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How Not to Announce a Subway

The many missteps that got us to the current two-stop subway mess.

Transportation Minister Glen Murray at an event in May, 2013  Photo by  from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Transportation Minister Glen Murray at an event in May, 2013. Photo by BruceK from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray’s announcement that Scarborough will be getting a two-stop subway continues a long history of ham-fisted provincial interference in Toronto’s transit plans.

It did not need to be this way.

In July, an unexpected coalition of Toronto councillors approved a longer subway along a different route for Scarborough; it would have extended the Bloor-Danforth subway extension east and north from Kennedy Station to Sheppard and McCowan. That decision included many conditions to limit the city’s financial exposure and to prevent budgetary raids on other long-proposed rapid transit projects. Councillors hoped for a provincial contribution of $1.8 billion that Queen’s Park had rejected even before the vote, but left the door open to crafting a funding scheme for the subway. Meanwhile, $1.4 billion appeared to be available as Ontario’s share of whatever scheme council eventually chose.

The summer brought a provincial by-election with would-be MPPs tripping over each other to endorse a subway for Scarborough. The Liberal candidate, Mitzie Hunter, ran as a “subway champion” despite her previous support for light rapid transit (LRT) in the context of the Metrolinx “Big Move” network. The Liberals won, and that win committed Queen’s Park to building a subway.

With his announcement of a different, shorter subway, Murray pre-empted any discussion Toronto council might have on the LRT vs subway issue at its October meeting. (They had set a September 30 deadline for the other levels of government to announce whether they’d be contributing funding to the subway.) In a feisty mood, the minister attacked both Toronto and Ottawa for failing to bring any transit money to the table, and declared that Ontario would act unilaterally to build a subway line along the existing Scarborough RT corridor from Kennedy to the Scarborough Town Centre. That $1.4 billion would no longer available as part of whatever funding council might propose for their own subway plan.

We have made the decision that we are building along the alignment to the Scarborough Town Centre, and this is not a decision we will revisit.

—Glen Murray, via his spokesperson

Murray’s claim that Toronto has no money on the table does not square with council’s July commitment to a property tax increase to help pay for a Scarborough subway—although the amount of that increase was based on the provincial and federal government contributing more to the project than they are willing. As for Ottawa, the complaint might be more valid if they make no commitment in time for the October council debate, but in early September, Murray can only pout that the Tories won’t answer his phone calls.

News of this decision only recently reached Mayor Ford, TTC Chair Karen Stintz, and others at the municipal level, and nobody from the City attended Murray’s announcement. Equally telling was the absence of anyone from Metrolinx, the Ontario agency nominally responsible for planning the regional transit network.

(Regional planning did get a nod with a scheme to bring Durham Transit’s “Pulse” system into Scarborough via a Bus Rapid Transit link serving the U of T’s Scarborough campus and Centennial College.)

scarborough transit options competing

Lurking behind the scenes was the ghost of the original plan for Scarborough transit, an LRT route that would have been 3.5 kilometres longer than the province’s subway, and would have included seven or eight stations instead of the two we’re now getting. That plan—fully funded and with initial design work already complete—had until recently been the plan, the one that had been signed off on by both the City and the province. That route would have followed the path of the current RT, and extended east and north to Centennial College and up to Sheppard, linking up with the already-approved Sheppard LRT.

Implicitly responding to that light rail plan, and the proponents who still think it’s the best choice for Scarborough residents, Murray said “The majority of people who attend UTSC and Centennial come from the east, and this is why we are expanding the Durham Pulse service to come all the way to STC. This is only one part of a comprehensive plan dedicated to meeting the needs of Scarborough residents and students.” Students who can use DRT’s Pulse to reach their schools may rejoice, but there is no word on how residents in other parts of Scarborough with different travel demands will be served. Today, that “comprehensive plan” is little more than words in a press release.

