Why can't reporters seem to agree on how much Toronto's most important transit project is supposed to cost?
There’s a lot of uncertainty swirling around the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT these days, as two factions on city council war over whether or not portions of it will run above ground. Amid all the uproar, a weird inconsistency continues to propagate through news reports: some journalists think the project’s estimated cost is $8.2 billion, while others think the figure is $8.4 billion.
We’ve done some Googling and asking around, and we think we know what’s going on.
Quibbling over a $200 million slice of a project that will cost $8 billion and change may seem trivial, but consider the scale of the inconsistency. Tess Kalinowski, the Toronto Star transit reporter (and one of the most credible voices on Toronto public transit outside the transit agencies themselves) used $8.2 billion consistently, as did most of her colleagues at the Star, until Monday, when she switched to $8.4 billion. (City columnist Royson James beat her to it by almost two months.)
Every other major newspaper in Toronto has also wavered between the two figures. (So has Torontoist.) Some reporters have even used both in the space of a single article, without a word of explanation.
The confusion extends even to the Crosstown’s official website, where until yesterday $8.2 billion was used on one page, $8.4 billion on another. The inconsistency was corrected after we contacted the Crosstown’s media spokesperson about it.
The problem seems to have its roots in the press release about the project issued on March 31, the day Rob Ford and Dalton McGuinty jointly announced their deal to bury the entire length of the Crosstown’s Eglinton leg. It prominently says that the “cost estimate for the project is $8.18 billion,” but also says, somewhat less prominently, that “Ontario is contributing $8.4 billion to the revised Toronto transit plan.”
So what’s the difference between the two numbers? And which one is right?
The Crosstown has a designated media spokesperson, Susan Sperling, whom we reached by email earlier this week. Even she wasn’t sure of the difference between the two figures initially, but the next day she sent a response.
“$8.4 billion is the provincial funding commitment to the Crosstown transit project,” she wrote. “The $8.2 billion figure you’ve come across is Metrolinx’s estimated cost for the Crosstown that will be verified once the scope of the project, including the number of stations, has been confirmed.”
And so, to all reporters, bloggers, and commentators: for future reference, $8.2 billion is the amount Metrolinx has estimated that Rob Ford’s preferred version of the Crosstown will end up costing. It’s a made-up number. The provincial commitment (which is usually what we’re talking about) is $8.4 billion.
The latter is the number we should use from this point forward. At least, until they give us a new one.