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politics

Metrolinx Spins the Scarborough Subway

Glen Murray's case for a two-stop subway is based on a drastic misrepresentation of the available information, and Metrolinx is helping him make it.

The Scarborough RT, which will need to be replaced in the next few years. The question is: with what? Photo by Alex Resurgent from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

The Scarborough RT, which will need to be replaced in the next few years. The question is: with what? Photo by Alex Resurgent from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Metrolinx board meetings are inevitably sleepy events, with lots of good news and almost no controversy. Directors ask soft questions, almost embarrassed that they might put management to some trouble. Almost always, the answers confirm that life is good, the passengers are happy, and everyone can be confident that the GTA’s transit matters are in expert, dependable hands.

The board meeting held Tuesday was a bit different: it was filled with throngs of reporters, there seeking Metrolinx’s response to transportation minister Glen Murray’s two-stop Scarborough subway announcement. (If you missed it: last week Murray proclaimed that even though the province has a signed agreement with the City of Toronto to replace the aging Scarborough RT with light rail running along the same route, which would be extended further north and east, and even though city council rejected that plan in July— deciding that it wanted to run not light rail but subways and run them not along the existing RT corridor but up McCowan—in fact Ontario would build neither of those things. Instead, said Murray, Queen’s Park would bankroll a two-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre—following the RT route, but not extending it any further—at a cost of $1.48 billion.)

Was this on Metrolinx’s agenda? No. Metrolinx doesn’t do controversy, especially when the minister’s involved.

That attempt at deflection notwithstanding, at the end of the meeting Metrolinx chair Rob Prichard did address the issue, attempting to summarize what he claimed were the opinions of the other members of the board. That summary: Metrolinx has consistently supported the idea that new rapid transit should be built in the existing the SRT corridor, and all plans (conveniently ignoring city council’s vote) have incorporated that idea regardless of the subway vs. LRT question. Glen Murray’s plan sticks to that route, and so everything is just dandy.

Nobody, however, is buying it.

Glen Murray’s plan is only a couple of months old: in July, after council’s vote, he asked Metrolinx to look at the feasibility of going along with the municipal government’s desire to build a subway, but choosing a different route for it. If you’re wondering why we hadn’t been talking about building a subway along the current RT route all along, the answer is that the curves along that route are very tight—tighter than the TTC thinks a subway can actually handle. LRT can handle tighter turns and so is free of this issue.

But what if we move things just a bit, Murray’s idea went, to give subways a bit more room in which to turn? (At the meeting Prichard spoke about this suggestion as if it were a revelation, a totally new idea that nobody had ever had before. One could almost see the thousand-watt lightbulb glowing in the air as he waxed on.)

In response, Metrolinx conducted a preliminary feasibility study [PDF], which confirmed that some approximation of the RT route would be able to accommodate a subway. Prichard claimed not only that this subway could be constructed, but also that it would provide better opportunity for growth and improved service to priority neighbourhoods, at a lower cost, than council’s choice of a subway along McCowan.

But then a chance remark by Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig told the real story: he noted that it was the future extension of Murray’s subway beyond its current two-stop plan that would better serve priority neighbourhoods and support growth.

Extension? What extension? The minister never mentioned an extension.

subway feasibility legend

What neither Glen Murray’s statement nor the Metrolinx briefing bothered to mention is that the feasibility study that examines the potential for building a Scarborough subway imagines that subway extending all the way to Sheppard, just as the LRT would have. That subway would serve both Centennial College and a number of priority neighbourhoods.

But that is not the subway Glen Murray announced. Glen Murray announced only a portion of that route. And he attributed the benefits of the whole route—the one that theoretically could extend to Sheppard—to just the portion he was announcing. Suggestions that the feasibility study supports any service other than light rail are at best artful misdirection, because the study looked specifically at a subway line from Kennedy to Sheppard and nothing else. (Murray cited a ridership estimate for his foreshortened subway, for instance—14,000 passengers per hour—but that estimate depends on a through ride for trips all the way to Sheppard, which that foreshortened subway will not reach.)

It’s also not clear that this extension, if it were ever to be built, would even be a subway. When pressed on the issue, Prichard described it vaguely as a “rapid transit corridor,” implying that they could build Murray’s two-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre and then build LRT from there.

This makes the much-vaunted subway-ness of Glen Murray’s subway somewhat less compelling.