The proposed subway map includes only two stations—Lawrence East and Scarborough Town Centre—although Murray has been quick to say that other locations would be considered. (After lambasting the municipal and federal governments for failing to contribute money to this project, Murray said that if they did change their minds and come to the table with cash, that funding could be used to extend the subway further.) Why were optional stations not included in his announcement?

Glen Murray’s plan joins a parade of half-baked schemes for Scarborough transit, and complicates the debate with all-or-nothing posturing by the province. Instead of a transit network, Toronto sees yet another project-based announcement. Murray backed away from this in a CBC Metro Morning interview, when he talked about the continued importance of the Sheppard LRT and the Downtown Relief Line, but the out-of-context subway plan and a combative attitude to other governments were the big initial messages.

The real debate over transit funding and construction will come with municipal and provincial elections in 2014. Which view will prevail for Toronto and southern Ontario transit remains to be seen, but Toronto needs more than a quick play for attention by the transportation minister.

Imagine what an integrated plan for Murray’s subway extension might have looked like if it included:

  • Accelerated construction of the Sheppard LRT (a line that in the original Transit City plan would have opened in late 2012);
  • Linking Malvern, Scarborough Town Centre, and UofT SCarborough with the planned LRT;
  • Improving GO service in Scarborough, and addressing the high GO fares that discourage riders inside Toronto from using that network;
  • Bringing riders into Scarborough not just west from Durham, but south from Markham;
  • Talking about the wider expansion of Toronto’s LRT network.

That’s a plan that could inspire and show leadership, not cheap political theatre and the divisive strategies too commonly seen in Mayor Ford’s approach to transit issues. Glen Murray may have his dime ready to contribute to a Scarborough subway, but he forgets how many dollars Queen’s Park has promised but never spent as project completion dates recede into the future.


  • scottld

    Stinz should step down as TTC chair as she refuses to follow evidence based transit planning. This is her fault.

    • HotDang

      Why should the TTC chair be held to a standard that no other city chair has to adhere to?

      • Paul Kishimoto

        Why not have the TTC be the first to meet this entirely sensible standard?

      • vampchick21

        Why shouldn’t every transit chair be held to that standard?

        • Anon

          Because that was then, this is now. It’s obviously different. Try and keep up.

          • vampchick21

            Excuse me? I don’t think you understood. And I’m not going to bother explaining.

    • KRoberts

      She carries a lot of the fault for her flip flopping and political posturing – but Ford is also to blame for duping taxpayers in Scarborough and the liberals are also guilty for trying to buy seats in Scarborough – there’s a lot of blame to go around.

    • OgtheDim

      To be replaced by…………?

      Who on council has shown that evidence is the only approach?

      KWT maybe………Perks…kind of. Matlow probably.

      NONE of the rest of them has cared about evidence.

      And that includes Saint Jack’s son, people, so don’t go saying this all a right can’t do it properly while the left can thing.

      • scottld

        Your comment hurts because it is sadly true.

      • Lee Zamparo

        Say Matlow (or KWT / Perks) had been the TTC chair. Would they have been able to do anything different in council? Could they have prevented the group of Scarborough councillors from re-opening this debate?

        • Thomas

          Yes. It was Stintz who re-opened this debate. It was Stintz who signed a legally binding contract with Metrolinx for an LRT on behalf of the TTC and then went back on her word a few months later.
          De Baeremaeker is a bozo.Mihevc wouldn’t have gone this alone. Ford is unable to advance his own policy goals, his only success is when he jumps on board with other people’s initiatives.
          Without Stintz, this never would have happened. This is her fault.

          • OgtheDim

            De Be has been pushing this for years.
            And councillors are responsible for their own behaviour.

            Those who supported this at council are all worthy of derision, not just Stintz.

          • Lee Zamparo

            That’s how I feel. Seems like we all agree that Stintz was overly opportunistic and didn’t anticipate the potential for catastrophe that re-opening the debate would cause. We can debate the degree of naivete that demonstrates, but I know I don’t want to, and suspect this feeling is shared by all. It’s bad on her. But every other councillor, Gary Crawford, De Baeremaeker, Cho, Mihevic, everyone who supported this monumental screw-up are in for a slice of dumbass pie.

