I just got off the phone with a neighbour one street over. She has been following the news about the sunk costs for the Scarborough subway and she is frustrated with Council’s refusal to consider Councillor Josh Matlow’s administrative enquiries into these costs and ridership levels.

Let me first say that my neighbour is not a transit rider. Like most people in Scarborough she drives everywhere. I never meet up with her on my regular walks through the neighbourhood. I just wave to her as she goes by in her red Camaro. So I was surprised to hear her say: “ I’d rather have seven stops than three. How much is it going to end up costing us to build the Scarborough subway? Why doesn’t Mayor Tory want to look at these costs? Do we even have enough riders for a subway? What about Smart Track? Why are we spending $1.65 million on a study of Smart Track?”

Although I have always supported the LRT option as a  replacement for the Scarborough RT,  the pro-subway “just get on with it build something” attitude that emerged during the last municipal election convinced me I was in the minority. However, after talking to my neighbour  I am not so sure.

The idea of a subway is really easy to sell during an election but cancelling one transit plan for another is complicated and messy. Unless you are willing to examine all the pros and cons you can end up with an expensive boondoggle. Now that new information is on the table, why isn’t Council willing to discuss it?

Let’s start with the costs we do know about in addition to the $3.3B cost of building the Scarborough Subway:

  1. Sunk cost  of cancelling the Scarborough LRT: $74.8 M.
  1. SRT Life Extension: $132M.
  1. SRT Decommissioning and Demolition: $123M.

(#2 and 3 were brought to my attention by transit activist Alan Yule. They are listed on page 8 of the 2015 TTC Capital Budget Report.)

  1. Councillor De Baeremaeker’s proposal for an additional subway station : $150M.

Scarborough-Agincourt councillor Norm Kelly calls it “ tweaking” but it could be the difference between accessible transit or rapid transit that just passes through Scarborough without serving the needs of local riders. If we are hell bent on going forward without delay, I would hate to see us build a subway with a 4.3 km stretch and no station. Especially when it is along Eglinton East, a corridor with the highest ridership in Scarborough. Transit riders have been ignored throughout this entire subway vs. LRT debate. To leave them without access to the subway on Eglinton would be the epitome of political callousness and bad transit planning.

Cost of cancelling vehicles for the Scarborough LRT

Metrolinx initially bought 182 units for the four Transit City LRT lines. Now that the Scarborough LRT line has been cancelled they can either try and sell those units to another transit agency, keep them for future expansion or pay a penalty to Bombardier to cancel that part of the contract. The cost of choosing the latter would be incurred by the City.

Is there sufficient ridership for a subway?

To justify building a subway you need a peak hour ridership of 10,000 -15,000. According to the City report on the Scarborough subway  “peak hour ridership projected to 2031 will be 9,500 – 14,000 persons/hour”. Evidence brought forward in Councillor Matlow’s administrative enquiry letter suggests that these numbers were inflated to meet the demand necessary for a subway.

Again, thanks to Alan Yule going over TTC reports with a fine tooth comb, another discrepancy in ridership numbers for the SRT was discovered. In earlier TTC reports it is 4.67 million per year which works out to be around 12,000 rides/day. In recent reports, it has jumped to 45,000 rides/day  Were these numbers inflated too?  We need clarification.

Smart Track could take away ridership from the Scarborough Subway and vice versa

This information will be available once the Smart Track Work Plan study has been completed this fall. But let’s not forget Smart Track and the Scarborough Subway were part of Tory’s election promise and unlike his broken promise to freeze fares, he seems unwilling to use his “lack of understanding prior to taking office” excuse for the Scarborough Subway. Therefore it is likely that  the outcome of the study will allow him to justify moving ahead with both projects. We need an independent peer review.

The Scarborough Subway Extension Stakeholder Advisory Group, is being asked to look at a variety of routes for the subway. Some use the original RT alignment. Others go as far East along Eglinton as Markham Road, doubling back to the Scarborough Town Centre (STC).

Based on their response to my questions about ridership, I am convinced that bringing rapid transit to where there is already high ridership in Scarborough, is one of the  priorities of City planners. But they have also made it clear: discussion of LRTs is off the table.

In an alternate universe we would build the $1.48B LRT to STC, Centennial College and Sheppard Avenue. We would then take the remaining $1.82B and use the cancelled Malvern LRT alignment for the Scarborough Subway by extending it East along Eglinton, one station at a time, from Kennedy to Kingston Road. That way we wouldn’t have to worry about sunk costs and the cost of keeping the RT running another eight years. We wouldn’t have to worry about Smart Track taking ridership away from the Subway because buses running along Eglinton East  already have a high enough ridership (45,000). We wouldn’t have to connect the subway with STC -the LRT would do that. We could have three stations along Eglinton where they are needed most.

Read our position statement on the Scarborough subway here.

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