How The TTC Will Pay Its Way?

Today’s Star has an article by this title, except there’s no question mark.  The question of property development on TTC lands comes up from time to time with an unfortunate feeling that a “gold rush” is just around the corner.  The TTC could do everything we want if only it would develop its surplus property.

To save you flipping over the Star for reference, here are the properties under consideration.  For more details on some of them, go to the sidebar article.

  • Finch Station (the TTC does not own the land on which the commuter parking sits) 
  • Sheppard Station, northwest corner of Yonge & Sheppard plus bus loop
  • York Mills Station, south entrance parking lot (there is already a building over the main entrance and bus loop)
  • Lawrence Station (limited space available above the bus ramps) 
  • Eglinton Station, old bus terminal
  • Davisville Yard
  • Rosedale Station (park)
  • Wilson Station (parking lots)
  • Islington Station (redevelopment scheme already in progress as discussed previously on this site)
  • Lansdowne Garage site
  • Greenwood Yard
  • Danforth Garage site
  • Warden Station
  • Leslie Station (lots of open space on a prime corner)

I’m not going to get into the specifics of any proposal (most sites don’t have anything actually designed yet), but my concern is that the Star headline presents this as the TTC’s way out of a financial crunch.  The article quotes Raymond Wong, national director of research for CB Richard Ellis Limited, as saying that there’s a limit to what the TTC can get.  A recent sale near Leslie Station of surplus Canadian Tire land came in at about $3.8-million per acre.

[One acre, 43,560 square feet, is roughly the space that two subway stations would occupy.  500 feet long x 45 feet wide x 2.  For those familiar with Imperial measure, an acre is one furlong long and one surveyor’s chain wide, or 10 square chains.]

The Canadian Tire lands are not encumbered by the need to keep a subway and bus station operating within whatever is built on them.  Indeed, this sort of thing can be quite challenging for some developments.  A building over a subway yard cannot, for obvious reasons, have an underground parking garage, and buses roaring into and out of a bus loop may be inconsistent with the quiet life of condo dwellers.

In any event, sales of this nature are a one-time event.  Once you have the money, that’s it.  You can’t do this again next year and count on property development as an ongoing revenue source.  Moreover, the scheme at Islington Station doesn’t come near paying for the cost of redeveloping the existing bus loop or of moving the Mississauga and GO Transit operations to Kipling.

Let’s put this in context of TTC capital needs assuming that the $3.8-million per acre is a reasonable figure.

That would buy, say, one new LRV about 100 feet long if we got a good price, or five hybrid buses, or just under 1/5 of one percent of the cost of the Spadina Subway extension.  Flip that on its head, and the TTC would need 553 acres of land to pay for that subway.  That’s an area roughly equal to Yonge to Bathurst, Bloor to College.  It is larger than the Steeles Campus of York University.

The TTC does not own anywhere near that much property even assuming they could get a good price for it.  Without question, some redevelopment of TTC lands will bring more riders to the system and will fill in some otherwise empty spaces that are totally inappropriate for subway station sites.  However, this redevelopment will not come close to solving the TTC’s financial problems.  Anyone who pretends it will has their head in the sand.

7 thoughts on “How The TTC Will Pay Its Way?

  1. I find it interesting that the TTC doesn’t seem to be considering the development of many parking [lots].  It always seemed to me that free parking for metropass holdings is a very poor use of land.

    For example, why aren’t they looking at Kennedy station?  That seems like a prime spot for development given the number of parking spaces there.  It would be nice if they could build around the station so that the building could actually reach the corner of Kennedy and Eglinton.

    Steve:  Parking lots are a challenge for building sites.  It isn’t practical to just leave the parking on the ground level and it has to be incorporated into the building structure.  This makes the cost of a parking space so high that it isn’t practical for the TTC to build it and give it away to pass holders, and the cost of parking would go up substantially.

    GO Transit faces the same problem with some of its huge lots.  Going out at grade is fairly cheap, but at some point they run out of room.  Once you have to go up, the cost of providing parking becomes much higher.

    Looking at this from another point of view, there is a limit on how many people we can serve with the park-and-ride model.  If we are going to substantially increase transit use in the suburbs, we need to bring more people to major terminals and commuter rail stations by local transit.


  2. Steve – I would normally criticise your assumption that the TTC would spend capital asset realisation for current expenditure except we both know that’s what can and does happen in Toronto as a whole!  You shouldn’t get so mad about the press finding the TTCs silver bullet – they do so every six months or so after all, like the gas tax or the smart card.

    That said, many of the TTC lands are on avenues designated for transit focused development in the OP – they were the egg that produced the planning chicken (or vice versa).  Better the TTC directly benefit from intensification by land sale or by joint venture than private developers with nearby sites where TTC gets no benefit, especially given that councillors will take developer money for parks or community centres but rarely (ever?) for transit upgrades.

