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David Soknacki Brings Logic to Bear on Transit File

Mayoral candidate makes the case for transit proposals grounded in "a respect for basic math."

david soknacki launch

The first thing to understand about mayoral candidate David Soknacki is that he’s kind of a nerd: he reads science fiction and watches Star Trek, and when his spokesperson recently mentioned Drake, he was confused as to how a 16th-century British sea captain related to the topic in question. As a local political enthusiast once noted, “He’s David Spocknacki! He just needs the ears.”

And so it was that the first officer of budget wonkery took to the Hilton Hotel on Friday morning to compare his transit plan with the mayor’s. “Rob Ford talks about his respect for taxpayers,” he said, “but it starts with a respect for basic math.” A perfectly logical statement. Nerds are good for many things, one of which, traditionally, is math. So Soknacki stood at his lectern and, alongside a TV screen that read “David vs. Bad Math,” displayed a level of numeracy that has not historically been associated with Mayor Rob Ford.

He argued that if Rob Ford’s subway plans for Finch and Sheppard were to come to fruition, the City’s debt would double, and exceed its debt ceiling. He reiterated that he would work to go back to the Scarborough LRT plan that delivers more transit for less money, and said he would put the money saved—roughly $1 billion—toward paying for the relief line. He alluded to the possibility of reallocating the $600 million pledged by federal government for the project to a different infrastructure project that would represent a better investment. He provided more context about Toronto’s needs, pointing out that the TTC already has $2.5 billion in unfunded liabilities, and argued that if the City is to pursue debt financing, it should do so only for projects that justify the expense.

His numbers, which he conceded were a first pass, were correct. Soknacki offered a sensible and nuanced (dare we say Vulcan-ish?) analysis of policy and figures—the kind you hope a mayor would be able to provide when needed. But if transit were built on policy alone, LRTs would have won the day long ago.

Soknacki’s proposals still leave some important questions unresolved—whether the province would sign off on Soknacki’s proposed changes, how quickly the City would be able to begin construction of the Scarborough LRT, and how much willingness there’d be on the part of the next council to change its mind for the umpteenth time. Today, Soknacki argued that when presented with information about costs and plans, rather than just a question about subways versus LRTs, polls shows that voters respond positively to the LRT option. But whether facts and numbers can cut through the political Gordian knot that is transit planning remains to be seen. Wonkery might not win the last vote, but it is a good place to start. As Spock said, insufficient facts always invite danger.

After the press conference, Soknacki did not make a beeline for a nearby venue to catch the Canada versus U.S.A. hockey game. Instead, he headed off to attend events associated with OpenData Day Toronto, which brings together government officials, activists, and journalists to talk about how freely available data can make for better and more transparent policy analysis. For someone who believes that information can set Toronto’s transit debate free, it was the logical place to be.


  • torontothegreat

    Regarding whether or not council would back this, I wonder if that 600m would convince them. The debt ceiling could scare council into agreeing too.

    Soknacki is really hitting things hard on the fiscal sensibility side and the fact that he went to OpenData2014 afterwards is beyond awesome.

  • Savannah

    Finally some sense around transit.

    • PabloYYZ

      Hopefully Soknacki’s message won’t get drowned out by the feral grunts from Robbie and the dregs of Ford Nation.

  • Dogma

    He’s right, but he’ll have a tough time winning the election on this.

    • cv

      I agree. DS needs to have a wider vision to share with all of us who have had our civic hearts broken by RF.

  • Lavender

    Soknacki will need a lot of organizing and public support to make his vision stick. Imagine a candidate who’s actually being fiscally prudent around transit, and Ford is still pretending he won’t run us further into the ground…

    • DaveWilliamscheemissManana

      Volunteer for him. I’m going to.

      • Kevin Harron

        Depending on his positions on other issues I just might.

    • dsmithhfx

      Socknacki’s made some bold statements. I just hope the non-candidates-who’ve-said-nothing aren’t going to let him do all the heavy lifting for them before they get up off their useless butts and lumber into the arena.

    • tomwest

      I think that’s why he started so early – to maximise the public’s awareness of him.

    • Dave McIntyre, Esq.

      I donated to Soknacki’s campaign a few weeks ago. And I am spreading the word among friends and co-workers. Even if he doesn’t win, I’m just glad to have one articulate candidate in the running.

  • MaryL

    Some realism for you:

    1) LRT works in Edmonton, Calgary, Minneapolis and Oslo, all places that get more snow than we do. The SRT currently in use in Scarborough is NOT LRT.

    2) The Scarborough LRT runs on its own right of way. It does not have to deal with any intersections on the roads.

    3) More drivers per passenger moved for subway over LRT 1) does not tell the whole cost story and 2) assumes that you reach full capacity. The Scarborough ridership isn’t there right now, it will probably not be there for many decades, if at all, and when and if it does develop, it’s not something to direct to the end of a single Bloor Danforth line because it would make east end crowding even worse. You don’t need or want to funnel all most Scarborough transit users through new subway entry points while depriving them of more convenient and less crowded ways to get downtown or across Scarborough.

    We need MULTIPLE lines, with transfer points, in a mature transit system. Take a look at the subway maps for NYC and London some time: many lines, many transfer points. Toronto can add in not just the Scarborough LRT, but the Downtown Relief Line, the Eglinton crosstown, Sheppard LRT extension, and the Finch LRT. This helps people travel within the east, west and north, and also lets them come into downtown and leave again without getting trapped in current bottlenecks (Eglinton and Yonge/Bloor) and potential future bottlenecks (a Bloor Danforth subway extending east of Kennedy).

  • OgtheDim

    LRT costs more then underground to operate?!?!?!

    You think elevators and escalators and heating an lighting and tunnels just magically clean themselves?

    This isn’t no freaking Beauty and the Beast magic castle……..

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The subway never has delays? Subways don’t have ongoing operating costs?

    In which city?

    You need to realize the bulk of the tracks Miller proposed was for routes and parts of the city that a subway can’t support (either physically or in terms of projected ridership numbers). Another benefit LRT has over subways is not requiring stations along the route, which are expensive to dig and outfit and come with complications such as available property.