The Metrolinx board will do “due diligence” and further investigate Murray’s proposal, says Prichard; staff will present more details in a larger report expected later in the fall. That timing will be a challenge, considering that Prichard also claims that TTC staff will present its own report on the issue to city council in October, well before the Metrolinx report is ready. These reports, and the differences between them, matter: according to Prichard, any changes to the existing municipal-provincial agreement (the one that right now calls for LRT) must be approved both by the City and by Metrolinx. When new votes might take place, and on the basis of whose information, is not at all clear. (Prichard managed to tie himself in many knots trying to answer persistent questions from the media, a far more aggressive group than his docile board members. A Cirque du Soleil tryout may be in his future.)

Prichard also confirmed that since the request to change to from LRT to subway technology was the City’s, any sunk costs for the LRT must be paid by the City. And if the subway project goes over budget, as a City-led and City-owned project, these costs will fall to Toronto too. These and other details appear in Prichard’s letter to TTC Chair Karen Stintz [PDF].

The heart of the matter—and indeed of any transit plan—is always money. From the preliminary feasibility study we learned that building a full subway (Murray’s two stops plus the extension to Sheppard) would cost $2.4 billion in 2011 dollars, or roughly the same as the City’s McCowan proposal. Of those two subway options, it’s Murray’s RT route that would have more stations and serve more people, and it certainly looks a lot more like the kind of subway folks in Scarborough might really want to see. But Murray’s subway—the full-length version that provides all the benefits he promised—also costs a billion dollars more than the LRT option along that same route.

Indeed, it will cost a lot more than that, even. Specifically excluded from the feasibility study’s estimates are the costs of interim bus service and associated infrastructure during the construction period, rolling stock, a maintenance and storage facility, traction power substations, and HST. These costs are included in estimates for the original LRT plan, and for city council’s proposed subway via McCowan, thus skewing any comparisons of Murray’s plan to the alternatives.

Important: these cost estimates are missing from Murray’s shorter subway proposal, too. Once you account for the above items, his two-stop subway will cost a fair bit more than $1.48 billion. It is impossible to build it for the amount he has claimed.

Put another way: the pot of money Metrolinx has set aside for Scarborough transit covers only the LRT option—it is not enough for either city council’s or Glen Murray’s subway routes.

One could be charitable and say that the minutiae of background studies don’t trouble the minister, but in an era of provincial spending scandals, that just doesn’t wash. Murray announced a subway to Scarborough at a price he cannot actually deliver. Either he was appallingly briefed, or he chose to omit that vital fact.

As we noted when Murray unveiled his scheme, an announcement that could have presented a vision for Scarborough transit turned into a political rant against other levels of government. That’s bad enough. Basing that announcement on a misrepresented study is unforgivable.

The debate over transit options in Toronto and the region beyond is difficult enough without political meddling. Not long after he became transportation minister, Murray mused about Metrolinx’s overall plan and suggested that lines on its map were merely “placeholders.” Crayons at the ready, he has been drawing his own versions ever since—versions that resemble the fantasy maps so beloved of transit advocates. Anyone is free to draw such maps, but imposing them by fiat, by a ministerial announcement from the roof of a Scarborough parking garage, mocks the very process Metrolinx was created to avoid.

The city and region now face a period of uncertainty extending beyond coming provincial and municipal elections. Will the new administrations at either level continue to support transit, and will those put in charge consider the good of the region over their own political ambitions?

Metrolinx is an agency at which the puppet-master’s hands and wires are all too obvious. Glen Murray has wounded its credibility as an honest, unbiased provider of advice to the province and to the public at large, and the relevance of its board is evaporating.

Can anyone, will anyone, say “enough”?

Comments

  • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

    This is the full statement of some things we talked about yesterday: http://torontoist.com/2013/09/a-look-inside-torontos-newest-subway-tunnels/#disqus_thread

  • Gordon Yarley

    I am very very tired of this whole debate. The money isn’t there to build a full subway period. Enough. Build the LRT. Find the money for the damn DRL already.

    • dsmithhfx

      When is a subway not a subway?

      • vampchick21

        When the sign says Mr. Sub. (drum roll)

      • UnknownTransit

        This is technically not a subway extension, it’s above ground. It just uses the same subway trains. The LRT is build on the exact same corridor running at the exact same speed and is above ground. How people jumped to the conclusion that subway is faster than LRT is beyond me.

        • vampchick21

          They were convinced by a blowhard who had someone write him a few good catchphrases.

  • OgtheDim

    Murray is a populist in the wrong job.

  • Bill

    Around and around we go.

    Until people stand up and demand better this will continue to happen.

    • Doconnor

      Standing up and demanding what they perceive as better seems to be what happened in Scarborough.

  • jeremy

    Politicians need to be removed from the process entirely. Metrolinx needs to be given real power which is not tied to anyone’s career.