    Better owt than nowt…

    Steve:  My concern is that press coverage like this triggers a lot of activity at the political level and may divert attention from the basic need for better transit funding.  I agree that the TTC should benefit from any development, but there is a limit to how much is available from that source relative to the overall needs of the system.


  3. The TTC should not sell these areas, even though they will not be useful to them.  If they allow developers to build condos or office towers over the stations, then the TTC could collect (possibly milions) of dollars in ‘air rights’ to these properties, which they already do overtop Eglinton Station.

    This will not solve the TTC’s financial problems, but will help future TTC needs by becoming a line in the TTC’s revenue.  Perhaps it will help fund more bus purchases.

    More about Eglinton station: The old bus terminal is supposed to be demolished and replaced with a new bus terminal on the same land. (The current bus terminal is a temporary one built inside the old garage, which the TTC can also sell).

    An office or condo development will accompany the terminal, providing continous revenue towards the TTC.

    Steve:  In cases where there will still be a TTC operation on the property, such as Eglinton, I believe that’s what will happen.  At places like Warden where the parking is to be relocated into the Hydro lands south of St. Clair, the land now hosting the north lot and the bus terminal will be surplus and will be sold. The rental value of land is related to its sale value, and is not going to be megabucks per year.

    Part of the area over the garage is occupied by parking and an existing building.  The west half of the site is part of the overall package available for redevelopment.  



  4. I also found the Star’s attitude to be almost misleading.  These are one-time revenues, if the land and / or air rights are to be sold.  I follow land values fairly closely, and few of the sites mentioned would come even close to $3.8-million per acre.  My guess would be that you might get that at Eglinton Station. 

    I have no idea how you would put a development over Davisville Yard, unless you plan to somehow omit any provision for parking.  I can’t really imagine a huge parking garage of two or three levels sticking above the yard, with the actual buildings being above that.  I would join the neighbourhood NIMBYs in objecting to that!

    The TTC has some good sites that could be developed.  The old Danforth garage is an obvious one, and I can’t understand what they are waiting for with regards to the Lansdowne garage site.  But all of these together will pay for only a few dozen buses.

    Steve:  Under the terms set down by Mike Harris and still in force, when a municipal agency or school board has surplus property, it must be offered to all other government agencies before it is put on the open market.  For some time, the Toronto police force was thinking of buying it for a new Division, but that deal fell through.  Now, finally, it’s on the market, but it is not a prime location.

    Over at Danforth Garage, as you will have learned from the Star’s piece, the company that puy up the new building on the corner at Coxwell has right of first refusal on the rest.  Even if they don’t actually build on it, they could make a tidy profit by buying and flipping the land.  For legal reasons, I will not go into this arrangement further.


  5. Steve – what about relocating Davisville Yard and thus unlocking the land value?  I’m thinking about either as part of an extension beyond Steeles or a Sheppard line extension as presumably relying on Wilson as sole yard for YUS and Sheppard if extended west might be tempting fate.

    The City has a page on it:

    Steve:  Yes, presuming on Wilson is a non-starter.  The extension west from Yonge to Dufferin/Wilson Heights is about 4 km.  It could cost vastly more than the sale price of Davisville Yard.

    There is a similar problem with an extension north from Finch, but at least there’s decent demand up there.  Where you would find enough land for a yard to store and maintain about 15 trainsets, and how much you would have left over net from the land sale at Davisville, is quite another matter.

    Thanks for the link to the City’s site.  Clearly, this project has been moribund for some time.


  6. Hasn’t Mississauga Transit already said they would kick in $5 million for the new terminal at Kipling?  I know this is far from the amount required to build it but it’s a start.  Also the GO is already at Kipling, if I’m not mistaken it would be only Mississauga Transit that would be moving to Kipling from Islington.

    Steve:  $5-million may be a start, but there’s a long way to go — it is only about 1.7 of the Kipling project’s cost, and under 1/10 of the total Islington/Kipling project.  Since Islington cannot happen without Kipling, funding at Kipling is integral to the Islington/SNC development scheme.  Please refer to the TTC report at this link.

    As for GO, they get to use a spiffy new terminal at Kipling, and the TTC is expecting them to pony up some of the cost.


  7. I would add to the list all the outdoor portions of the Yonge Subway between Eglinton and Bloor (this was actually done between St Clair and Summerhill in the 1960s I believe) and the Spadina subway between Eglinton and the 401.  To this latter point, I think the City should seriously consider filling in the “Spadina Ditch”, and replacing it will an urban scale at-grade road above the subway and a mixed low to medium rise housing along its edges (over where the current expressway lanes are today).

    I think we have to look beyond just the funding issue, which Steve rightly notes won’t be solved by selling surplus lots, and consider these lands as great infill opportunities, and a chance to improve the city’s overall urban space.  The City would have to take the leadership here so I’m not overly optimistic that we’ll see this kind of vision but here’s hoping.


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