The politicization of subway planning in Toronto began in 2002 with the $10/ride subsidized Sheppard line to nowhere. In 2006, then-Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, finagled a secret deal to extend the Spadina subway beyond York University to an industrial field in Vaughan.
Nothing has changed. The appetite for vote-buying vanity projects among politicians is stronger than ever: a prime example of this is that despite global notoriety for being a white elephant, the $3.35-billion, one-stop Bloor/Danforth extension to the Scarborough Town Centre is going forward.
If Mayor Tory has his way, construction of the Scarborough subway will begin without anyone knowing if it is a wise use of public resources. Councillor Josh Matlow has presented Toronto council with multiple opportunities to find out. As it happens, “fiscally-responsible” members will do anything to avoid the facts when a multi-billion-dollar subway is at stake. They voted 13 – 27 against Matlow’s December 6 city-council motion for a value-for-money analysis comparing the one-stop subway with the shovel-ready seven-stop Scarborough LRT.
Four years ago, a review of Metrolinx’s Big Move conducted by Neptis Foundation found that although the regional transit authority had committed to “issuing a Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) for every project” and using the analyses to prioritize new transit lines, neither Metrolinx nor the city were doing BCAs consistently.
The BCA for the $3.2-billion Spadina subway extension to Vaughan has never been released publicly and the BCA of the Scarborough Subway Extension will not be released until after the next municipal election in October 2018.
The public is growing tired of the lack of transparency and accountability in transit planning.
In 2013, Premier Wynne appointed Anne Golden chair of The Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel. The Panel’s report: Making the Move found the public had: “low trust in transit decision-making” and that there was a need for “evidence-based and transparent” transit planning and to “depoliticize decision making.”
The Panel made many recommendations. Among them was Recommendation #18:
… all projects approved by Metrolinx and elected officials must have up-to-date, publicly-available, business case analyses that validate the investment, taking into account life-cycle capital, operating, maintenance, and financing costs.”
The report emphasized the analyses should include operation and maintenance costs and their “relationship to fares and whether a new project would be a financial burden to the system or a source of additional revenue.”
Had Toronto Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler included in her 2018 Work Plan STA’s request for a value-for-money analysis of the Scarborough subway, Panel Recommendation #18 would have been fulfilled. Her refusal to do so is telling. She also refused to do this as part of her report on our complaint regarding the summer-2016 TTC Briefing Note.
…that a sufficiently broad range of solutions has been considered and the options developed from this long list of solutions have been selected through a transparent and defensible process. These options are evaluated against a base case which considers a “business as usual” scenario. (Page 2)
A consistent framework for objectively assessing transit projects is a step in the right direction. So far city planning has avoided the “business as usual” scenario omitting crucial information that would assist council in making an informed decision.
Contrary to the Metrolinx framework, the initial business case for the one-stop Scarborough Subway does not include a comparison with the Scarborough RT, the line it is intended to replace. Instead, it is compared with the three-stop subway; a project that does not even exist.
An earlier business case conducted by Arup consultants for the city planning was never released publicly. It only became available after Toronto Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro obtained a heavily redacted copy through Freedom of Information. Find a more detailed explanation of what is missing in the Arup report here.
It is a similar situation for the Lawrence East SmartTrack station. Mayor Tory is touting it as a replacement for the Lawrence East RT station that will be eliminated with the build out of the Scarborough subway. A proper evaluation would include a comparison with the Lawrence RT station. Instead GO RER, another incomplete project, is being used as the base case.
We know that to justify a subway, ridership should be between 9,500 and 14,000 per hour and the projected ridership for the Scarborough subway is 7300, half of what was originally projected. We don’t know if the BCA slated for 2019, will show whether or not the Scarborough subway will be a financial burden on the rest of the TTC or a source of additional revenue. We are still waiting to find out which framework the planning department uses to conduct Business Case Analyses of new transit lines in Toronto.
The 2017 Metrolinx framework is subject to review and approval by the Metrolinx Board. A Business Case Analysis and Benefits Management memorandum was tabled at the December 7, 2017 Metrolinx Board meeting. If adopted, it would also ensure BCAs were released publicly in a timely manner:
In every case, public transparency and accountability will be improved where these business cases are made public in advance of relevant Board decisions.
The original business case for the seven-stop LRT included a comparison with the Scarborough RT. The same should apply to the one-stop Scarborough subway and it should be released publicly, before the 2018 municipal election.
