Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Subway politics

I've lived in Toronto for just over seven months now and I can't say I've followed or care much about local municipal politics. Or even provincial politics for that matter. But as a regular transit user, transit is one local issue I care about. That's why I was disappointed to read in Metro this morning (on the bus, of course) that the province is funding the York University subway extension.

I'm disappointed because this will almost certainly be at the expense of a much-needed replacement of the ageing, unreliable and soon to be obsolete RT service linking the subway at Kennedy Station out to Scarborough. There just isn't the money to do both.

Now I live (for the time being, hope to move downtown this summer) and work in Scarborough, so I obviously have my bias in this. But all the evidence I've seen, from rider surveys and projections to facts, favours replacing the Scarborough RT (an elevated service a la Vancouver's Skytrain) with an expansion of subway service to McCowan. More people use the RT then are projected to use the York U line, and were it not for the hassle of having to transfer from the subway to the RT many more would use the line as well. Also, the RT is rapidly nearing the end of its lifespan, so something will have to be done to replace it, and it is also notoriously unreliable in the winter. My understanding is that it was never intended to be permanent, and was chosen over regular subway service because it was cheaper in the short term and, of course, for politics. The cars were to be built in Ontario.

Which brings us, of course, to the reason why the York U line is being funded instead of the Scarborough line: Politics. As this article makes clear Dalton McGuinty wants to pick-up and hold seats in the 905 belt/York Region. I guess he feels his Scarborough seats are safe.

Playing politics with transit makes for bad policy. To throw in the requisite B.C. content, just remember Glen Clark's decision to fund the Millennium Line Skytrain expansion through his riding, instead of building service out to UBC. Last time I rode that route I often has a car to myself.

Ah, well. At least I have that transit tax credit to look forward too, right Stephen?

Cash for new subway?

Province set to unveil funding for York U link

York University subway line is expected in the March 23 provincial budget, the Toronto Star has learned.

Sources say Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will use his first budget to announce the $1.5 billion, 6.2-kilometre extension of the Toronto Transit Commission’s Spadina line from Downsview station to York’s Keele campus.



An Inside Toronto story look at the prospects for Scarborough, and in a Toronto Sun piece Mayor David Miller warns York might not be a go after all.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Keegan said...


Having also recently moved to TO I sympathize with your plight, living downtown myself I never drive and use transit a ton when I am around. The subways are in desperate need of replacement - weren't we promised that last election? ... and the election before? Ridiculous.

Mark Francis said...

They need more buses, to replace more buses.... Subways are great, but building extensions here and there will never better the bus service which brings many people to the subway.

Christian said...

At least the Scarborough RT exists! Canada's third largest University has nothing!!

If you had ever tried to cram into the 106 bus from Downsview station to York University on a Monday morning , you would not be so quick to dismiss the need for the York Subway system.

I have been living in Toronto for over 12 years, and I believe that the subway extension to York University is not only needed, but essential. For that matter, I also lived in Scarborough for three years and took the RT every day. All the numbers which are floated around by both sides on this debate are inherently political - if the York subway exists you don't think that more of the 60,000+ students would be taking it too? Both places need more transit infrastructure but the need at York is desperate right now.

This is not to say that the Scarborough RT shouldn't be upgraded but, it seems to me that priority should be given where the need is greater. I believe it's better to extend the life of the aging RT a few more years in return for finally ending the log jam of buses and cars to York is a reasonable compromise.

Keegan said...

All totally true... that York U has gone this long without "effective" transit service is deplorable at any and all levels. As BC'er pointed out Ontario has had a bad ride during the 90's in terms of investment in public infrastructure especially in Toronto.

Mezba said...

I agree that the RT needs replacing. Toronto is having a big transit crunch that is only going to worse. We need to connect the Scarborough Town Center to the Shephard line. We also need to connect the airport to the subway line.

Budd Campbell said...

Neither Premier Glen Clark, nor any other BC Premier, ever had much of an option of building any kind of rapid transit line to UBC as the residents in Point Grey would revolted and thrown up barricades if any such thing had been proposed, save possibly an underground subway. Even that would likely meet with stubborn opposition on the grounds that it would lead to dreaded densification (read more competitive real estate pricing).

I agree that Clark's decision to go with another round of Skytrain was suboptimal, but only in that ALL of the Skytrain is clearly too slow to qualify as rapid transit given the enormous per mile costs of the dedicated, elevated guideways. The same mistake is being made again with the RAV or Canada line to Richmond and the Airport. It will be equiped with rolling stock that has an a maximum speed of 80 kmp or 50 mph. Ridiculous.

A BCer in Toronto said...

The bus service here isn't too bad. It's better then Ottawa, or at least more frequent. Outside the transitway there peak service is 15 mins, here for my bus to work its less than 10. It does need to be more frequent during the peak times though, espically in the morning, when its jammed with schoolkids. Overcrowding is an issue, and people are often left behind.

I don't deny York needs something, it's just a matter of priorities. I think Scarborough needs to be a higher priority, and probably would be if politics were put aside.

The airport is a big issue. I travel a lot for work and it's a pain to get out there, espically from Scarberia. When I have time I'll take the subway to the opposite end at Kipling, then the express bus, but that's an hour and a half of travel. Usually though it's a 40 minute, $60 cab ride, which luckily I can expense.

On skytrain nimbyism will always be an issue. I've been away for too long to be up to date on the twists and turns of the RAV live, but I like the idea of rapid transit, even if is skytrain, to the airport from downtown. Not that the express bus was all that bad the few times I took it

Budd Campbell said...

BCer in TO:

I too would like to have rapid transit, but trains that go at speeds of 80 kmh or 50 mph don't qualify for that title, be they Skytrain or the other rolling stock (I forget who's) that is going to be installed on the Canada Line to the Airport and Richmond.

The West Coast Express which I use is another example. That rolling stock, made by Bombardier and used in Ontario as the GO Trains, can run at speeds of 135 kmh. But in BC due to track time and curvature problems plus level crossings it's restricted to 80 kmh, except for a few sections thru Pitt Meadows.

The result is that my trip to Maple Ridge, 40 kilometres from downtown, takes 45 minutes, when it should be just over 30 minutes if this rolling stock were being used to it's best advantage.

Curiously, neither Translink, nor CP Rail, nor the BC Govt, can produce any cost estimate on what it would take to improve the track to the point where we could achieve those kinds of speeds and travel times. I think it's because low-balling the commuter, making their trips longer than necessary, is part of the game of "Vancouverism", where real estate pricing is always the real issue.