (Beaches-East York) N
Denzil Minnan-Wong* Ward 34 (Don Valley East) N
Frances Nunziata Ward 11 (York South-Weston) N
Cesar Palacio* Ward 17 (Davenport) N
Jaye Robinson* Ward 25 (Don Valley West) N
Neethan Shan Ward 42 (Scarborough-Rouge River) N
David Shiner* Ward 24 (Willowdale) N
Michael Thompson* Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre) N
John Tory* Mayor N
Ron Moeser Ward 44 (Scarborough East) A
A = Absent * = Executive member
Can the city’s auditor general perform a value-for-money audit of the two options?
Yes. The auditor general, Beverly Romeo-Beehler, in her recent investigation, said she was considering conducting such an analysis. She does not need council direction to do so. However, Romeo-Beehler later told the Star she has decided against doing such a study, saying it isn’t her role to re-open council decisions. Requesting the auditor general to add that study to her 2018 work plan, as Matlow will attempt to do, requires a two-thirds majority of council to pass, or 30 votes.
Will I get where I’m going faster on the subway?
Not necessarily. The one-stop subway extension would improve the time it currently takes to get from Scarborough Centre to Kennedy Station on the SRT by five minutes, according to city staff. When considering the elimination of a transfer at Kennedy Station the time saved is eight minutes at most. But that time savings does not consider the extra time most Scarborough residents will spend on the bus getting to the one new subway station or that residents like those in Malvern would see their travel times cut in half by an LRT. An analysis by Ryerson University found most transit users would spend on average of 6.8 minutes more on the bus to get to the subway stop compared to the closest LRT station, and 3.6 minutes longer than they do now to get to the existing SRT.
Transit plan for Malvern residents does not improve travel times
TRANSFERS BEYOND KENNEDY
Bus + Scarborough RT
Eglinton Crosstown East
Bus + Scarborough Subway Extension
(Source: Scarborough LRT Environmental Assessment, 2010; Scarborough-Malvern LRT EA, 2009; Scarborough Subway Extension updated business case, 2017)
*The original design for the Eglinton Crosstown East (then called the Scarborough-Malvern LRT) considered an extension terminating at Sheppard and Morningside Aves., not the Malvern Town Centre, so travel times would be longer.
Won’t an LRT be crammed full of people? Isn’t a subway needed?
Not according to city data. By 2031, the number of people expected to ride the subway in the busiest direction at the rush hour is 7,300 people. That is less than half the 15,000-person capacity of an LRT and would leave subway trains, which have a 25,000-person capacity, at least 70 per cent empty at rush hour. The LRT was earlier projected to carry 8,000 people at rush hour in the busiest direction in 2031, well within an LRT’s capacity.
Isn’t that still pretty busy for one stop?
When you factor in that this will be the longest single gap between stops in the TTC’s entire system — 6.2 kilometres of tunnel — this subway stop does not rank anywhere near the busiest comparable stretches that exist today. While the extension would carry 64,000 passengers daily by 2031, the stretch between Museum and Bloor-Yonge stations sees station usage of 755,750. The Sheppard subway, which is almost six kilometres and has been considered to be a “white elephant” because it must be heavily subsidized by taxpayers to operate, has a daily ridership of 98,150.
Comparing passenger loads
The Star calculated sections roughly six kilometres long in the existing system. (Total station usage)
Kennedy toScarborough CentreSheppard-Yonge toDon MillsDownsview toEglinton WestVictoria Park toKennedyPape to Victoria ParkKipling toRunnymedeRunnymede toBathurstEglinton West toMuseumLawrence to FinchBloor-Yonge toLawrenceBathurst to PapeMuseum toBloor-Yonge64,00098,150122,130128,140131,330154,050154,050219,710254,570387,000516,700755,750
How much would the LRT impact traffic?
Not at all. The LRT replacement for the SRT was planned to run in the same corridor, separated from all vehicular traffic.
I’ve heard LRTs don’t work well in the winter. So, isn’t it a bad idea to build an LRT in Toronto?
“LRT is a proven technology that is used around the world including extremely cold places such as Edmonton, Minneapolis, Stockholm and Bergen,” a fact sheet from Metrolinx reads. The city is currently building a 19-kilometre LRT through the heart of midtown called the Eglinton Crosstown, and nine kilometres will run at street level.
Would I have to get off the LRT to transfer onto the Bloor-Danforth subway at Kennedy?
Yes. An LRT means riders would still have to transfer at Kennedy, but the station was originally designed to significantly improve that transfer — just a single flight much like the transfers that already exist in the subway system such as at St. George, Bloor-Yonge and Sheppard-Yonge stations. That connection would have to be moved if council went back to the LRT. As part of a redesign of Kennedy Station, it’s likely the LRT platform would be on the same level as the subway, requiring passengers to just walk across a platform.
But haven’t they already agreed to build a subway?
Council still has to vote to approve construction for a subway once staff provide a more accurate cost figure, which is now not expected until 2019. Though Mayor John Tory and others have pointed out the number of votes the subway has already faced, most were part of the regular approvals process and the others were the result of the subway being modified from a three-stop plan to today’s single-stop proposal under Tory’s administration.