It's time for politicians to admit they're wrong about the Scarborough subway extension.
It’s becoming painfully clear that Mayor Tory, MPP Brad Duguid, Councillor De Baeremaeker, and the rest of the pro-subway political class are not interested in building transit that serves Scarborough in any meaningful way.
From the very beginning of Rob Ford’s single minded “subways, subways, subways” obsession (to call it a campaign would lend too much legitimacy to the position), the needs of Scarborough transit riders have been secondary to political games and misinformation about which transit modes work best to serve different trips and areas of our city.
As long term residents of Scarborough and avid TTC patrons, I have always been mystified as to why these self-styled, fiscally responsible leaders would rather spend billions of dollars on a subway that will serve a tiny portion of the transit trips taken east of Victoria Park.
Tory, De Baeremaeker, and Duguid should know better. After all, the three claim to be transit supporters. They also have access to all of the information the rest of us do about the merits of a full LRT network. They know that a majority of transit riders in Scarborough are not heading downtown, making the small Bloor-Danforth Line extension to Scarborough Town Centre of little use to our area of the city.
These are facts that have been made public for years and are backed by our organization, Scarborough Transit Action. They’re also supported by the City’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, and a majority of citizens throughout Toronto, including in Scarborough. With this debate polarizing the city, I was cautiously pleased when subway supporters, backed by the mayor, seemed willing to compromise on their stance by agreeing to eliminate most stops on their pet project in order to fund the Scarborough-Malvern LRT, serving Eglinton East, Kingston Road, and the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus—all major transit destinations and corridors ignored by the subway plan.
The announcement last week that costs for a one-stop “express” subway have ballooned by almost $1 billion, putting the compromise LRT at risk, was not enough to halt De Baeremaeker, Duguid, and Tory from clinging to their dreams of underground trains at the expense of all else. At this point, it’s becoming clear that these men do not care about reasonable transit planning. They definitely don’t care about Scarborough, no matter how loudly they claim otherwise. If they did, they would stop resorting to tired accusations of downtown elitists depriving hard-working Scarborough of its rightful subway. This is insulting to the intelligence of all Torontonians, and shows the low-level divisive politics being used to save a bloated project.
If our representatives truly want to make our Scarborough a better place to work, live, and visit, they will abandon the subway extension immediately to begin construction on the original, shovel-ready LRT network.
To save face, they can also point out that the Province is on its way to electrifying GO lines, with the aim of creating frequent, rapid transit-like service. Ironically, this could be the “subway” that those travelling downtown from Scarborough need, as it will be far faster and reach more potential riders than a one-stop extension ever would.
Accepting the reality that transit in Scarborough is better improved without the subway is a brave decision that would be a proud legacy for Mayor Tory, Duguid, and De Baeremaeker—and future residents will thank them for it. Instead, if the City and Province end up sinking several generations worth of capital and operations funding into an expanding black hole, they will be the ones to blame for ineffective transit and further economic decline in Toronto’s inner suburbs.
The choice is now theirs—and I call on them use both their brains and hearts to make the right decision for Scarborough.
Vincent Puhakka is a member of Scarborough Transit Action, an outreach group bringing together Scarborough citizens interested in advocating for better public transit at all levels of government. (The arguments represented are not necessarily the views of Scarborough Transit Action as a whole and unless otherwise noted, are the opinions of the author.)