A Subway Instead of an LRT For Scarborough Makes Sense

Suddenly, the picture changes.

For years, we’re going to get an LRT (light rail transit) to replace the dinky toy SRT (Scarborough rapid transit). Don’t fight it. Don’t delay it. It’s going to happen. We in Toronto cannot get a subway because the upper governments won’t fund it. Therefore LRTs are superior, goes the learned helplessness thinking. And then Metrolinx issues an ultimatum, Rob Ford gets off his never-going-to-raise-taxes mantra, the province murmurs they’re open to putting the funds toward a subway instead, and Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – he of the former Ontario government that threw Toronto into transit chaos – makes noises about making federal infrastructure funds available.

The opposition to subways grows louder.

Awhile ago, James Bow asked me to take a look at Steve Munro’s blog post on the LRT-versus-subway conflict for Scarborough. I have finally felt in a bright enough head space to read it. In it, Munro asks what he calls “delicate questions.”

1. LRT versus subway costs.

According to Munro, quoting TTC Chair Karen Stintz’s OneCity Transit Plan, the LRT would cost $1.8 billion, the subway $2.3 billion. According to a CBC story on July 13, City Manager Joe Pennachetti reported on July 12 that the LRT would be $1.1 billion and the subway $2.3 billion. I’ve never seen an estimate go down before!  Up to now, the province has been waving around that $1.8 billion figure. Regardless, the LRT is cheaper than a subway. But one has to ask: what is it you want to achieve? Do you want to simply relieve today’s congestion in 10 years? Or do you want to build a public transit backbone that will handle increasing ridership over the next several decades? The latter will always cost more. Other major cities, like London, New York, Paris, know this yet have built their public transit networks around a subway backbone, not LRTs that truncate at subway terminuses. Paris so sees the value of subways that it’s adding four new lines and extending two. 200 kilometers, 57 stations, in just over 12 years! Meanwhile, we don’t have a proper subway backbone; we don’t have the courage to extend one subway line; and we’re not even building a badly needed new one, presently called the DRL for downtown relief line. We also construct much slower. Is the Spadina extension done yet? When did it start, again? 11 years for six stations versus Paris’s 57 in 12. I rest my case.

2. Fleet

According to Munro, the TTC has a surfeit of subway cars. This is important, for subway or LRT cars are not cheap. That means stocking a new subway line will be less expensive. That’s a plus.

3. Stations

Munro writes that a subway extension will add three stations only. But Metrolinx’s map of the LRT shows it too will add only three new stations (unless I can’t count!). In all the reportage of the LRT versus subway, people say and reporters write that the LRT will serve more people.

Not quite.

The population near the LRT will be greater than near the proposed subway line. But the actual number of people served – real people who will use the SRT replacement – is higher with a subway than an LRT. Annually, 36 to 38.9 million people on a subway, but only 31 million people on an LRT, as per Munro’s post.

And isn’t that the ultimate goal? To get as many people as possible out of their cars and onto the TTC?

The reason for the higher ridership numbers for the subway option is partly because of the eradication of the Kennedy transfer point, something I’ve been advocating for if we truly want to connect Scarborough to the rest of Toronto and if we want to encourage as many people as possible to use public transit to get into and out of Scarborough.

I recently  became so aggravated riding the Queen streetcar that I shot a video. In this case, the cause was that the Queen car was being diverted onto King, which is a busier and slower route, and the Spadina right-of-way, which is like an LRT. Usually, I am aggravated by this streetcar and others because of the unpredictable wait times. Despite TTC CEO Andy Byford’s customer service improvements, it is actually taking longer and longer to get around town by TTC. I had to build in thirty minutes between appointments. When I’m lucky I get chill time; when I’m not, I mayn’t be late for my next appointment.

The system is creaking under the weight of too many riders and too congested roads. Many suggest LRTs are as good as subways because they will have their own right of way. But as you can see in the video, the Spadina streetcar has its own right of way, a right of way that doesn’t work because the city is stalling on implementing traffic light prioritization. I am sure I remember that this line did have prioritization, and I remember a time when the city’s traffic light system was much better co-ordinated. But the tech has grown old, and the city has not upgraded it. Subways are immune to such problems. And they will happen again because that’s the way politics works.

If we are concerned only with how much we spend on capital costs today, then obviously the LRT makes sense to replace the SRT. But if we are more concerned with the purpose of public transit – to get people out of cars, to serve more people, to stimulate development so that people will move here with their jobs and consumption habits -- then the subway will achieve that better than an LRT. And not just one subway. But that’s a post for another day, for when people can imagine the city with a world-leading system like we used to have.


