This is part of a series covering various aspects of the Transit City announcement of March 16. In previous posts I have looked at various aspects of the network both as presented and as in might evolve and improve. Now let’s look at how this stacks up against other transit proposals for funding.
The total cost of all seven lines is $6.1-billion. Assuming that this is spend over a 15-year construction period, that’s about $400-million per year. The value includes a fleet of 240 vehicles at a presumed cost of $5-million each. These would be much larger than present-day streetcars and have a capacity close to that of a subway car. Examples of cars in other systems can be seen both on the Transit City site and on many other transit activists’ and ethusiasts’ pages. I’m not going to get into cataloguing the options here.
Of these lines, by far the most ambitious is the Eglinton line which consumes over 1/3 of the total program cost. This line has the highest cost/km ($73-million) due to its tunnel section for about 10km across the central part of the city. This line can be built in stages with a good chunk of the underground part coming last.
A major purpose in getting out the Transit City proposal was to allow the City, the media, the citizenry and the politicians at many levels of government to have something concrete to talk about. We all know that cities, especially Toronto, want more money for transit. Everyone knows what a subway is, but few know about LRT. Discussions about the future of transit inevitably bog down in a hopeless circle of “I only want a subway” and “We can’t afford subways”. Being a transit advocate in that environment is challenging.
Today saw the federal Finance Minister kvetching that he wasn’t going to fund this program. He harumphed that when he plans something, he figures out how to budget for it first and then he does the detailed plans and announcement. Minister Flaherty totally misses the point — the intent is to stimulate discussion and show that Toronto doesn’t want to just pour whatever funding it gets into a black hole from which nothing concrete emerges.
Indeed, the Federal Government is quite capable of spending money like water (or at least making announcements) without bothering to explain how this squares up with their alleged penury when it comes to supporting the provinces and cities. But the Feds, even the Tories, are honourable, intelligent people who, I’m sure, will come to see the light someday.
In any event, we now have a document to talk about. $6.1-billion sounds like a lot over the next 15 years, but remember that we are already on the hook for $2.5-billion for the Spadina Vaughan subway, and until today, the TTC’s next priority was the Sheppard Subway extension to Scarborough at another $1.5-billion or so.
The economic comparisons between the subway and LRT plans are illuminating. For $6.1-billion, we get 122km of LRT including roughly 15km of underground construction. We will serve 175-million riders a year of whom over half are new to transit. The cost/km is about $50-million on average, including vehicles, and the cost/million riders is about $35-million.
The Spadina Subway extension to Steeles will cost about $1.5-billion (all figures are 2007 dollars). For this, we get 6.2km of subway at a cost of $242-million/km. The cost per million riders (based on the TTC’s own estimate of 30-million annual riders) is $50-million.
These per-rider figures cannot be compared directly. In the case of the LRT network, we are building new lines where the average trip length per ride is in many cases going to be longer than the entire Spadina Subway extension to Steeles. If we look at capital costs on the basis of passenger-km, the spread between the LRT plans and the subway will be wider than the figures above indicate.
The big difference, of course, lies in the construction costs where LRT is about 20% of subway. This includes some underground construction in the LRT plans, and excludes vehicle costs in the subway plans.
Yes, $6.1-billion is a lot of money, but it will buy us a lot of transit service.
To those who weep and wail wondering where the money will come from, I ask only that they be as critical of transit schemes when they involve multi-billion-dollar subway lines. We’ve already built Sheppard and Spadina is on the way. Somehow we found the money for those lines.
We will have to find the money because not finding it, not funding massive improvements in transit, will strangle the city in traffic. That will have a huge cost of its own both in congestion for the trucking industry, time wasted by commuters, pollution from exhaust fumes and the gradual loss of a healthy city environment.
We need much more transit than just the Transit City proposals — we need more buses and streetcars on existing routes, and some major capital projects don’t appear in the Transit City cost estimates. All of this is part of the cost of being a major city.
Building a Transit City is something we all have to do, and every government has a role to make it work. I will turn to the political context for this transit announcement in a future post, but it’s getting late, and I’ve been writing for quite a while.