Toronto’s Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler presented her report on the TTC Briefing Note to the Audit Committee on Friday, October 27th. The note, distributed selectively, before a crucial council vote in 2016, showed the costs of the seven-stop Scarborough LRT would be almost as high as the $3.2 billion one-stop Scarborough Subway Extension.
The Toronto Auditor General (AG) concluded that the LRT cost estimate of $2.97 billion was within an acceptable range. But there is no explanation as to why a seven-stop LRT would cost almost twice as much as the proposed eighteen-stop Eglinton East LRT to U of T Scarborough, pegged at $1.56 – 1.67 billion.
However the AG did agree that if we were to go back to replacing the Scarborough RT with an LRT, construction could begin in 2018, not 2021 as stated in the TTC Briefing Note.
Unfortunately, the AG’s report took a very narrow focus when in fact the complaint submitted by Scarborough Transit Action and allies asked for a much broader investigation.
The complainants asked for a value-for-money analysis of the one-stop Scarborough Subway Extension.
The Scarborough subway was approved in 2013. It quickly received funding priority without a comparison with other transit projects in the city’s official plan. Millions have been spent on design and planning without any analysis to determine if it would be good value for money. We have no conclusive evidence that the $3+ billion we are poised to invest would actually result in an improvement over the existing SRT or even an LRT.
The AG has a mandate to assist ‘city council in holding itself and city administrators accountable for the quality of stewardship over public funds and for achievement of value for money in city operations.’
The AG report states a value for money analysis ‘may form part of a future audit’.
We need more than a maybe. We need a value for money analysis of the Scarborough Subway Extension now!
SmartTrack is really just Mayor Tory’s plan to piggyback onto GO Regional Express Rail’s all-day, two-way electrification plan by adding new stations in Toronto. SmartTrack, costing $1.3 billion, is supposed to have trains running every six to ten minutes during peak hours and every fifteen minutes off peak.
At first Tory wanted twenty-two stations but now there are just six. Two stations on the Stouffville GO line are in Scarborough: Finch and Lawrence East.
Metrolinx, the provincial agency that runs GO, withheld a study that compared Lawrence East SmartTrack station with existing GO service and gave it a “Low-Performing Ranking”. The study also looked at charging TTC fares for GO service within Toronto, but this would not alleviate a net ridership loss on the Stouffville Line due to increased travel time the station would add, which would in turn result in increased automobile use.
When Metrolinx board members voted to ignore their own report and approve stations at Lawrence East and Kirby (northwest of the city, with similar dismal projections), Scarborough Transit Action complained to the Provincial Auditor General and requested an investigation.
SmartTrack public consultation
Despite a cloud of controversy over Metrolinx’s decision, Tory insists on the Lawrence East SmartTrack station to go with his one-stop subway replacement of the Scarborough RT. The city will produce a business case for it, but it is unlikely to compare the Smart Track plan with existing RT service or the aborted seven-stop Scarborough LRT. An honest comparison would demolish the business case for a Lawrence East SmartTrack station, as ridership is likely to be less than what the RT carries now.
At the public consultation at Scarborough Civic Centre on October 10, city staff claimed Lawrence East station will have enough riders and supported it. But the facts say otherwise. Peak service to downtown from Lawrence East would be only every six to ten minutes, whereas the RT currently runs every three to four minutes to downtown and the Scarborough Town Centre (STC).
Planned platforms at both Finch and Lawrence East stations will be shifted northward to minimize the impact on local residents, but this will extend walking distances by about 250 meters. Finch station buses will go under the GO train overpass, but Lawrence East buses will drop riders off at the Lawrence East overpass; riders will have to walk downstairs or take an elevator to get to the Smart Track/GO station.
Many attendees at the public consultation criticized the Lawrence East station plan. They asked why there is still no announcement of TTC-level fares for SmartTrack riders. Lawrence East ST only goes downtown; it doesn’t go to the STC or other parts of Scarborough like the RT. Walking from a bus stop in the middle of an overpass down to the station below is not very convenient. It should be like the Finch station – or better yet, go back to the plan to replace the Scarborough RT with a seven-stop LRT.
Tory promised that SmartTrack stations would be complete by 2020, but he also promised that the RT would continue to operate until the Scarborough subway extension is completed in 2026. According to Metrolinx, the RT would have to be shut down earlier and riders put on buses to accommodate construction of Lawrence East SmartTrack station.
After surveying riders at the Lawrence East SRT station, STA discovered that just over 85% of respondents are not aware that their station will close, to be replaced with a SmartTrack station. Furthermore, 50% of respondents indicated they are traveling elsewhere in Scarborough from that station; trips that Smart Track will do little to serve.