            So I ask again: would having someone else as chair of the TTC change the votes and intentions of a large number of weak, cheap vote-chasers on council? I don’t see how.

        • dsmithhfx

          We’re saddled with a broken political structure, but hardly unique in that respect. Strangely, hand-wringing and finger-pointing don’t seem to help.

    • Don River

      Did we follow evidence based transit planning when our biggest priority, the DRL, was completely left out of Transit City, when we had $8B at our disposal?

      Transit has never been more politicized than it is now, and Stintz did about as well as she could working under a very difficult mayor.

  • vampchick21

    Do you think a two stop subway to the mall at the western end of Scarborough is the best thing for that area of Toronto? Do you think that meets the needs of residents in all parts of Scarborough?

    And I sincerely doubt that you have any concept of the QP or you wouldn’t have used them as a comparison.

    • William Paul

      huh? QP=Queen’s Park = Libs

      no, I actually think a ONE stop subway is good for all.
      think back in time……….
      One stop extension to Kipling = very useful
      one stop extension to Kennedy = incredibly useful
      one stop extension to Downsview = kinda useless but it was the start of the soon-to-be Vaughan Sub Ext.

      • vampchick21

        Sorry, it’s a crazy day here, and I took QP to equal Parti Quebecois…which would be PQ when I stop to remember. Every once in a while my brain turns dyslexic on me.

        And your grasp of transit is full of fail. Your grasp of population increase is full of fail. Your grasp of urban and suburban expansion is full of fail.

        I’m not saying subways for all, I’m saying transit that makes sense. Two stops to the mall DOES NOT MAKE SENSE AND DOES NOT MEET THE NEEDS OF SCARBOROUGH.

        City = more than just you.

      • OgtheDim

        So instead of drawing lines on a map, you are drawing dots one a time and extending lines.

        The issue isn’t lines on a map.

        Its form.

        Its paying for a system that makes sense and maximises resources and gets the job done.

        ANY subway expansion in Scarborough or past Downsview does not do that.

        Which is why LRT makes FAR more sense.

        But, hey, that doesn’t fit your opinion so……….

        • William Paul

          right, it’s form and a one-stop subway is far better form, makes far more sense than a meandering LRT. There is no need to go to Sheppard, and there is certainly no need to get to UTSC. My kid goes there, between the 116E and the 38A it is wonderful, fast service with plenty of buses. I think this maximizes resources and gets the job done. Expansion beyond Downsview which is in progress now makes perfect sense. It does not make sense to go north of Steeles, but it sure makes sense to serve the Finch West people with a fast subway to downtown.

          • OgtheDim

            You do realise that the TTC will not be sending 3 out of 4 trains past Downsview, right?
            Oh, and that meandering LRT is a myth as it is also a train that goes in a straight line ?

            You’ve been fed some wrong information. Consider doing some research.

            The economics do not make the York U nor this expansion viable. Neither get the job done, which is moving people around to where they want to go to.

            LRT to Malvern…that does. Sheppard East LRT…that does.

            A Finch West LRT…that does.

            Oh, and I spent a good chunk of 10 years taking the 36 bus along the whole line.

            95% of people people who get on west of Keele got off by Dufferin.

            As has been said in other places, the majority of riders on the TTC in North York and Scarborough do not go downtown.

            We are spending BILLIONS for stuff we do not need.

  • MER1978

    The problem with the federal aspect to this whole mess… the federal government should be funding a third of ALL transit expansion… not just pet projects backed by a mayor who repeats false information on a loop until there are enough uninformed voters parroting what he said.

    • OgtheDim

      The desire of people to have something for free gets in the way of the feds doing anything.

      There are times when I wish we had the US system of earmarks and a less centrally controlled federal institutuion. We’d be WAY more in debt, but our infrastructure would be WAY farther ahead. Then I remember that the way more in debt thing is not good at all.