James Bow said…
"Munro writes that a subway extension will add three stations only."

You are misreading the map.

The subway extension results in the elimination of the Scarborough RT (in itself, not a bad thing), and an extension that adds stations at Lawrence East (likely at McCowan), Ellesmere (again at McCowan) and Sheppard East.

The Scarborough LRT keeps the stations that are currently on the RT: Lawrence East, Ellesmere, Scarborough Centre and McCowan, and it adds more: Centennial College and Sheppard East. So, with the Scarborough LRT, the 4 stops of the SRT beyond Kennedy become at least 6. The subway extension reduces those stops to three, and it doesn't serve Centennial College, or stop at the gates of Malvern. That undercuts a portion of your argument, I think.
No, it enhances it.

What's the goal? Ridership or number of stations? Since, I assume, the TTC and city want to get as many people out of their cars and onto the TTC, the subway still wins, given the ridership numbers Munro quotes. Actually, it makes the LRT worse. It has double (or more) the number of stations than the subway, yet cannot attract as many riders as the subway?

This points to the LRT being a poor backbone for the TTC network and enhances the credibility of the subway extension being the real backbone.

However, the LRT figures point to something I've only hinted at. We're so trained in learned helplessness, in thinking we can't afford a proper network, that we're putting all our Scarborough eggs in one line. One line cannot serve the needs of such a vast borough. We need both further construction of the subway backbone (which would include the DRL) as well as an LRT feeder network (also brings up point if subway route the best one; I hope planners have designed best one). Paris understands this with its massive project. Toronto is in the same boat, yet is not even playing catch up to current needs.

We're pinching pennies now instead of spending the money to serve the present and the future and to save future bucks. Ours is a false economy. We have been pinching pennies for decades because we say we don't have the funds, yet the need doesn't stop and the ultimate bucks spent on the same projects grow. Today's dollars will always be fewer than future dollars. It's too bad that politicians in the past didn't realise that. And it's worse that some today still don't.

Thanks for explaining the stations James!
Krupo said…
Speaking of the 501 gong show, I could've sworn I saw a notice claiming the work would be done by July 16. A week later, the wait continues. Yes, madness.
You use the Grand Paris Expansion as a pre-eminent example but don't offer any context.

For instance the Grand Paris Expansion is being paid for by the French government - that is the entire cost is being covered by the Federal level.

Since we've mentioned who, why not how much?

$36.8 Billion CDN is how much the Federal government in France feels that transit in Paris is worth.

But where you really fall down is in this paragraph:

The population near the LRT will be greater than near the proposed subway line. But the actual number of people served – real people who will use the SRT replacement – is higher with a subway than an LRT. Annually, 36 to 38.9 million people on a subway, but only 31 million people on an LRT, as per Munro’s post

Yes, the Subway has a greater capacity and will obviously achieve much higher ridership over the entire system, but just because the system sees 40 million passengers per year doesn't mean they all go through every station.

Kennedy sees 68,000 passengers a day on its subway platforms. That is 7 hours of passengers from the SRT.

You paint a picture that sees Sheppard East, STC and Lawrence East subway platforms packed to the rafters but that isn't what will happen.
Lost: You should've clicked on the link I supplied in my post before stating that the federal government of France is paying the entire cost. From the article I linked to:

"Of total funding for the new lines, €4 billion will be granted from the national government, €1.5 billion from local governments, €7 billion from loans, €7 billion from new taxes on commercial activity and real estate (€500 million will be collected this year alone), and €1 billion from existing taxes. The state intends to use eminent domain to redevelop land around each of the stations. It will use the funds it accumulates through sales and added-value taxes to help pay off debt."

That's about $5billion Canadian, not $36billion, as you state, footed by the Feds.

As to your second point. So what? What does it matter where they come through? The salient point is that ridership is higher. The ultimate goal is to get as many people as possible out of their cars and onto the TTC. If the subway does that, even if they come through other stops on the line, then that's preferable to an LRT that may have more stations but still gets fewer people off the roads, wherever those roads may be.

BTW, you say the subway has a greater capacity, which proves the point that it's a better solution in the long term for a growing population -- and so higher ridership than we have now -- than the LRT is.

And one more point: some people are criticizing the subway option because it will bring more people on to the Bloor-Danforth line and overburden the Yonge/Bloor interchange, which an LRT wouldn't. So, um, that says to me more riders will be coming in from the east -- coming in from those stations you mention -- than are now.