One good thing: SmartTrack station designs provide access for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders while limiting parking. This is a step in the right direction. Cars are the problem and building large parking lots around SmartTrack/GO stations won’t help deal with climate change or traffic congestion. At the same time, the city needs to be reminded that more convenient and fast public transit to these stations is also required.
The Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP) will begin in mid 2018. As with the Scarborough Subway Extension TPAP, this assessment gives free reign to build just about anything, especially if it buys votes. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is not required to consider concerns raised by the public during public consultations and the city is not required to show whether the project would improve existing transit service. There’s no onus to prove sufficient ridership, shorter travel times, or more access to existing rapid transit network for under served neighbourhoods. The scope is limited to the natural environment, including climate change, cultural heritage or Aboriginal treaty rights.
Proposed changes to bus service on Lawrence Avenue East
Tory’s plan is to have a two-level bus terminal on Triton Avenue to accommodate the elimination of RT stations and the subsequent re-routing of buses to Scarborough Town Centre when the subway is completed in 2026. The existing thirteen TTC bus bays will increase to twenty-four. As yet, there is no plan to provide bus service from Lawrence to the STC.
Existing Lawrence East bus service:
54A Lawrence East to Starspray Blvd (10 minutes or less, all day every day)
54B Lawrence East to Orton Park
54E Lawrence East to Starspray Blvd Express
354 Lawrence East Blue Night Lawrence East to Starspray Blvd
With a one-stop subway, riders traveling west on Lawrence Avenue East will have to transfer to buses. They must take the 43 Kennedy or the 21 Brimley bus (during rush hour only) or wait twenty minutes for the 16 McCowan or the 9 Brimley to get to the STC. Service on the 43 Kennedy was cut in 2016 and is already crowded. The 154 Lawrence East will go to the U of T Scarborough Campus, or the 154 and 254 Lawrence East Express will take them to Kennedy station. Chances are most riders going to Kennedy will stay on the bus all the way rather than get off at the overpass, walk down to the Lawrence East SmartTrack station, pay an additional GO fare (minus $1.50) and wait fifteen minutes to get downtown.
It’s bull-headed of Mayor Tory to push a one-stop subway and one SmartTrack station at Lawrence East as a viable alternative to eliminating five RT stations. The real alternative is to pay one TTC fare to ride the seven-stop Scarborough LRT to the STC – or all the way to Malvern.
Time to let Mayor Tory know the jig is up.
Sign our petitionfor the seven-stop Scarborough LRT
Ten reasons why Lawrence East GO/SmartTrack station will hurt transit riders here.
February 14, 2018 UPDATE:
Information obtained by Scarborough Transit Action through Freedom of Information indicated issues between the city and Metrolinx around the construction of the Lawrence East SmartTrack station could mean the Scarborough RT might have to beshut downfor a year and riders put on buses.
However, although a Metrolinx review of the Lawrence East SmartTrack station approval is not scheduled for release until March 2018, spokesperson Anne Marie Aikens told CTV she was confident the Lawrence RT would remain in service during construction.
Read STA’s letter to Metrolinx regarding Lawrence East SmartTrack station here.
Yesterday, we were treated to the news that Metrolinx has released its own internal report recommending against approval of the Kirby and Lawrence East GO stations. Of course, anyone who has not been living under a rock lately knows these two additions to the regional train network have been mired in controversy, as Kirby is located in provincial Transportation Minister Del Duca’s riding and Lawrence East is meant as a replacement for the well-used SRT station of the same name, which will be closed as part of the Scarborough Subway Extension. The fact that these stations were approved in 2016, in spite of this report, showing that the two stations might actually REDUCE ridership on the GO system, being in Metrolinx board members hands is evidence enough that parochial interests rule in discussions of transit construction in the Toronto area.
We at STA know we can do better as a city. The release of this report and a promise by Metrolinx to release the minutes of board meetings are welcome steps but we would like to see the agency commit itself to evidence-based decision-making. Furthermore, we need greater representation for the views of transit riders at Metrolinx, perhaps along the lines of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York rider councils. These commitments would ensure that we do not have a repeat of such shady station approvals that are made in the face of conflicting evidence and that riders do not want.