      So we are stuck with a centralised system designed so that a few lawyers could keep control of everything and sell off land they bought to railroad companies floated with public money.

      Canada – a country designed for corruption now stuck doing nothing while the rest of the world passes it by (at least government wise – individually we are a GREAT country)

  • Moaz Ahmadmoa

    Right. .because the problem here is Steve Munro rather than 30 years of a “bass-ackwards” approach to transit and transport planning.

  • MER1978

    Really… because insisting that it must be a subway came primarily from Ford… followed by Stintz + De Baeremaeker… after pushing subway so much that the original far superior plan and really LRTs anywhere became politically poisonous the province joined the idiot party… the province isn’t blameless but they hardly shoulder all or even most of the blame for this.

    • kev

      My point is Murray claims not to need council’s approval. He says it’s all provincial money and he’s the decider (very Bushy)

      If he is the sole decision maker than he SHOULD shoulder most of the blame because he’s always had the power to say no to Ford, Stintz et al and decided not to when it suited his aims

  • Joe Clark

    “Biased” does not mean what you think it does.

  • OgtheDim

    I am very very surprised that Wynne is letting Murray go off like this.

    He’s becoming “Angry Glen.” and doing the Libs in Toronto no favours.

    • dsmithhfx

      You’re angry, you’re bitter. Who cares? No, really.

      • OgtheDim


        I was making a decent political point actually repeated by Adam Radwanski in the Globe today.

        Yeah, I’m no fan of what this is for transit.

        But good political analysis still happens.

        Your theory about people ranting due to this is off.

  • Paul Kishimoto

    Metrolinx’ “lines on a map” are backed by analysis and evidence; QP’s are backed by politics only. Very different.

  • michaelgreason

    Yup, a commentator that relies on facts and rational arguments poses a problem in the modern world of twitter facts, sound bites and Ford Nation. If you took a minute to read Steve’s blog you would know that his depth of knowledge is astounding.

  • michaelgreason

    The subtle difference between irony and innocent questioning is hard to discern. I am assuming this is rhetorical irony. I laughed at the question in that wein

  • Brian Young

    Whether of not you concede that Murray has shown himself to be a loose canon, Wynne should never have allowed this to happen. Does eight months in the Premier’s office engender complete divorce from reality and from her pre-premiership sanity?

    We had a sane plan in the LRT (in case you were off at the cottage all summer, it’s the one they now call a “toxic” plan). Ford mastered Scarborough public sentiment with bluster, fudging the numbers, ignoring the facts and repetition of the “subway, subway, subway” mantra enough to wrest the last vestiges of rationality from the Libs and the NDP (Adam “Transit City” Giambrone clinched that one).

    The real question is: has Ford brought the entire discourse and planning process down to his lumpenproletariat level or are all these actors really the clowns they make themselves out to be?

    Are we doomed to be Toonerville instead of Transit City?

  • metroman50

    I share your frustration with Mr. Murray’s choice of an inferior 2-stop subway extension over an RT. However, his government has to get re-elected and Scarborough voters have apparently decided they want the inferior solution because it shows they’re just as good as everybody else, and every low density suburban neighbourhood deserves a subway. Actually it shows Scarborough voters are smart (they extorted $1.4 billion out of the rest of us thanks to a tricky provincial political situation), and dumb (they required the province to pretty much flush the $1.4 billion down the toilet and opted for a lot less transit bang for our buck than the LRT would have delivered). But why criticize Murray? This city can only build heavy rail rapid transit where density and ridership don’t justify it. This Scarborough subway proposal is no more bone-headed than the original Spadina line, the Spadina extension or the Sheppard line.

  • disqus_mkLHgjmOn9

    Let us now change the eglinton streetcar into a subway and also extend the Sheppard subway to Kennedy. No streetcars on Eglinton or Sheppard please.

    • Disparishun

      Eglinton LRT is fine — it’s not like they’re ramming it down the throat of a subway line they’re trying to neuter.

