Transit planner Joell Anne Vanderwagen talks to Mayor Tory’s Executive about the Scarborough Subway Extension
Good morning fellow passengers on the Titanic. Our Captain is saying “full-speed ahead”, but we know how the story ends. This ship will crash on the rocks of reality—financial and function realities. Although we are being updated about the astronomical and escalating construction costs of the six-kilometre Scarborough Subway project, little is understood about the future operating costs. The latter is the gift that will keep on giving, or rather, taking. In fact, I suggest that this project (along with the Sheppard and Vaughan subways) will bankrupt the TTC.
Back in 1954 the TTC completed Canada’s first subway—the 7.4 Kilometre Yonge line from Union Station to Eglinton. It is said that on opening day there were 30,000 passengers per hour and, on the following days, well over 250,000 per day. On opening day, this 7.4 km subway had twelve stations, located about 400-700 metres apart. These numerous stations provided not only easy access to the service, but also, twelve opportunities for revenue-paying passengers to board—who, in their numbers, more-than-paid for the expensive project and the higher operating costs of a subway. The line, of course, was set in the middle of a busy, dense urban corridor.
Let us contrast this with the proposed Scarborough Line: Here we have a six-kilometre tunnel with two stations—one at either end. The equivalent on the Yonge line would be to ride from Union Station all the way to St. Clair—with no King, Queen, Dundas, College, Wellesley, Bloor, Rosedale, or Summerhill stations in between! That’s very strange. Given the low-density residential areas through which the tunnel in Scarborough will go, there is not an option of adding eight more stations.
So, what “gifts” can we expect from the Scarborough subway in 2026? How accurately can we project the future operating costs? Before getting lost in these technical details, let us consider some simple logic illustrated in the following example:
Imagine a bus travelling a one-kilometre route.
It has 100 riders. Each pays a $1.00 fare. 100 riders X $1.00 fare = $100.00 dollars revenue.
The operating cost per kilometre (salaries, fuel, maintenance) = $100 dollars cost/km
With these two numbers we can calculate the revenue/cost ratio.
———————– = 100 % Thus, the revenue/cost ratio is 100% — meaning that
COST $100 the service pays for itself and no subsidy is required.
Next, let’s imagine that the route has been extended to two kilometres with the same riders.
——————— = 50% The revenue/cost ratio is now 50% — requiring a subsidy.
Now, lets extend the route to six kilometres with the same group of 100 riders.
——————– = 16.6% The revenue/cost ratio is now 17% — requiring an 83% subsidy
This delicate relationship between distance and cost will not be obvious because we will see a full bus traveling the route. While this is an example of a simple, low-cost bus route, a subway is another issue entirely: there are tunnels with tracks and signaling and ventilation, along with expensive stations that are essentially underground buildings requiring escalators, elevators, ventilation, lighting, maintenance, cleaning staff, transit staff, etc. Thus, using underground tunnels to provide rapid transit is only appropriate in densely-developed, high-traffic corridors.
Light Rail lines, on the other hand, do not require expensive stations; they can be placed anywhere because power is taken from an overhead source. In contrast, both subways and the existing RT take their power from an electrified third rail that must be separated from pedestrians—either elevated, enclosed in a fence, or buried, which in turn, requires escalators and elevators that greatly inflate the capital and operating costs and tend to make developers want to reduce the number of stations.
Light Rail would actually serve the development plans of the Scarborough Town Centre better than the proposed subway. We can find our best example in Calgary. Beginning in 1981, Calgary created a radial system of three LRT lines leading into downtown, through which the trains travel on a 1.2 km pedestrian transit mall. The lines were built quickly and economically, mostly on the surface; one, for example, following a CPR right-of-way and another running down the middle of a wide arterial roadway. With its older downtown core surrounded by modern, low-density sprawl, this was the right model for Calgary and the system is a success story in terms of function, cost-effectiveness, and popularity.
In terms of its development pattern, Scarborough has more in common with Calgary than downtown Toronto and can benefit from Calgary’s example in planning the Town Centre. For example, if a transit mall were created, LRT lines coming from Kennedy station and from the northeast (Morningside and beyond) could make several stops across the area, creating better transit access throughout the site and a livelier pedestrian environment.
This is a model of “higher-order” transit for the Scarborough Town Centre. Rapid transit is not one thing! It can take different forms appropriate to different situations and the skill is choosing the right system, not under-building or over-building. The money NOT spent on a six-kilometre tunnel with one station could instead provide for a full rapid transit network for Scarborough—that could be speedily implemented.