Campaign Fact-Check: Doug Ford on Subways, Subways, Subways
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Campaign Fact-Check: Doug Ford on Subways, Subways, Subways

Ford was astoundingly dishonest when discussing his transit plan this week.

Photo by BruceK, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Over the course of this campaign we’ve attempted to provide a basis for comparing the candidates on one simple metric: how often do they lie? For each of the major contenders we’ve taken one major speech and gone through the transcript, flagging falsehoods, distortions, convenient omissions, and other forms of obfuscation.

“Attempted.” Doug Ford, the last entrant into the race for mayor when his brother took ill, has given no major speeches, and has none scheduled. We cannot therefore give him quite the same level of analysis we’ve been able to provide the other candidates. But he did, recently, deliver some relatively lengthy remarks on his transit plan (relative to the usual brevity with which he speaks) and so, forthwith, a line-by-line analysis of those remarks, and their fidelity to truth.

When Doug Ford inherited Rob’s mayoral election campaign less than a month ago, he inherited the mayor’s subway-heavy transit plan, too. But that plan does not bear much scrutiny—it has been roundly criticized for its impracticality and fiscal irresponsibility since it was first unveiled in September. It was therefore inevitable that Ford would have to bend the truth when pitching his plan to the public.

During a press conference on Thursday morning he did that frequently and with vigour. Here’s his speech broken down with outright lies in red; half-truths, convenient omissions, and other distortions in orange; and, ahem, disingenuous remarks in blue.

Good morning, everyone. Friends, there’s no secret where I stand: I will build subways, I will build 32 kilometres of rapid, underground transit1—new subway lines that will connect our city and create jobs, growth, and prosperity. With your support, our city will undertake a bold transit expansion project—one that will rival any city in the world.

1 Ford will almost certainly not build 32 kilometres of subway, because he has no funding strategy that would permit that to happen. The cost estimates he provides for the construction of the Sheppard subway extension, the Finch subway, and the burial of the eastern leg of the Eglinton LRT are significantly lower than the going rate for subway construction (about $300 million per kilometre). And the funding sources Ford claims will pay for his subterranean transit dreams are based largely on hope—that Ottawa and Queen’s Park will become more generous, that subway construction will spur massive development, and so forth.

World-class cities around the world build impressive subway networks.2 Subways are faster,3 more reliable,4 and most importantly, subways don’t disrupt traffic.5 Tokyo, for example, has built an extensive subway system. They have 290 stations along 13 lines.6 London has 402 kilometres of track and 270 stations.7

2 It’s true that many world-class cities (whatever that term means) have built impressive subways. They have also—if London, Madrid, and Tokyo count as world-class, that is—built LRTs. And some pretty great cities (we can’t bring ourselves to say “world-class” anymore), such as Melbourne, have transit systems made up mostly of streetcars.

3 Subways are generally faster than LRTs, but this a feature of the way their routes are laid out, not of the vehicles themselves. LRTs travelling underground between widely spaced stops are capable of achieving the same speeds as subways; subways travelling between tightly spaced stops or navigating sharp turns typically move slower than LRTs.

4 There is no reason to believe LRTs will be less reliable than subways, as they will not operate in mixed traffic but will instead have their own rights of way. It is only the reasons behind delays that may differ between the two modes of travel. According to transit expert and Torontoist contributor Steve Munro, “Many subway delays come from fires, from ill passengers, equipment breakdowns and suicides. Surface routes tend to have more problems with conflicting traffic and some weather.” Since Toronto’s subway network includes above-ground stretches, subways are—as we have learned during icing and flooding incidents during the past year alone—subject to weather-related delays, just as LRTs will sometimes be.

5 Subways may not disrupt traffic when they are in operation, but the construction of subways—which, in the case of Ford’s plan, would take decades—certainly does. It’s true that tunnel-boring machines run underground, but they have to emerge from the earth somewhere. The construction of subway stations, meanwhile, requires highly disruptive excavation work. Once in operation, the LRTs proposed for Toronto would, again, run in their own lanes and not mixed traffic.

6 This is not a lie; Ford’s numbers here are correct. What he fails to point out is that Tokyo’s subway network serves a city 3.5 times the size of Toronto, with five times the population.