  • dsmithhfx
    • OgtheDim

      Can I point out that since the Star pay wall went up, many of us are not able to read Hume.

      Care to describe what he is saying in an executive summary?

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        Basically our leadership (on transit) sucks, so even though it’s the wrong decision for Scarborough and the city, at least it’s a decision.

        • OgtheDim

          Ugh…yeah, lets settle for not good that serves less people because at least its something.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            When the track record shows the alternative is nothing that serves nobody, he has a point.

        • Doconnor

          I think the odds of this being the final decision are about as good as the many previous final decisions that have been made.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          Really now, a downvote for summarizing someone else’s argument?

      • John Duncan

        As an aside:
        The Star’s paywall is really easy to get around if you’re using either Chrome or Firefox. Hit Ctrl-Shift-I to bring up the inspector, then delete the two “div id = “syncronexOverlay…” page elements.

  • Albin

    Last summer’s political hijinx over the Scarborough project were obviously just set up to create municipal and provincial fiestas for the next elections, which in the GTA will be largely about transit. This is all paralyzed at least until end of next year.

    • OgtheDim

      Worse then that, its paralysed until we get a majority government in Queen’s Park. And then it will be full out mayhem.

  • milanista1

    What a pathetic mess. This really makes the city look abysmal.
    But of course this all falls back (mostly) to Ford. If he didn’t stick his nose in areas he literally has no knowledge of, and there are a lot of them, (again with transit, might I add. Remember the first Transit City cancellation that resulted in almost nothing but it being mostly re-instated, but at a higher cost to the city due to the needless delays? Ya, this is that all over again) then Metrolinx would have simply continued building what they were already building, a 7 stop LRT. I have no sympathy for Scarborough residents. Sorry, but you asked for this. Maybe not all of you, but apparently enough of you did according to Ford. This is really looking like Transit City part 2 (or 3, or maybe 4, I can’t remember how many times it has been cancelled, reinstated, cancelled, and then reinstated again). The longer this goes, the more it looks like it will revert back to LRT (which is what it should have been all along). They’re already moving away from using the term “subway”, the curve in the route cannot be negotiated by a subway train (do you think that was merely a careless engineer’s accident? Doubt it) and the so-called potential extension beyond the Scarborough Town Centre is already being alluded to as probably an LRT.
    Translation: It’s going to be LRT. Only difference is it will be a few years later and end up costing us more due to needless delays. Just like the last debate/year long temper tantrum Ford and some councillors threw that eventually reverted back to almost the exact same plan it was to begin with. Just at a higher cost.
    Un. Mitigated. Disaster.

    Get politicians out of transit planning!

    • bobloblawbloblawblah

      Technically, Transit City was neverf cancelled. Ford didn’t have the authority to do that. He merely declared it dead and McGuinty said “sure, but you gotta get counsel’s consent”. When Ford didn’t get private sector money for the Sheppard Line (what a surprise), council reaffirmed it’s support for the(funded) Transit City plan. Now they’re picking at it in bits and pieces, so it may never resemble the plan first approved when Miller was Mayor.

  • iSkyscraper

    Starting to think that letting a former mayor of Winnipeg (one of North America’s largest cities with no rail transit whatsoever) reign over Toronto LRT and subway planning is maybe not the best idea.

    • Conservative Astroturf Brigade

      Winnipeg has a long history of suffering similar political gridlock as Toronto. They did build a busway (New Flyer, one of the largest employers in the city, has a lot of sway), but it was too short, took decades and was repeatedly gerrymandered for political reasons. I’m not surprised Murray fit right in here.

      • torontothegreat

        And Murray was a dbag in Winnipeg too. He used to wear the mayor’s sash to do grocery shopping. Used the gay vote to get elected then turned his back on the entire community.

        He’s an opportunist asshole. Period.

    • torontothegreat

      Winnipeg had streetcars and trolley busses. Until City Council decided that the overheads were “ugly” — You can’t make this ish up.

  • OgtheDim

    Except Murray is actually making more of a hash of it then city council or anybody else.

    There is a reason why the staff at MTCU were glad to see him go.

    He’s an incompetent blowhard who does not listen but bulls ahead.

    When it comes to $1.4 billion, we are THIS close to getting it right. And he’s screwing it up.

  • OgtheDim

    “We were told that the subway could not make the turn up the SRT corridor – they lied.”

    That’s yet to be proven either way.

    BTW, elevation is prohibitive in cost (we’ve discussed this before on the Globe site I think).

  • HotDang

    There is a difference between letting planners plan and a dictatorship.

