Transit City (6) The Money

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.

5 thoughts on “Transit City (6) The Money

  1. Steve, I have a question regarding the funding. While it’s true that we need money to build the system and pay for the LRT trains, there’s also the issue that the TTC is not a profit making system. Since generally every single rider’s fare only contributes to about 70-80% of the operating costs, if we were to suddenly gain another 100 million rides because of this plan, where would we also find the extra millions to pay for operations if the TTC is continously strapped for cash as it is?

    I know that on this site you consistantly hype increasing ridership, but is there even money to pay for the increased ridership? Do you think in a way that the TTC just doesn’t really try that hard because if they had too many new riders, they could not afford it?

    I am basing this on the fact that with the exception of our subway lines, basically every line is a money-loser in Toronto, and would not operate if it were not for funding from our taxes.

    Steve: Yes, carrying more passengers will increase the operating deficit, but the flip side of the argument goes like this:

    Not carrying those passengers at all leads to more congestion and wasted travel times. Some parts of the city may suffer economically without a better transit system. Those are not “costs” that show up on the TTC’s books, but they are part of the social cost of not investing in better transit. People love to talk about “our taxes” being too high, and they then want government hand outs because they lose money through other inefficiencies like road congestion.


  2. While you note above that the cost/rider of the Spadina extension can’t be directly compared to the cost/rider of the LRT expansion, it is very interesting to note the differences in cost between each of the proposed LRT lines. The cost per new trip per year varies quite widely line to line:

    • Waterfront West LRT: $34.62;

    • Eglinton-Crosstown LRT: $66.27;

    • Scarborough-Malvern LRT: $140.00;

    • Etobicoke-Finch West LRT: $62.78;

    • Sheppard East LRT: $85.38;

    • Jane Street LRT: $52.07; and

    • Don Mills LRT: $90.00.

    (I simply subtracted 2021 estimated ridership from current ridership to get ridership growth, and then divided the cost of each line by ridership growth)

    Surely TTC analysts would have done the same. I wonder what the calculation would have been for the Weston/Airport/DRL line that was omitted from the proposals. I suspect it would be far lower than the $140/rider cost of the Scarborough/Malvern LRT.

    Steve: There is no question that the cost per new rider varies from line to line. However, we are also trying to improve service for existing riders and make the overall network more attractive. Just as it is cheaper to carry the millions who ride the Yonge Subway than it is to carry the thousands on Sheppard, there will be a variation from line to line in the LRT network. However, it will be a network, not one or two lines serving a minority of Toronto’s population.

    As for the Weston/Airport Blue 22 scheme, that route was going to charge people over $20/ride to get to the airport. That proposal is going through a long, slow death and soon, I hope, we can get on with expanding a truly public transit service to the airport.

    Waterfront West is really cheap because so much of it is already in place. We don’t have to build much new trackage to open up southern Etobicoke and Swansea to much improved service into the core. We get lots of new riders at comparatively modest investment.


  3. Just a couple of comments:

    The Sheppard East LRT would cost $555 million and operate on the surface at about an average speed of
    30 km/h and make you transfer to the subway at Don Mills.

    The Sheppard East subway would cost 40 km/h [???] and eliminate a transfer at Don Mills. Can you really conclude the LRT is a better value in this corridor?

    Steve: This comment appears to have lost some text.

    According to your estimate that you can obtain daily ridership by dividing the annual total by 300, the Eglinton line would have a daily ridership of about 173,000. Isn’t that going to be too crowded for light rail? In L.A., the Blue Line light rail, which is about as long as the Eglinton Line would be, carries about 72,000 riders per day and is commonly believed to be at capacity during the peak hours.

    Steve: The Eglinton line is very long and, from a ridership point of view, is at least three separate sets of origins and destinations. The turnover is what produces the high ridership count. This is not a line that picks up everyone to deliver them to a single point. I can think of at least five separate major destinations on this route and a lot of counter-peak travel.

    Before the service cuts of the mid-90s, we regularly carried over 60,000 riders on some streetcar lines running single 50-foot long cars with no private ight-of-way. This is possible when there is a lot of turnover and bi-directional loading.


  4. Steve,

    Not sure where to put this comment, but I think this is the best spot.

    In his budget speech yesterday, Flaherty said that cities should be more prudent with their finances. I happen to agree. Instead of building an 8km subway extension to a field in Vaughan, we should start building some of the Transit City LRT lines instead. We could build the 30km Eglinton Crosstown line for the same money it would cost to build the 8km subway extension and serve far more people by doing so. Now that sounds prudent to me.

    I know that the Federal money is earmarked for Spadina, as are the provincial funds, but Miller needs to call Flaherty’s bluff, so to speak. He wants us to be prudent? Fine. Building 8km of rapid transit to an empty field at a cost of over $2B is not prudent. Building a 30km crosstown line most certainly is.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see Miller demanding that we be allowed to use the Spadina money in a more prudent fashion, and that really is too bad. For all his faults, Mel Lastman would be all over Flaherty’s remarks and would call him on it. I wish Miller would show some bravado here and get mad. I wish he would tell Flaherty that he will use the Federal money in a more prudent fashion, whether he likes it or not, and dare him to say no. That’s the kind of thing Mel would have done, and it probably would have worked.

    Steve: Other levels of government spend all their time telling the municipal sector to be more prudent, and then go out and blow billions on vote buying. This double standard will never, ever change.