    • Dinah Might

      Nobody is putting streetcars on Eglinton or Sheppard.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        You’ll just confuse him. If it isn’t a car, truck, or subway, it has to be a streetcar. Or a pod of angry cyclists.

    • vampchick21

      You really need to understand what an LRT is and how it’s set up. Might want to try a source that isn’t Rob Ford. Like, oh, I don’t know, actual transit experts.

  • Disparishun

    In your last bullets — replace the LRT with Viva-style BRT and it’s do-able. No joke.

  • Disparishun

    If it’s low-density and car-based, it doesn’t need LRT. BRT works.

    • OgtheDim

      As more then half of the city doesn’t drive, EVERY part of this city is not car based.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        Which does not imply, in any way, that a transit mode for one part of the city is appropriate for all parts of the city.

  • MER1978

    Almost every issue we have with the streetcars is due to the fact that we don’t implement them properly because businesses refuse to give up street parking and car drivers refuse to give up lanes… both of which should happen if we actually wanted to move the most people in the most efficient way with infrastructure we all pay for.

  • MER1978

    Except with non stop BS talking point Ford around the odds of us reverting back to the LRT are unlikely… he managed to convince a huge number of ppl that the visions in his head are somehow reality which is why all of the other politicians are now following his pandering lead… way easier than telling people the truth.

    If the funding didn’t come through Ford would either suggest we pay the extra without the feds… most likely by introducing a motion which wouldn’t actually provide 100% of that money as he did with his first raise taxes motion on this issue… or everything is just stalled until we get a new mayor who hopefully is less full of crap.

  • OgtheDim

    Your major points are that streetcars and LRT are railway lovers dreams and have nothing to do with economic reality.

    To which I say:

    Economically, streetcars make more sense then buses.

    Subways, LRT and streetcars are all versions of trains.

    Subways can’t go everywhere.

    Prove me wrong.

  • Dave

    Ford’s reaction to Murray’s announcement only confirms to me that he really doesn’t care what plan is put in place to replace the SRT. Never mind where it goes, number of stops, ridership projections, neighbourhoods served – or even basic engineering, given that Murray’s route apparently includes turns considered too sharp for subway trains. No, none of that matters to him. All that does is that he screamed “subways, subways, subways,” and he caused such a political shitstorm that the province is now screaming the same.

    • Dave

      To which I should add: shame on the Wynne government, Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker and every other oppotunistic politician who saw potential political turbulence and chose the path of least resistance rather than champion and vigorously defend an objectively superior plan.

    • Roger B

      Ford has admitted that his strategy was to destroy ‘Miller’s Transit City’. The thought that transit riders would one day be zooming past his Cadillac Escalade along suburban arterials is his (& many people’s) nightmare.
      Of course this particular LRT project would have run along exactly the same route & elevated structures as this subway, despite RF’s claims that it would run along streets, but once you’ve promised subways that’s all that matters.

  • dsmithhfx

    All you transit nerd wannabes that are frothing at the mouth need to learn sumpin’ ’bout politics. If dumb-as-a-post Rob Ford can beat you at your own game, how sad is that?

    • Testu

      When did you start trolling?

      People who are interested in public transit are not obliged to start media campaigns or lobby public officials (except maybe their own councillor) just to keep our elected representatives from using transit to buy votes whenever it’s convenient. We have every right to expect them to use evidence based planning to provide the most effective transit network our money can buy.

      Why the hell do we need to try to fight the mayor? He’s supposed to be working for us, as is the TTC chairperson. It’s not our responsibility to stop the mayor from lying to people.

      • dsmithhfx

        OMG! Br’er Rabbit lives!

        • Testu

          I was bred and born in the briar patch, dsmithhfx. Born and bred in the briar patch.

  • kev

    I think Murray is meant to be the Wynne’s attack dog (like Baird is for Harper or Biden is for Obama) I just think he’s bad at it and he’s hurting Wynne’s brand