John Tory is committing to build upon the TTC’s already successful express buses by adding five new routes to the network. These will be offered on Dufferin, Lawrence West. Islington, Weston Road and (the only Scarborough addition) Markham Road. All of these routes are in the inner suburbs, with the partial exception of Dufferin (where much of the proposed route is in the “old city”.) This is significant, as it shows official recognition of what we Scarborough transit riders have known for a long time: inner suburban bus routes are overcrowded and improvements along some of our city’s busiest arterials are needed to alleviate the situation and, in the long term, shift the emphasis of these roads from being hostile “car sewers” to more functional urban streets.
Of course, express routes are a start for this kind of process and we are naturally very happy to see the Mayor put some weight behind the TTC’s plans. However, in many key ways, simply adding express buses is extremely inadequate. To begin with, in Toronto, express bus denotes a limited stop service that only runs during peak hours. Examples in Scarborough would be the 53E Steeles East; providing very good service if one is traveling in the morning or evening rush. However, at any other time, you’re reduced to the regular trunk route. Getting commuters to a 9-5 job is one thing but in a city with an increasingly 24-hour economy (not to mention that to reduce car dependence, good transit cannot just exist in the peak hours) having no alternative to what is rapidly becoming an overcrowded route in a growing area of town is unconscionable. In Toronto, our transit system also runs what are called “Rocket” services, essentially running the same limited stop service, only such buses run outside of peak hours. In our view, these Rockets represent a minimum useful improvement along major roads. For example, the 185 Don Mills Rocket offers much-needed relief to the regular routes along that road and is extremely heavily used at all times of the day. Offering a Rocket instead of just a peak hours express is what we hope the TTC is considering for the new “express” services.
But why stop there? Relieving crowded trunk routes is important but we at STA think the city should dream big and seek to bring dignity to those without cars, hopefully getting more people to dump the SUV in the process! To have this happen, we need to move beyond just reconfiguring bus routes….we need to reconfigure the roads they are on as well. No matter how busy a Rocket bus is, it can still be stuck in traffic or have to wait for right hand turning vehicles when pulling into a stop. Passengers themselves are still standing in small bus shelters during all kinds of weather. Dedicated bus lanes, large stations (similar to what exist on the VIVA BRT in York Region) signal priority, wider sidewalks and bike lanes…..these are all things that would improve the transit experience immesurably on these express corridors. Why is the mayor not doing any of them? We can’t peer into his mind but we could assume that it is just too “hard”. The voices of transit riders are drowned by those of the motorist lobby or folks who could not imagine their streets being anything other than expanses of pavement.
Of course, the logical culmination of these improvements would be LRT. If we are going to put in dedicated lanes, why not tracks? If large stations, why not LRT platforms? In fact, if the Mayor understands enough about transit to know that more express buses are needed, surely he can follow the path from that transit investment to LRT? We don’t doubt he knows this, as do our councillors. What is in doubt is the political will to fight for transit riders and our job is to keep fighting, keep pushing, until our dream of fast, dignified rapid transit in Scarborough is realized.
Last week, we followed up our Lawrence East survey result release rally with a submission to the Auditor General of Ontario. Maybe you saw us in the news? Essentially, we find the lack of evidence based decision making in Scarborough transit decisions, fishy approval of the Lawrence East Go/Smart Track station and blatant ignoring of the Province’s own directives on climate change mitigation and use of business case analyses when planning the one-stop subway extension as grounds for an investigation by the AG’s office. Also, we’ve managed to breathe some life into the sterile transit debate by having the media highlight the experience of actual Scarborough transit riders, as opposed to the usual motorist voices who turn up to support the subway.
One might think that we can rest on our laurels and take a break but not us….not Scarborough Transit Action. Today, we will submit our comments to the TPAP (Transit Project Assessment Process). In a nutshell, this is a form of expedited environmental assessment process meant to move transit projects forward. While this seems like a good idea at the outset, with a project like the SSE, it is being used to circumvent debate and ensure that this destructive option moves ahead. Crucially, the TPAP for the SSE does not provide for an analysis of alternatives (such as the LRT option), nor does it give room for climate change mitigation to be included as a measurement of the project, nor does it properly give an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the project.
The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change can order a “bump up” from a TPAP to proper environmental assessment, which we hope will allow the flaws of the one-stop subway to be made more readily apparent to the policy community and wider public, especially those who do not currently ride transit and may not appreciate the true uselessness of the SSE for TTC passengers in Scarborough.
We have brought the concerns of transit riders to the highest halls of power over the past few weeks and if that’s not momentum, we don’t know what is. Stay tuned for more Scarborough Transit Action.