    Don’t forget, by the way, that the only reason we have the Spadina VCC subway is that the Province wants it. The Feds just came along for the ride. We need to change policies at Queen’s Park so that transit money goes where it is needed by riders, not by property developers.

    Note: please don’t think that I’m a Lastman supporter. He did many stupid things, but one thing he did well was stick up for Toronto in a very vocal way. He also got results, albeit results that he wanted and not necessarily results that were good for Toronto, such as the Sheppard subway. But still, he made noise and people noticed.

    After four and a half years of Miller, all we have are some proposed lines on a map, posters around the city for one cent of the GST (which will never happen), and nothing else really. He’s even gun-shy on the new taxing powers that Toronto has! Given our infrastructure and transit problems, Miller should have been all over these new powers and had a plan in place to use them as soon as it was legal to do so. After all, we new ahead of time that these powers were coming. By not using them, it almost looks like Toronto isn’t as desperate as it claims to be, so how can we expect other levels of government to take our financial concerns seriously?

    Sorry this turned into a political commentary. I’m just really upset about this.

    Steve: I’m not sure that Miller has much room to be more aggressive when, in effect, the Province tells us to build this subway or they won’t give us money for anything else. Until we get dedicated revenue for Toronto that isn’t doled out depending on which cabinet minister wants a new subway for their riding, we are going to have problems. This goes all the way back to the GO Urban fiasco and Provincial meddling in Toronto’s transit plans to showcase their technology.

    As for the new taxing powers, I’m waiting to see how the strategy plays out. We could well see Toronto telling Queen’s Park and Ottawa that this is what will happen if we have no alternative. Do their friends in, say, the real estate industry really want to see a 1.5% tax on property sales? That would pay for Transit City quite nicely, and we could tell the meddlesome politicians to get stuffed when they try to dictate where we build the lines.

    As for the GST campaign, that, I think is something that has to play out for the long haul. The important message is that Toronto gives far more than it gets, and a guaranteed piece of the GST is an easy way to build a dedicated revenue stream for Toronto and other cities. Nobody in their right mind expected Ottawa to include Miller’s request in the budget, but it makes a good talking point for the next election and future budgets from more sympathetic parties. If anything, the media do Miller a disservice by painting this campaign as a failure when its intent is to get Torontonians to demand a better funding deal.


  5. Sorry my last comment was cut off. I am going to argue for the Sheppard subway to be finished instead of an LRT built. Here’s why:

    Travel time from Yonge to Scarborough Centre via subway and LRT: 10 min to Don Mills + 10 min to Transfer + 16 minutes to SC = 36 min

    Travel time from Yonge to Scarborough Centre via subway: 10 min to Don Mills + 12 min to SC = 22 min.

    In my opinion, saving 30 minutes on your commute is worth the extra cost.

    Steve: First off, the Scarborough LRT isn’t even going to STC, it’s going straight east on Sheppard. Most people don’t actually want to go to STC as their destination except that there happens to be a big bus interchange there. I work nearby and believe me, people are not pouring out of the RT into office towers at STC, they are changing to bus routes that go elsewhere. Very few of the people in my building take the TTC to work.

    Second: If the interchange at Don Mills Station is designed properly, this will be an across-the-platform transfer, not a 10-minute transfer. It’s not ideal, but we don’t have $1.5-billion to extend the subway for the relatively small number of people who would use it. You talk about a 30-minute saving, but I assume you mean 2 x 14 minutes (from your example). Your premise is faulty both as to magnitude and from the assumption that the route you describe is a common origin-destination pair that should drive the decision. There is very strong support for the Sheppard LRT going further east than, say, Kennedy (where it would have to turn south to reach STC) because this would aid people travelling across Sheppard and would connect with both the extended RT (at Markham) and with the Malvern LRT (at Morningside).

    As for the Eglinton LRT, it is projected to have about 37% of the ridership that the Bloor subway, which is of comparable length, has. And of course the Bloor subway is absolutely packed in the peak direction. If a light rail train consists of 3 cars that can each pack in 130 people, and a subway can pack 150 people into 6 cars, the capacity is 390/900 or about 43% of the subway, since due to the underground section the light rail train can probably only run as often as the subway (say every 2 minutes). So, it seems quite possible that the Eglinton line will be immediately packed (at least in the section between Dufferin and Don Mills) with no room for growth.

    Steve: Your numbers regarding vehicle/train capacity are off. The type of LRV proposed for Toronto will carry 200 people, the same as a subway car. The LRVs are narrower but longer. Calgary Transit, for example, cites a capacity of 200 people per car. A three-car train, therefore has roughly half the capacity of a subway train. Both of these figures are at maximum load, and you don’t design a line to actually run at that capacity. As for ridership numbers, you have to be careful not to confuse rides (unlinked trips in planning jargon) with peak demand. A lot depends on the origin-destination and temporal patterns of the riders.

    Anyway, there seems to be a lot of anti-subway bias lately on these posts; I just wanted to suggest that we don’t swing too far the other way and advocate options that limit our future growth.

    Steve: I agree that we should not overdo the LRT flagwaving, but that’s one reason why the central part of the Eglinton line is underground — the recognition that there just isn’t enough room in some locations for surface LRT. As for anti-subway bias, the pro-subway bias has been so overwhelming in Toronto for decades that it takes a lot to get people to look at anything else. I may get strident at times, but when we have a $2.5-billion subway being built to the middle of a field with a projected peak demand that is well within the capability of streetcars or buses, I have a hard time worrying that subways are not getting a fair shake. They are little more than welfare for developers and construction companies the way they have been planned here for the last 20 years.


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