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Council Approves Light Rail Plan

Approved earlier in principle, now approved in final detail, today's vote cements the plan to build four new light rail lines in Toronto.

Metrolinx's light rail projects in Toronto.

City council has approved the master agreement with the provincial government to build four light rail lines in Toronto. The debate was relatively short but somewhat fraught, as Mayor Rob Ford and several of his allies expressed concerns about the deal.

Several councillors were worried that this master agreement gives Queen’s Park and Metrolinx ultimate control over the LRT projects—Toronto only has the ability to raise objections or opposition, but if the province decides to revise any of the lines (its routes, stops, or other details), it has the right to do so. As pointed out by TTC Chair Karen Stintz in her speech to council, however, this is inevitable since the province is the one paying for construction. The province won’t give us the money, she said, “if we tell the province that we’re going to determine the scope of the projects.” She also told reporters after the meeting that she had received a note from the office of Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli this afternoon, warning that if city council tried to impose veto conditions on the deal, the $8.4 billion Queen’s Park has promised would be off the table.

Rob Ford’s concern was much bigger: he wanted to scrap the agreement entirely, and build subways. He gave an impassioned speech on the subject (a full transcript is below), but in the end it didn’t make the difference—council voted 30-11 in favour of the deal.

Stintz told us that there are no more votes coming to council on this matter: it is now, from the City’s perspective, a done deal. The lingering worry on the part of those who back this plan is that the province—and specifically a new provincial government—will tear this agreement up. Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has registered his strong support for subways on multiple occasions, and recently said that he would support diverting as much of the $8.4 billion to subways as possible if he is elected in the next provincial election.

Rob Ford’s speech to council, in full:

Thank you Mr. Deputy Speaker. I couldn’t agree more with Councillor Shiner’s motion [to try to impose a city council veto clause]. This goes back to day one, streetcars against subways. You want to support this contract, you’re supporting streetcars. LRTs, whatever you want to call ‘em. That’s the bottom line. People do not want these, they want subways. We said it over and over and over again, and this is going to be another decisive [sic] debate on subways where the people of Scarborough get nothing. They don’t want these LRTs. This is exactly what it is. It’s not too late, and stop heckling. The people of this city have spoken loud and clear. Etobicoke and North York and Scarborough. They want subways. You support this, you’re supporting more congestion, streetcars, the people do not want. Massive gridlock. This is terrible. This is the worst thing we could be approving today. It’s absolutely appalling that we can bring this to the floor council and disrespect every taxpayer in the city. They’ve spoken loud and clear. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. You can sit back and take it and take it and take it, but these people don’t want to take it anymore. We’re not going to wait until another election. Why should we have to wait until a new provincial government, a new municipal government, and then just keep going around? Let’s start building these subways. This is the worst poison pill for the taxpayers of this great city, and David Shiner is absolutely right, so is the budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Absolutely. This is terrible folks. Let’s start listening to the people that put us in these seats. Thank you very much.

Transcript by David Hains.


  • spoobnooble

    If debates and committees and approval processes were streetcars and subway cars, the TTC would have an express line to the moon by now.

  • Mt

    they finally did it. they created a politician who only speaks in sound bites.

    • Guest

      Rob Ford makes me long for the evenhanded administration of Mel Lastman. I sure hope everyone appreciates that sixty dollar rebate on the car registration tax.

  • Anonymous

    Why doesnt Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli just fund the TTC in the first place the way it used to be funded whens Queens Park gave a crap about Toronto?

  • Federico

    Déjà vu… wasn’t this already voted on by council back in March?

    • Anonymous

      As I understand it, the March vote was a vote on the general form of the transit plan (LRT vs subway), this is a vote on the specific legal contract that will govern what they agreed on in March.

  • Eric S. Smith

    If I were the province, I wouldn’t do this deal with a veto for the city, either. What a great way to waste billions of dollars: encourage the Fordites to keep trying over the years to pass a veto motion and stop work in progress in its tracks.

  • d

    Ford’s screeching aside, why was the vote so lopsided in favour? Dare I hope that there is a strong consensus against reopening the debate, even amongst his allies?

  • JP

    I hate it how Ford turns this debate into streetcars vs subways. It completely misses the point.

    Even the most liberal, bike-riding, LRT loving person would support a subway in the DRL alignment.

    This is purely purely about the fact that Finch, Eglinton East and Sheppard don’t have the ridership to make a subway sustainable. LRT is far cheaper, and more appropriate for the density.

    When it comes to the DRL, which will have sufficient ridership? Hell yeah, build a subway.

  • Monumental Chancellor

    “streetcars. LRTs, whatever you want to call ‘em”…?!?


    Okay then, let’s all play this fun new game!

    “Cars, apples, whatever you want to call ‘em”
    “Breadbaskets, solar flares, whatever you want to call ‘em”
    “Horses, thumbtacks, whatever you want to call ‘em”

  • Monumental Chancellor

    “disrespect every taxpayer in the city”

    Even the ones in favour of building the LRTs? Does this mean if I support the LRT expansion, I don’t have to pay any municipal taxes?

  • Anonymous

    i am so happy nobody bought the ‘stweetcaws aw bawd” fordism. they’re not friggin streetcars! thank fck this is finally over.

    • Ryan Daum

      don’t count on it

  • NPP

    Another brilliant speech.

  • Anonymous

    What will happen when the 8.4 billion is exhausted halfway through this project?