John Tory’s one-stop subway, just what everyone in Scarborough wants. At least, that’s what it’s boosters would have you believe. In their eyes, it is a transformative project that will generate so called jobs, development and growth at the Scarborough Town Centre, (though nowhere else) even though the Mayor’s office has to convince Oxford Properties, the STC owner, of the subway’s merits. A huge problem with the mayor’s plan (apart from the fact that it’s an expensive boondoggle) is the fact that the over 16,000 daily riders who board the Scarborough RT at stations other than the STC will see their stations close. And then are the more than 125,000 other Scarborough residents who will never see an expanded LRT network on Eglinton East or Sheppard as the subway eats up funding for these projects. Seems like the Mayor is only concerned with his vision of growth at the Town Centre, one clearly not even shared by the major developer in the area! Actual transit riders don’t factor into his vision.
Over the past two weeks, we have been surveying riders at Lawrence East station, the second most used station on the SRT , to find out their opinions on this station closure. Turns out, not only are riders not keen on this but most did not even know Lawrence East will be no more when (or if) the subway opens.
Our results show that of our over 200 respondents, only a small minority were even aware that their station is disappearing. This is just the least of it! Of these respondents, most were also not aware of how Mayor Tory hopes to replace the station with a SmartTrack station. (as you might expect, given their response to the first question) Furthermore, once they heard of the plan, most were unhappy with such a replacement, given that SmartTrack/Go fares are likely to remain high and offer no free transfer to the TTC network.
With their station closing and an unattractive replacement being forced on them, is it any surprise that riders would prefer the original 7 stop LRT plan, as it keeps their local station and offers them connections to both the rest of Scarborough AND the wider citywide transit network? Since our results show that almost equal proportions of riders are heading downtown and within Scarborough, why do most Scarborough councillors and the Mayor refuse to listen to their transit-using constituents?
We’ve packaged the entire survey as one document, feel free to print it and bring it and use it to explain to others that Scarborough does not want this subway! Lawrence East SRT Survey_ForPrint
This anger and frustration were on full display this morning when we presented our results to the media and rallied with riders disappointed in our politicians’ failure to invest in real transit for Scarborough. You can see us hard at work early this morning!
The message from survey respondents and those standing with us to save their station is loud and clear: it’s time to put the subway to rest, those who ride transit in Scarborough don’t want it.
On Monday night, STA members and allies in support of an LRT network attended Mayor Tory’s pro-subway town hall in Scarborough. The event took place at Centennial Recreation Centre and was organized by Connect Scarborough, Scarborough Community Renewal Organization and Centennial College.
Throughout most of his speech, Mayor Tory complained about LRT supporters and implored the crowd to “reach out to their councillors” to support the subway.
He is determined to push it through knowing full well that if approved, nothing else will ever get built in Scarborough, for a very long time.
All this political maneuvering and evasion made it almost impossible for the public to have a meaningful conversation about how best to serve transit riders who need to get around Scarborough, not just downtown. Still questions coming from the audience, showed there is growing support for better transit access with an LRT network, including the Scarborough, Eglinton and Sheppard East LRTs.
Although Centennial College, Vice President, Rosanna Cavallaro spoke in favour of improved transit, Davinder Singh, president of Centennial College Student Association raised concerns about losing the stop at Progress Campus that was part of the original seven-stop Scarborough LRT plan.
Vincent Puhakka, STA member, talked about canvassing near the Scarborough RT stations and asked what they were going to do to address the removal of stations at Lawrence, Ellesmere and Midland when the five-stop RT is replaced with a one-stop subway.
“Buses, buses buses”, was councillor De Baeremaeker’s reply.
Councillor De Baeremaeker’s wife, also attended. She attempted to revive the infamous TTC Briefing Note claiming an LRT would cost as much as a subway. This was quickly challenged by another resident who pointed out it was based on inflationary costs due to a ten year construction time line, not the usual 4-5 years it takes to build an LRT.
Franklyn Earle-McFadden, another STA member asked the Mayor to increase bus service and the number of elevators at subway stations so that transit riders with mobility issues don’t have such a hard time getting around on the TTC. MPP Brad Duguid told him he would be waiting until 2025.
Connect Scarborough, a pro-subway front group for Oxford Properties – owners of the Scarborough Town Centre was the only group allowed to have a table and to distribute information to attendees. Scarborough MPs and MPPs were also there in support of the one-stop subway, yet the Mayor seemed worried.
Perhaps deep down he knows it is a lousy plan that excludes too many transit riders in too many Priority Neighbourhoods and the rest of Toronto is not happy with the rising costs and falling ridership projections.