Toronto City Council Votes Down Facts on Scarborough Transit
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Toronto City Council Votes Down Facts on Scarborough Transit

Mayor John Tory puts his fingers in his ears when challenged by fellow councillors.

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Mayor John Tory and Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) in a heated exchange.

Here’s a rhetorical question: when your house is burning, how much water do you throw on it before you simply walk away? Here’s a less rhetorical one: how much is a vote worth?

In a session marked by exhortations about “alternative facts,” “Trumpiness” (as per Councillor Shelley Carrol), and debates over whether this is properly titled a one-stop subway or a 32-stop subway (thank Pasternak for this little diversion), City Council voted to approve the most recent draft of the Scarborough Subway Extension proposal on Tuesday, which will move the project forward in the design phase until a 30 per cent design proposal is submitted to Council.

The vote comes amidst lingering confusion about the impact of the subway extension as far as ridership and time savings are concerned. The debate has been hamstrung, largely by the spread of misinformation by pro-subway councillors. Mayor Tory has claimed in recent weeks, for example, that the subway extension will shave 15 to 20 minutes off the commute for Scarborough residents.

That would be nice, but those numbers are fictions, calculated only on the pseudo-science of feelings and intuition. No study has vindicated these claims; no study has replicated the findings of Tory’s time riding the rails between Scarborough Town Centre and Kennedy station. Other estimates border on the absurd: Councillor Neethan Shan (Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River) suggested that savings upwards of 40 minutes were possible with a single subway stop.

The facts don’t bear this out: Andy Byford confirmed that not a single bus ride carrying commuters to Scarborough Town Centre would be shortened. A representative from the TTC, when questioned, suggested that with lengthened bus routes, preliminary calculations showed savings of about two minutes. Moreover, a recent Ryerson University study showed that commuters will spend more time busing with the extension plan.

Both Councillor Shan and a spokesperson from the mayor’s office dispute this stat, saying that it doesn’t take into account the “redesigned bus routes” that would carry more people to Scarborough Town Centre, faster. This—apparently a centrepiece of the transit network—has not been detailed in any meaningful way.

Despite the rising costs, pro-subway councillors spoke about the extension as the first piece of a larger transit network, including the Eglinton East LRT extension and John Tory’s SmartTrack—both of which are partially funded at best.

Council passed a motion to link the subway extension with the Eglinton extension—effectively raising the price tag even further, though it will keep the extension alive for the time being. When pressed on where the funding will come from, Shan offered the following: “The subway got funded, so the LRT will get funded.”

In addition to voting in favour of the subway extension, Council also voted down Councillor Josh Matlow’s (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) motion to produce a side-by-side business case analysis for the previously-discussed seven-stop LRT proposal. No side-by-side case has ever been done, a fact that has featured prominently in the opposition to the LRT.

While it remains the only remaining plan being studied (Matlow’s motion to further analyze the LRT option failed), there will be many more chapters to come before ground is broken on the subway extension. Council will be presented with an updated draft later in the year—at which point we will do this all over again.