The debate about whether Toronto should undertake a Scarborough Subway in place of the proposed LRT line will occupy a good deal of Council’s time this week even though it is likely to wind up with a subway endorsement. We will hear a great deal of information, some of it true, some of it best described as creative fiction, and some just plain wrong.
Expecting the gang of 45 to understand all of the details is a huge stretch, and this is complicated by a critical lack of information. Many questions have not been answered, nay have not even been asked.
How Council can undertake a $1-billion or more project without being fully informed is baffling, especially for such a bunch of right-wing, penny-pinching fiscal conservatives. The times, however, demand a political statement, and we’re going to start by giving Scarborough a subway, no matter what it takes.
Here are a few questions responsible representatives of we, the voters and taxpayers, should be asking.
To Minister of Transportation, Glen Murray:
- Is Toronto going to get the full $1.8-billion originally budgeted for the LRT plan, or will the amount be $300m or more lower as stated in the letter from Metrolinx to Council?
- Is the provincial contribution indexed for inflation to the point where spending occurs, or is it capped? If so, at what value?
- If Council approves the subway, but this is subject to Ontario providing $1.8b indexed for inflation, will the government say “no” and force Toronto to pick up the balance?
These questions are central to understanding just how much provincial subsidy the subway project might receive. There is a difference of about $500m on the table, and this would have a substantial effect on any new financing scheme Council would have to approve.
Murray has been all over the map with comments about funding the subway saying he won’t negotiate, but also saying that he awaits Council’s position on the question. Council needs his answer to make an informed decision.
Until now, confirmation of the shutdown and reconstruction plans for the SRT/LRT conversion have been through private emails. TTC Chair Karen Stintz repeatedly cites a four-year shutdown even though in recent correspondence, Metrolinx has confirmed that they want to finish the work in three years. In private conversation, an even shorter term was discussed, but Metrolinx is unwilling to commit to this until they received detailed proposals from bidders on the project.
- Will Metrolinx make a public, unqualified statement about the proposed shutdown period for the SRT including closing and opening dates for a period shorter than 2015 to 2020?
- If the Scarborough LRT does not go forward, what is involved in making the Malvern segment north of Sheppard a spur from the Sheppard LRT? What would be involved in adding this to the Sheppard project, and when could it open?
- What is involved in building the northern segment of the so-called “Scarborough Malvern” line to extend the Sheppard LRT south to serve UTSC campus?
These questions speak to the actual effect of an LRT construction in the SRT corridor, or alternately, what might be done to increase the reach of the Sheppard LRT that will now be feeding into an extended Bloor-Danforth subway at McCowan.
To the TTC:
These questions speak to the accuracy of the estimated subway project cost, the margin of error in the estimate, and the future operating and capital maintenance cost of the subway extension.
- The capital cost estimate for the subway option is stated with a ±30% range of possible actual values. How much work is involved to narrow this margin considering that the upper bound would expose the City to an additional $1b in project costs? Can the TTC provide a more accurate estimate before Council makes an irrevocable commitment to the subway project?
- What is the operating cost of the existing subway system, and how much would this be increased by extending the BD line to Sheppard? What are the capital budget implications for additional maintenance in future years?
- If the capacity of the BD subway line must be increased to handle new demand from Scarborough, what are the implications for timing of the fleet replacement, expansion of the fleet, and storage/maintenance in a post-extension environment?
- What will be the effect of added demand on the BD subway for the Bloor-Yonge and St. George interchanges, capacity problems on the YUS subway, the need for a Relief Line, and the timing of related capital expenditures?
To the City Manager:
- Your report cites a recent demand estimate for the subway option based on new land use data, but does not include an estimate for the LRT option on the same basis, only the original 2006 value. Why not, and what are the apples-to-apples demand comparisons for the two proposals?
- What specific changes in the land use model caused a jump of roughly 50% in the projected demand on the subway? Does this depend on major as-yet unapproved development or zoning changes?
- What are the implications for future tax rates and development charges of each $1b of capital spending on this or any other project?
- How close is Toronto to its debt target, and how much more transit financing can it afford within that target considering other known demands on City capital resources?
To TTC Chair Karen Stintz:
Both Chair Stintz and CEO Andy Byford are on the record saying that the TTC cannot absorb another flat-lined operating subsidy. They are also on record supporting the (Downtown) Relief Line. Their commitment to Waterfront transit improvements is not as clear.
- What are your plans for the 2014 operating budget, and more generally for improvement of transit service in coming years?
- What new or improved bus services do you plan to operate in Scarborough in the ten years leading to the opening of the subway extension?
- What currently unfunded transit capital programs cited by the Chief Planner as top priorities for the City do you intend to support, and when will this support appear by way of “above the line” budget proposals?
We can have an informed debate about transit options for Toronto, or we can have a great deal of sound and fury leading to a pro-subway vote that settles nothing because there will be so many unknowns. Stay tuned.