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Not just any link will do

Royson James
The Cities

TRANSIT IN Toronto is too often a tortuous triumph of political expedience over informed and responsible decision making.

As transit advocates such as Joell Vanderwagen and others have pointed out, we too often get the projects that suit special interests, not the ones transit users need.

Former premier Bill Davis pushed the Scarborough RT on the Toronto Transit Commission in order to set up a demonstration line to showcase Ontario technology. The line is still an orphan.

The David Peterson Liberal government came up with a rapid transit plan for Toronto called Network 2011. Bob Rae’s NDP government changed it to Let’s Move, then pushed Metro Toronto to adopt four lines the city couldn’t afford.

Metro approved two and started the work, only to have the Mike Harris Conservative government stop the Eglinton subway line in 1995, wasting some $40 million.

Now, federal Transport Minister David Collenette has designs on a rapid transit link between Union Station and Pearson International Airport.

Let’s be clear about the proposed link. It’s a great idea. The issue is not whether Toronto needs such a link. The question is: What technology and along what route?

We too often get the projects that suit special interests, not the ones transit users need.

Some want a subway; others prefer streetcars, GO trains, LRT, even buses on their own two-lane road right beside the rail corridor.

One proposal would use an elevated People Mover ferrying GO Transit riders. Another foresees a cross-town rapid transit line along Sheppard Ave., Highway 401 and Wilson Ave. that would serve a massive number of people across the region.

Still others insist the link to Pearson must be part of a comprehensive network that allows travellers to get to the airport without having to change trains or change technology, considering that travellers have baggage.

Each answer, of course, creates its own problems.

The cross-town link, while an exciting solution to the area’s traffic woes, would be costly, near impossible even, unless the federal and provincial governments realize how essential transit is to the area’s economy and give area politicians the right to tap into gas tax revenues.

Studies show that of the 25 million or so travellers who flow through Pearson International each year, only 17 per cent go to and from downtown.

Thus, a direct line to Union Station - unless it stops along the route to hook into the subway or other transit lines - will be serving a small segment of the Pearson traffic.

We can’t afford such a luxury, not in this funding climate.

That’s why Collenette’s proposal is troubling. Mayor Mel Lastman, TTC and GO Transit officials must be more careful in accepting this gift.

It is very difficult, after literally begging the federal government to help the city with its transit needs, to tell Collenette they don’t want his proposed link to the airport. It is easier to just take the money and run.

But they might tell Collenette:

“Thanks for your interest. Your vision may indeed be right, but we think not. There just may be a few better ways to spend that money.

“Please do a thorough analysis of the proper route and technology that’s ideal for the city region. Try asking us what our needs are.

“Then, let’s go full steam ahead and have the link in place by 2006 when the airport expansion is about done and Pearson is on its way toward 50 million passengers a year.”

What’s there to disagree on? It’s a reasonable proposition.

This approach acknowledges Ottawa’s interest in the Toronto region. It proposes a critical path that would lead to an informed decision. And it promises to result in a proposal that’s based on solid transit analysis, not political expedience.