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New subway about moving 905 voters

JEFF GRAY

A senior TTC official describes the planned Spadina subway extension into York Region as purely political, adding an expletive describing horse excrement for effect.

It’s a megaproject pushed by the province, this official says, based not on sound transit planning but on a desire to attract suburban voters. He fears it will suck up all available public-transit funding for a decade, dimming hopes the Toronto Transit Commission’s more economical light-rail plan will ever be more than lines on a map.

Mayor David Miller seems to have accepted the Spadina subway project, calling the terminus at Highway 7, now a Wal-Mart parking lot, an important future regional transit hub. Now that the federal government has approved its share of the $2-billion in funding, it looks like a done deal, and should be completed around 2014.

But for that $2-billion, Toronto gets very little, other than the added obligation to operate an expensive 8.7-kilometre subway line where cheaper light rail, or even a dedicated bus lane, could have handled the projected passengers. Print Edition - Section Front

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The Globe and Mail

Too bad the light-rail plan didn’t get its splashy launch a few years ago. For about the same $2-billion being spent on Spadina, Toronto could complete the most expensive of its proposed new light-rail lines, a 31-kilometre, partially tunnelled Eglinton line from Pearson Airport to Kennedy Station, carrying an estimated 52 million riders a year by 2021.

That’s about 20 million more than the estimated 30 million riders expected on the Spadina subway extension, and about 20 million of the Eglinton line’s riders would be new to the system, the TTC estimates.

The Transit City plan’s seven proposed new light-rail lines, likely costing $6-billion all together, would form a 120-kilometre network, spanning the entire city and carrying 175 million people a year, or almost six times the ridership of the Spadina subway extension for just three times the cost.

Enough numbers. Subways are fantastic in dense urban settings. Build them out into two-car-garage land, where the Spadina line currently ends, the argument goes, and you are using the wrong technology, swatting a mosquito with a two-by-four.

Light-rail transit, a 21st-century version of Toronto’s lumbering streetcars running in dedicated lanes, can handle the foreseeable public-transit demand in the city’s suburban areas, my angry TTC official believes, and are actually affordable. Cities across the U.S. and Europe are building light-rail systems for these reasons.

Another argument to which light-rail advocates point is the fact that Toronto has been trying to persuade other governments to re-invest in public transit for years.

While new money to keep the current system from collapsing has arrived, the cash needed to dramatically expand public transit to fight traffic congestion and actually meaningfully reduce greenhouse gases has not. Light rail is promoted as a good way to do much more with less.

Last week’s federal budget suggests that the tough-talking TTC official’s fears may be real: While it is near impossible to get a clear picture of how much money from Ottawa will be spent on public transit, until 2014, a large chunk of the new money from Ottawa for infrastructure is expected to go to the Spadina project. (There was no new public transit money in last week’s Ontario budget.)

Decades from now, development along the Spadina route — if governments lay down a hard line and ensure high-density condos and offices get built — may produce enough riders to justify a subway. But it will be a long wait.

No one expects public transit in North America to turn a profit. But when people say the TTC should still be “run like a business,” they have a point. What private business, with limited access to capital, would sink $2-billion into a project with such delayed and uncertain returns?

My mistake: Last week, I wrote that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities big city mayors’ caucus was asking Ottawa for $4-billion a year in public transit funding. In fact, they are asking for an additional $2-billion from the federal government. The Canadian Urban Transit Association estimates that public transit agencies need $4-billion a year in total from all governments.




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