  • Alan McGinty

    Rob Ford is right. It’s just very, very unfortunate that he doesn’t have the political skills needed to sell subways to terminally penny-pinching Torontonians.

    The Toronto area is going to grow by several million people in the next 20 years (have you seen the latest plans for Vaughan and Markham? Do you think all those new people will spend all their time out there?) and Toronto’s main suburban arteries are also intensifying rapidly. It is sheer folly to spend billions on a second-rate system that will a) be slow, discouraging riders, b) have a negative impact on already dense traffic flow and c) find itself at or above capacity within a decade as the population grows and the road system doesn’t.

    When the University subway line was first built, it “proved to be underused, and within a year of the opening of the Bloor-Danforth extensions to Islington and Warden through to the opening of the Spadina subway (January 28, 1978), it was closed
    after 9:45 pm and all day on Sundays” (source: That’s *12 years* of chronic underuse. Should the TTC have opted for streetcars because there wasn’t, at the time, “sufficient density”? Or are you glad that line is there today?

    With regard to the LRT/Streetcar semantic tussle, Rob Ford is again right: St. Clair underwent a disastrous period of construction resulting in a supremely ugly concrete LRT right-of-way which is mostly empty of TTC vehicles outside of peak hours in my limited experience. It seems pretty much like what Transit City and its new incarnation propose for Sheppard & Finch. Because the streetcars do not control the lights and because an additional left-turn cycle had to be added to many stoplights, the St. Clair streetcar is scarcely faster than before and no faster than a bus. That turns people off – which means fewer people will choose it. I’ve seen no positive PR from the TTC about how fast St. Clair is now and how many more people use it. My guess: no statistically significant improvement. There’s a simple metric: how many riders use St. Clair now vs., say 20 years ago: let’s see the numbers. Give North York & Scarborough streetcars and I bet you’ll see little change from current bus use figures.

    Reality check: take a look at the LRT map and imagine a journey from Morningside & Sheppard to Yonge & Bloor. Right now, the TTC route planner says it will take 55 minutes – Morningside bus to Kennedy subway and then the subway downtown.

    The subway from Sheppard to Bloor takes 17 minutes. Kennedy to Bloor takes 20 minutes. A subway from Morningside to Sheppard would take max 25 minutes. An “LRT” on Sheppard would probably clock in at more like 40+ minutes, stopping at numerous red lights as well as actual stops. That’s, conservatively, 57 minutes to Yonge & Bloor: *worse* than the current option. But with a subway, it’s Morningside & Sheppard to Yonge & Bloor in 42 minutes, with no possibility of traffic jams. That’s the kind of number that changes people’s minds about transit.

    Having said all that, what I really want is a DOWNTOWN RELIEF LINE along Queen & up to Pape station in the east and Dundas West station in the west. Wouldn’t that be just fantastic? Take advantage of the cool parts of Queen St, east and west, and ditch the *&$*! Queen streetcar once and for all! OK maybe leave it for the Beaches & Queensway, but, you know what I mean about it downtown…

    Go Rob Ford with the subways! But get yourself to a slick PR firm ASAP and, please, take their advice: your subway message is right, but your approach is seriously not working. Indeed if you keep on keeping on, it is *you* who dooms Toronto to streetcars by firing up your knee-jerk opposition to oppose subways.

    • Anonymous

      The wrongness, it’s baffling.

      • Rob Ford does not care about public transit, he cares about getting votes/support from the inner suburbs to brandish against the downtown.
• His push for subways is, in absolutely no way, based on numbers of any sort. Certainly not future demographic patterns, and he’s said as much: the people of Scarborough/etc today want subwayssubwayssubways.

      • TransitCity/OneCity/other floated plans are not for serving Vaughan or Markham, they are for serving parts of this city already in need of improved neighbourhood-based transit with connectionsto the subway network. Apples and oranges.

      • Absorbing commuters from the 905 is better served with subway, true, which is why the subway is being extended to them.
      • The TTC is not responsible for, or capable of serving, the GTA. Talk to Metrolinx if you’re that 
concerned about 905 population growth and its impact on regional public transit.

      • 12 years of underuse is nothing compared to the projected underuse for Ford’s proposed subway lines. The Sheppard Line, at 10 years, has ridership levels comparable to busy streetcar and bus routes, even with a billion dollars in residential development.
• You’re comparing streetcars to LRTs? Only people who don’t know what they’re talking about do that.
• Most, if not all, of the problems encountered in building the St Clair ROW had to do with interference causing delays.
• Expecting the ROW to be bumper-to-bumper TTC vehicles demonstrates that you’re not exactly sure what an ROW is.

      “the St. Clair streetcar is scarcely faster than before and no faster than a bus.” [citation needed]

      “That turns people off – which means fewer people will choose it.” [citation needed]
• Your “reality check” is full of guesstimated numbers.

      • Ford only seems to have become aware of the DRL after it was clear he lost Council’s support on all things transit related, and the TTC announced it was their primary concern. Ford hasn’t championed it, or even openly supported it: he’s said he’s “open” to it.
• Good PR doesn’t make for good policy.

    • spoobnooble

      Ford, of all people, is the worst possible proponent for building subways. Not only does he refuse to acknowledge the difference between streetcars and LRT trains, he also refuses to address the issue of how all these subway lines are going to be funded. Is the province going to start funding the TTC again like it did before Harris cut it in 1995? Is he going to (God forbid) raise taxes? Ford is not going to get a foot of subway line built anywhere, no matter what PR firm he hires.