    • Doconnor

      The planners did plan, but democratically elected representatives still need to approve, and they didn’t in this case because the people didn’t approve.

      The people are probably wrong in this case, but living in a democracy mean accepting decision we don’t agree with if they are decided democratically.

      • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

        What? Please, think.

        If the people, through their representatives, charge certain agencies or entities with performing specific functions, then the activity of those entities (within their legislated authority) is absolutely sound.

        This is why a vote of the Ontario Legislature is not required in order for you to, for instance, register a car. And, in fact, if Glen Murray were to order the MoT to register your car in particular, we would all recognize that it was improper interference with their delegated function.

        Or this: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/mayor-ford-refuses-to-take-questions-about-family-business-road-repairs/article4556066/
        The people have decided there should be a transportation department at City Hall, and that department has some rational system of determining the priority and order for road resurfacing. Rob Ford stepped in and mucked with that process, and we realized that was improper.

        It *is* in the people’s best interest for their transit to not be planned by Glen Murray using a napkin and crayons. “It’s democracy!!!!11one” is not a valid argument that people must suffer that. Living in a democracy ACTUALLY means that we can establish the systems of governance which produce the results that are in our best interest.

      • John Duncan

        Having a Metrolinx board as originally constituted (i.e. a mixture of municipal mayors and provincial appointees) would be inarguably more democratic, and would be subject to much less political interference than the current board.

        • Moaz Ahmadmoa

          Except that type of Board (which we can call Metrolinx 1.0) was purged by McGuinty. The current Metrolinx Board (2.0) is as self-serving as any I can imagine. Rob Prichard has talked up a Metrolinx 3.0 that would include mayors, but it would be too bloated.

          My suggestion…put Toronto’s City Manager and Regional Chairs from the regional municipalities (York, Simcoe, Durham, Halton and Peel) on the Metrolinx 3.0 Board

          • Roger B

            Interesting many thought replacing politicians with appointees was a great idea and I remember some people expecting transit experts like Steve Munro would be selected.
            Problem is that appointees are often chosen for their powerful connections (powerful corporations, donors, ex politicians etc..) and the key trait is a proven ability to being a team player who quietly supports the official Metrolinx (Provincial) policy of the moment.
            Just imagine Munro avoiding reporter questions and allowing the CEO to represent the board’s collective opinion on major policy items which don’t appear on Metrolinx’s (public) agenda.

        • Moaz Ahmadmoa

          And perhaps Hazel is correct that Hamilton doesn’t belong in the GTA. Let Hamilton cooperate with Waterloo, Wellington, Brant and Niagara in a “Metrolinx SouthWest”

          Cheers, Moaz

  • HotDang

    You’re stretching with “fordked”.

    Sure, cycling infrastructure is orders of magnitude less expensive than most anything else, but that won’t win the argument. The people who are opposed to bike lanes don’t listen to cycling advocates. You’re the enemy.

  • OgtheDim

    Because the city IS going to pay for the operation.

    And we’ll be stuck with another stub that loses money when we could have had something that costs less to operate and serves more people.

    I’m right wing.

    I HATE wasting money.

    • Testu

      Yeah, the LRT operating costs would have been covered by the province.

      Now we’re paying out of (city) pocket for a subway line that won’t even begin to cover its own operating costs for another 20+ years.

  • pinky8888

    Is this two-stop subway actually going to be sub-terranean or is it an above-ground subway extension? Dumb question, but the B/D subway is above-ground at Kennedy. If above ground, what on earth is the practical difference between an above-ground subway and an LRT, if built in an existing transit corridor without other road traffic?

    • OgtheDim

      The difference is the poor dears don’t have to get off and get on something else.

      Unlike the rest of the city who does that all the time.

  • pinky8888

    So essentially it will be the same travel experience when inside the car – you can look out of windows at similar industrial hinterland, graffiti, etc. With Murray’s ‘above-ground subway’, transit riders gain by having no transfer at Kennedy but only get two stops at underpopulated stations. They sacrifice the potential for five more stops on the route. So instead of walking from one platform to another at Kennedy, or up/down a flight of stairs (or whatever) while under cover, a rider may have to trudge several more km through the sleet, rain, hail and snow, outdoors, to reach one of the two ‘subway’ stations.

    Am I understanding this correctly?

  • HotDang

    Motorists break rules just as often as, if not more than cyclists, and kill and injure way more people while doing so. You can’t argue the statistics.

    • vampchick21

      But he’ll try in a very incoherent way.

  • dsmithhfx

    He’s so shiny!

  • vampchick21

    Did a cyclist kick your puppy?