7 This comparison is dishonest for much the same reasons, but includes one additional bit of disingenuousness: Ford is attempting here to demonstrate the superiority of underground transit, but he neglects to mention that, despite its name, 55 per cent of the London Underground is, in fact, above ground.

Friends, these are cities that Toronto is competing with every day in the global economy—cities vying against us for jobs and investment. Toronto is the economic engine of Canada. Our city must stay competitive. This means keeping taxes low and investing in transportation infrastructure, the backbone of our economy. The federal and provincial governments understand this.8 They’re willing to invest in transit, and I want to work with them to deliver new subways to Toronto. We’ve done it once for the people of Scarborough,9 and we can do it again.

8 The federal and provincial governments do, to some extent, understand that Toronto needs better transit, but they have never indicated that subways are the only means of providing it—both levels of government supported the LRT-based Transit City plan that Rob Ford unilaterally scrapped early in his reign.

9 Scarborough residents who took the RT to work this morning will be surprised to learn this.

Under this administration, we’ve worked hard on building underground transit. Today, projects like Eglinton Crosstown,10 the subway to Vaughan,11 and the Scarborough subway12 are well underway. Better transit is coming. But friends, it’s not nearly enough. We need to invest in building a truly world-class subway system. We must do this so our children and their children can enjoy the prosperity we do today.

10 Only one segment of the Eglinton Crosstown will run underground. Also: the Eglinton Crosstown is an LRT, not a heavy-rail subway, and Ford has had nothing to do with any part of its planning, approval, or construction.

11 Similarly, Ford has had nothing to do with the planning, approval, or construction of the Vaughan subway extension, which was approved under former mayor and arch-pinko David Miller.

12 There is no metric by which the Scarborough subway extension can be reasonably considered “well underway.” In fact, the studies that are required to assess its construction have barely begun, and those are estimated to take five years.

Building subways is an investment in our future. My competitors will build surface rail. They want to turn the city into St. Clair Avenue:13 transit that will only last 30 years before needing to be replaced.14 Just look at the Scarborough RT.15 It’s like buying a cheap car and expecting it to last for your grandchildren. Even worse, John Tory wants to build surface trains along key roads like Sheppard, Finch, and Eglinton, and everyone saw me standing at Don Mills and Sheppard, the traffic was lined up for kilometres.

13 Notwithstanding the fact that the streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair Avenue has made pedestrians safer and has coincided with an increase in transit usage, a reduction in vehicular traffic, and a surge in development between Yonge and Keele streets, John Tory and Olivia Chow want to build LRTs, not streetcar routes. The Brothers Ford have consistently and obstinately failed to acknowledge the rather large differences between the two types of transit.

14 Both subways and LRTs have roughly the same life expectancy of about 30 years. That applies to rails, signalling systems, and other infrastructure. Tunnels can last for much longer, but they can do so regardless of whether subways or LRTs are running through them.

15 This is more irrelevant than disingenuous, but there are only so many colours. The Scarborough RT bears no resemblance to any LRT system proposed by John Tory, Olivia Chow, or anyone else. It was meant to showcase technology that was at the time brand new, but it turned out to have (as we now know) many issues. LRT is well-established technology that runs in many cities, including ones with harsher climates than ours (Calgary, for instance).

Imagine the congestion nightmare, taking up lanes of traffic on these key roads. It will destroy our city. Traffic will grind to a halt.16 Think where our city would be today if our forefathers didn’t invest in the Toronto subway system.17 Building subways is the only option that makes sense.18

16 No it won’t, because the LRTs on Finch and Sheppard avenues will be separated from traffic and have signal priority.

17 They mostly didn’t. That’s why we’re here.

18 Except if you believe in fiscal prudence, in which case they make sense only where there is sufficient density and projected ridership to keep them from being a money pit. None of Ford’s proposed subways meet this threshold.

I encourage everyone to go to my website, www.dougford.ca, and learn more about my subway expansion. I have the vision, the plan, and the backbone to do it.19 With your support on October 27, we will do it. Together we will build an impressive underground network—a subway system our city will take pride in. Thank you.

19 This is true only in the sense that Hanna-Barbera had a vision and a plan for the future as expressed in The Jetsons.

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