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Poll Position: LRT Most Popular Choice for Scarborough Transit

By a clear margin, Torontonians would choose the LRT plan for Scarborough over both competing subway proposals.

Three transit options have been proposed for Scarborough, all starting at the Kennedy subway station. Which do you think is best option?

6 km, two stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre, costing about $2 billion: 10%

8 km, three stop subway to Sheppard Avenue, costing about $3 billion: 27%

10 km, eight stop LRT to Sheppard Avenue, costing about $2 billion: 38%

None of these: 13%

Don’t know: 13%

Poll taken: October 28-29,2013
Sample size: 1093
Margin of Error: +/-3%, 19 times out of 20
Methodology: Interactive voice response telephone survey
Conducted by: Forum Research [PDF]

NOTES: For the past couple of years, a growing chorus of politicians have said that when it comes to replacing the aging Scarborough RT line, we must go with a subway rather than light rail. They said this, primarily, on the grounds that suburban residents felt “left out,” that Scarborough “deserved” subways, that infrastructure development in Toronto favoured downtown, which got the best technology while others got scraps. City councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) proclaimed that he had to back a Scarborough subway because he simply wouldn’t get re-elected otherwise. Over the summer a provincial by-election in Scarborough was focused primarily on this issue, with former LRT proponents reversing course and becoming reborn as subway advocates. No matter what experts had said, the feeling among these politicians was that you simply couldn’t get elected if you championed LRT.

So strong were so many politicians’ beliefs on this subject that over the course of several months, and several tortured debates, the municipal government decided to tear up the already designed, already funded light rail plan it had for Scarborough—one with signed agreements, which is no small feat given Toronto’s relationship with Queen’s Park—and start again. Thus were born not one but two plans for a Scarborough subway: one from city council, and another from the province. With a surprise injection of federal funding the more expensive of those two (city council’s) is now the leading contender, though a great many observers are convinced it will never be built.

One small oversight: none of these politicians actually had a whole lot of evidence in support of this claim, that LRT was a non-starter and residents would only ever accept a subway. Politicians spoke as though they were channeling their constituents’ clearly expressed views, and had been inundated with calls saying “subways, or else!” This never rang true—the public’s greatest wish, as far as we could tell, was more along the lines of “just stop fighting and build something already“—and now a new poll undermines that claim even further. When presented with the three choices, Torontonians preferred the LRT option over either subway; LRT tied the two subway options combined. Among Scarborough residents one of the subway proposals (the City’s) was much more popular, but even then there was no slam dunk: 14 per cent chose the province’s subway, 34 per cent the City’s subway, and 32 per cent LRT.

For reference, here is a map showing the various alternatives under discussion:

scarborough transit options competing


  • Steveinto

    Who has Rob Ford been talking to? He says everybody supports his subways non plans.

    • Stephen

      Perhaps you’re not familiar with the term “echo chamber.”

      • Steveinto

        I have no doubt that the only voice Rob Ford hears is the one in his head.

        • OgtheDim

          Well apparently he listens to one guy on average 7 times a day…until that guy got arrested.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The combined score for indifference and opposition to these plans is more popular than one of the proposed subways, and nearly as popular as the other. Sorry Scarborough, you don’t deserve a subway anymore.

  • tomwest

    My take is that 37% think a subway is the best option, and 38% think LRT is the best option…. which is a statistical tie. (I’d love to see results if the question included that LRT was fully funded, but subway was not).

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      I’d love to see this as a ranked ballot.

      • tomwest

        Me too! Would be far more useful.
        (Anyone got a few thousand bucks so I can commission a poll?)

  • OgtheDim

    A long way from done on this one.

  • Lee Zamparo

    I’d love to celebrate another poll showing that most people preferred the LRT plan, but it’s meaningless. Why didn’t all those people call up their bozo councillors and put the squeeze on them when it came time to vote?

  • bobloblawbloblawblah

    I’m sure once the Liberals get a majority and Mayor Football is gone that we’ll be revisiting the whole subway extension thing…..

  • Jeff Hubbell

    Interesting when you make a critical comment it doesn’t get on. At least mine didn’t.

