The Spadina Subway: In For A Penny …

The Toronto Executive Committee Agenda for April 30 contains an intriguing report titled Spadina Subway Extension — Update.  This sets out details of the proposed agreement between the City of Toronto, the TTC and York Region for the construction and operation of the line to Vaughan Corporate Centre.

You can read the whole thing at your leisure, but here’s what caught my eye:

  • The subway line will be built, owned, operated and maintained by the TTC.  The land on or under which it sits will be owned by the TTC or on long-term lease.
  • Surface facilities including bus transfers and passenger pickup/dropoff areas will be built and maintained by York Region.
  • The TTC will set service and fare levels for the subway, will control retail leasing in the stations, will take all revenues and will be responsible for capital maintenance.

The estimated operating cost of the line in York Region is about $9-million per annum, and the TTC expects to recover “up to 80% from fares and other revenue”.  This is a very optimistic projection considering ridership levels claimed in York Region’s own Environmental Assessment report, and obviously it assumes an extra fare for service north of Steeles Avenue.  Alas, there report contains no material to support this claim.

The TTC seeks a Provincial startup subsidy “until such time as the subway reaches full ridership”.  Does this mean until the subway is literally full, or that it has met some projected level of riding, and if so what level?

What is extremely troubling here is that Toronto and the TTC propose to sign on to an arrangement whereby the TTC could wind up subsidizing the operation in York Region if revenue projections fall short and/or if Queen’s Park doesn’t cough up an operating grant.  The absence of any financial or ridership data in this report leaves me wondering just how this financial sleight-of-hand comes about.

This is an ideal arrangement for York Region who don’t risk ongoing costs of subsidizing the subway if it doesn’t meet expectations.  They get the benefit of the development, such as that may be, without chancing a raid on their budget to pay for empty subway trains.

By the time the VCC line opens, there will no doubt be some kind of fare union, if not an amalagamation between the Toronto and York Region transit systems.  Will there still be separate fares north of Steeles?  Will the TTC’s revenue projections be realistic in that sort of environment?

These are serious questions, but I doubt we will see much from our Executive Committee on Monday.  Despite recent moves to snatch a few dollars from the Spadina Subway trust fund, I doubt anyone at City Hall wants to dig too deeply into the financial assumptions of this project. 

How does the TTC expect to recover 80% of operating costs, let alone pay for future capital maintenance?  How much service will be cut in Toronto to run trains to the fields of Vaughan?  Does anyone know?  Does anyone care?