In an end-of-year interview, Mayor Rob Ford made it clear that his
transit priority is extending the Sheppard subway line. It’s not a crazy
idea. The question is whether it represents the best bang for the
The idea of a full-length Scarborough subway line goes
back a long way. As early as the 1960s, transit planners were talking
about the need for a crosstown east-west rapid transit line at what was
then the northern edge of the city. In 1985, an ambitious
transit-expansion plan, Network 2011, called for a subway line along
Sheppard, initially from Yonge to Victoria Park and later into
Scarborough. The line would link two growing suburban downtowns, in
North York and Scarborough, and ease pressure on the existing crosstown
line on Bloor-Danforth.
After several stops, starts and changes of mind – the typical pattern for
Toronto transit – tunnelling got under way and the line finally opened in 2002,
the first new subway since Bloor-Danforth in 1966. It took eight years to build
and cost around $1-billion, but that money was only enough for five stops over
5.5 kilometres, ending at Don Mills station. Mr. Ford would add another seven
stops over eight kilometres.
The attraction of the plan is obvious. Extending the line to Scarborough Town
Centre would link it with the Scarborough rapid transit line that comes up from
the Bloor-Danforth subway, creating a continuous loop. If Mr. Ford has his way,
a new subway would replace the outmoded Scarborough RT and the loop would be all
And as Mr. Ford likes to say, people want subways. Polls show they prefer
them to all other forms of transit. Why wouldn’t they? Subways are faster, carry
more people and don’t interfere with traffic. If pollsters asked people what
kind of car they prefer, many would say a Mercedes, too. The issue is what we
The Toronto Transit Commission says that subways cost about $300-million a
kilometre to build, compared with $75-million to $100-million for the light-rail
transit (LRT) envisioned under the Transit City plan that Mr. Ford has
unilaterally declared dead. The total cost for the Sheppard subway extension
would be $3.6-billion, not including $500-million for a possible new train yard.
That’s a big jump from the $1.1-billion cost of the planned Sheppard LRT,
which at 12 kilometres and 26 stops would go further and serve more
intersections than a Sheppard subway. Doing the math, swapping LRT for subway
would mean about one quarter of the stops for three times the cost.
By the time it was finished around 2020, a Sheppard subway would gobble up
about half of the $8.15-billion that the provincial government has promised for
rapid transit, putting a big question mark over other important projects like
the Scarborough RT replacement and an Eglinton crosstown line.
It is a lot of eggs to put in one basket, especially when it is not clear
that there is enough demand to justify a subway along Sheppard. Estimates say
about 3,000 riders an hour would take the Sheppard LRT at peak times, if it were
ever built. Transit planners argue you only really need a high-capacity system
like a subway when demand reaches 15,000 an hour.
The existing Sheppard “stubway” that stops at Don Mills carried 4,950 riders
an hour at peak as of 2009, up from 3,700 an hour in 2003 but still a far cry
from the up to 30,000 carried by the Yonge-University line today. The stubway
carries fewer riders overall than the Spadina-Harbourfront streetcar.
Mr. Ford says he want to run city hall like a business. Before he plows ahead
with a Sheppard subway, the new mayor should consider whether it is the most
cost-effective solution for the business of moving people.
Rob Ford is to be congratulated for having the common sense, the financial
and business logic, the vision to understand and comprehend that the ONLY
solution is a Metro , a real underground rail extension with real trains and not
some glorified mickimouse mini bus on train wheels that sounds cheap, is cheap
and will do next to nothing to changing the traffic problems of the present and
Way to go Rob.
Rob Ford needs to think a little more logically, the route he has chosen is
screwball to say the least, it does not make sense. The LRT route is the route
that the Subway / Metro should take. the next leg of the Underground Metro
should be all the way to Sheppard East.
Rob Ford should take a few city experts and elected officials and go visit
Moscow, London, Paris and see how those cities operate and expand their
underground rail, Metros and Subways.
Underground Rail appears to be expensive but the cost savings to society, to the
public cost by removing cars from the road, and freeing up the road for others
exceed the cost of construction. The cost of operation of a Subway is far less
than that of a LRT.
To be blunt, there should be several Tunnel Boring machines on the go in every
major city in Canada not to mention North America.
Our lack of High Speed Trains will go down as a mind boggling example of a
paranoid reluctance to invest and plan in the future.
China is leading the world by example. Many of our local flight routes, from
Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal could well be replaced by High Speed Rail and
open up our airports for other flights that will add billions of dollars of
Underground Rail and High Speed Rail scare the brainless into their kneejerk
The fact is, Underground and High Speed Rail remove such incredible numbers of
cars off the road that the cost of construction is meaningless by comparison.
The problem we have is that politicians fail to do the long term accounting and
the cost savings not to mention the alternative additional ways of funding such
as transponders on every single car in Ontario with tolls on any road duplicates
a present or future rail line.