    • TorontoistEditors

      It’s right there, up above. (We’re a bit slow on moderating comments today, what with Ford news. You can read our comment moderation policy here:

  • Joe Clark

    “+/-3%” is not how one writes “±3 percentage points.” 3% is a point on a graph. Three percentage points is a line on a graph.

    To explain this further, for the 10-stop LRT response of 38%, the actual values with errors are 35% to 41% (three percentage points). As you wrote it, though, the values are (38±1.14)% or 36.86% to 39.14%, which is incorrect.

    For a similar common error, look at global-warming coverage. Will the earth’s temperature rise by 3°C or by three Celsius degrees? (Hint: Whatever the actual number is, it’s the latter.)

    • tomwest

      (1) A lot of people don’t know how to get the ± symbol, which is why the original pollster should ensure it’s there for copy-and-paste
      (2) “3%” is a number (the exact same as “0.03″). It’s not a point or line. Saying the margin of error is “3%” is perfectly clear. No-one’s saying the it’s 3% of the responses with that answer – it’s clearly 3% of the overall sample.

      • Joe Clark

        For your first point, I expect a publication like Torontoist to employ editors who can type characters not imprinted on their keyboards.

        The rest of your comment is factually wrong.

        • tomwest

          So you’re saying 3% isn’t a number????

    • Mark Dowling

      Well if we’re going to be this picky then the comparator should be degrees kelvin – the SI Unit.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Context, context, context.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Two subway plans are on the table. Only one can be built. There is no option for “both” just as there isn’t one for “a subway and the LRT”.

  • tomwest

    If you delve into the linked PDF, you’ll find on page 8 the question: “Do you think Scarborough’s transit needs are best served by a subway or an LRT?”

    Subway: 49%
    LRT: 42%

    Also, the PDF reveals that those who voted for Ford are overwhelmingly in favour of subway (70-30), whilst everyone else is pro-LRT (around 60-40)

  • hasmatt

    It is noteworthy though that Scarborough supports a subway for itself substantially more that the downtown residents do. So as much as we accuse that it’s us vs them, it kind of still is.

    Despite that, transit should be based on sound planning principles, not opinion polls. I wouldn’t consider this the hard evidence we need to make a decision on transit even if 100% or 0% supported it. Opinion polls just lead to misinformation and consumer politics. We’ve had more than enough of that.

  • Lol Gray

    The proposed solutions did not ask whether the Scarborough RT can be retained, and operated with modern vehicles,using the same technology as in Vancouver. This would then make the 3 stop subway to Sheppard the better solution, and the updated RT supplying the local service, a much better solution giving the Residents of Scarborough the transit service they expect, without disruption.

  • Donald Blair

    So everyone downtown thinks they know what’s best for Scarborough. This headline is misleading. Scarborough residents – even by the 1 percent margin of error – still prefer a subway. Had it been properly proposed in 1974, this bickering and endless divide wouldn’t exist.

    Y’know, I always felt amalgamation was an important growing pain in the maturity of Toronto. Now, I just want my Scarborough and it’s lack of debt back: Toronto can have its problems and it’s debt back to themselves.

    • Testu

      Yes, and Scarborough can have their lack of civic infrastructure back to themselves too.

      Scarborough had plenty of time to build out their own transit infrastructure, yet somehow they didn’t so much as have a public bus service until Metro Toronto took over transit.

      • Donald Blair

        Everything about your comments are wholly exaggerated if not totally incorrect. Scarborough and it’s infrastructure (in 1985!!) was befitting a city of that size. Because we didn’t have streetcars trundling up and down Scarborough streets does not constitute a lack of infrastructure. It’s debt free status came at the expense of not blowing the wad of tax dollars on frivolous crap. Scarborough, for a long time, held the line while steadily building a city with a smartly-built downtown core, and road systems that accommodate (and still do, to this day) heavy traffic.
        If anyone is to blame for the mess of public transit back then in Scarborough, it’s the TTC — whose commission was largely made of downtown aldermen and metro councillors.
        So yes, we can take back what you think is a dearth of infrastructure, but at least none of it is facing apart, water mains aren’t destroying or flooding city streets, and where are traffic is still not as bad as it is in other parts of the city.
        (and for the record, Scarborough stopped being a “suburb” before the RT opened, even in symbolic terms: it has been a city of its own for a very long time now. It’s time Scarborough started making decisions for its own instead of being told what to and how to by a former municipality that was (and now is) perpetually broke.

        • Testu

          So are you now arguing that Scarborough does indeed have sufficient transit infrastructure, paid for by it’s own steady financial base?

          Then why the loud protestations about the lack of transit, and the repeated narrative of the a subway Scarborough deserves?

          You’re absolutely right that Scarborough was a city in it’s own right for decades. In fact it was roughly the size of Edmonton around the time of amalgamation. Yet somehow Edmonton has high-order transit, and Scarborough does not. Perhaps the voters of Scarborough could explain why it wasn’t a priority until it became all of Metro’s problem.

          • Donald Blair

            I’m arguing that Scarborough has a sufficient transit infrastructure for automobiles. It does not have a sufficient infrastructure for public transit, which it desperately needs. And yes, even I’m guilty of using the word “deserves” over the word “requires” – but the truth is, Scarborough requires it – the demographics demand it, considering that a large percentage of people in Scarborough rely on it.

            I wrote a blog article recently that does look at the other side of this though – and it, like everything, comes down to money. The smarter route to build is the DRL, because Yonge/Bloor have been a mess for decades. But I do blame the TTC board for it’s lack of vision – they were the ones who allowed Bill Davis to swoop in and place inadequate transit (by way of the ICTS model) in Scarborough, when it should have been a subway instead, matching the growth and intensification that begot Scarborough in the late 1970′s. They didn’t, and allowed an otherwise susceptible Scarborough council to be steamrolled by these backward plans. But to say they were uninterested is false, and you know it. (Or do you? Are you from Scarborough?)

            As for Toronto being broke: please tell me once where Toronto hasn’t gone cap-in-hand to the province, begging for money, since 1998. As much as I’ve grown to completely dislike and distrust Ford, the only time that hasn’t happened is during his (very, very unfortunate) reign. Old Toronto was running constantly, and consistently in the red. This is no secret.

          • Testu

            The city (and Mayor Ford specifically) went cap-in-hand to both the province and the federal government to pay for the Scarborough subway extension we’re discussing right now. And you know that, so I’m not sure why you’d state otherwise.

            Toronto has run consistently in the “red” because it provides a lot of the services needed for the city to function, like for example a large scale transit network (the thing Scarborough didn’t have, remember?). It does not however raise enough revenue to pay for these, as you say, required services. Increased property taxes (say bringing them inline with the surrounding municipalities) and possibly a local sales or payroll tax would help reduce and possibly even solve this problem. But it would mean that the people and businesses of Toronto would have to pay a bit more, and so we go cap-in-hand to the province.

            The truth is this only matters in as much as we’re unable to build the infrastructure we need. Toronto is not Greece, we are not in any sense broke or bankrupt. Taking on debt to build infrastructure makes a lot of sense when the interest rates are this low.

            That doesn’t mean that taking on an additional $1.9 Billion of debt unnecessarily is a good idea, especially when we had the option of building out the system with no additional debt and having the operating costs covered by the province. But hey, fiscal responsibility be damned, Scarborough deserves a subway.

  • Donald Blair

    It’s not entirely stupid (and thanks for bringing the level of debate up a few notches). The vehicles themselves can be reused. Where in Toronto is the bigger question. I for one would love to see the Zoo domain train back (the infrastructure is already all there, all they need is steel track and the trains). That’s just nostalgia kicking in though.

    Vancouver did replace the old ICTS trains with new Bombardier Mark 3 trains which are basically the same LIM technology, just much better, sleeker and quieter. And they fit on the same track gauge. The cost to retrofit stations, (Kennedy and Midland specifically, the latter likely being axed as the new trains couldn’t negotiate the turn), would be considerably cheaper than any of the options on the table. If you weren’t so quick to call someone names for posting an opinion, a little Google search would have given you the same answer.


  • SteelesAvenue

    I find it extremely fitting that none except the original plan serve Progress Ave, because they all go the same distance as the current situation but with less stops, some would call that a downgrade