How Much Will It Cost To MoveOntario? (Updated)

Updated July 8:  Metrolinx has announced that the draft Regional Transportation Plan and Investment Strategy have been delayed until September.  You can read about this in The Star and in the official Metrolinx press release.

[The original post follows below.]

Those of you who have been following the proposals and plans from Metrolinx will know that there’s been a tiny bit of inflation in the projected cost of transit improvements for the GTAH.

About one year ago, Premier McGuinty announced MoveOntario2020, a plan to invest $17.5-billion (2/3 from Queen’s Park, the rest from Ottawa) in over 50 projects for the region.  For the moment, leave aside the fact that this was less of a plan than a grab bag of every proposal that was sitting on the table in every municipality.  At least it was a starting point to talk about investment in transit.

One big chunk of MoveOntario2020 is Transit City, and it accounted for about 1/3 of the total.

Many hurrahs!  Horns blared!  Gongs clanged!  Visions of a transit future danced through our heads.

Over the past year, the picture has changed quite a bit.  The most aggressive of Metrolinx plans, as described in their Preliminary Directions White Paper, requires an annual outlay of $3.8-billion for capital and another $3.8-billion for additional operating costs.  (Table E-1, page 63)  The least aggressive isn’t far behind.

That’s a huge jump from the investment that would take us out to 2020, and sticker shock may derail the whole thing.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Back in the late 60’s, Queen’s Park was searching for transit’s “missing link”, a mode that would handle demands between those of a bus and a subway.  What they came up with was the Magnetic Levitation Krauss-Maffei train that acquired the moniker “GO Urban”.  None of it was ever built for technical reasons, and the whole project went on the back burner for a decade while the Urban Transportation Development Corporation (a provincial agency) tried to salvage something from the political wreckage.

We got two:  the CLRV, famously described as “the Edsel of the streetcar” by former TTC Chief General Manager Al Leach, and the Scarborough RT.  The latter actually made a decent showing in Vancouver as SkyTrain and, as a transit mode, really put down roots there.  In Toronto, however, the RT wound up costing almost 2.5 times the estimate for the original Scarborough LRT.  So much for cheap transit.

You have probably noticed that we didn’t build much after the RT, and the big problem was always money.  There was never enough to go around, and the debates turned on where one more line, or fragment of a line, would be built.

By 1990 David Peterson decided that transit was a ticket to re-election, and he announced a network of rapid transit for Toronto, almost all subways.  Oddly enough, the Waterfront West LRT was in there, but I suspect that was more for geographical balance rather than any recognition that LRT could be a major force in Toronto’s network.  The Sheppard Subway was part of the same plan.

In September, Bob Rae became Premier and embraced the Liberals’ expensive transit network partly as a recession fighter.  Mike Harris killed most of the plan, leaving only the Sheppard Subway as a bribe to get the would-be MegaMayor onside for amalgamation.  Once again, we had a one-of subway, or rather half a subway because the money only stretched to Don Mills.

Now, thanks to friends at court, York Region will get their Spadina Subway, and Richmond Hill dreams of their own Yonge Subway extension.  Both of those will soak up a lot of money.

Transit City, initialled billed as a $6-billion plan, has escalated too thanks to inclusion of more underground sections and a larger fleet to match ridership projections.

The Metrolinx Regional Plan isn’t out yet, and unless someone finds a lot of spare change, it could be stillborn.  Transit plans have a bad habit of overstating their benefits and understating their costs, typically because their real political purpose is to make land more valuable and, when times are bad, prop up the construction industry.  Alas, over the timeframe any of these plans need for design, let alone construction, governments and economic times change, and today’s drive to save the environment and reduce commuting congestion fades from memory as people wait for something, anything to actually open.

When Metrolinx started looking at the GTAH’s problems, they quickly realized that this was not a case of a quick fix, a few lines here and there.  Even the MoveOntario plan was only a base for an attack on transit problems.  “Bold” was the term for the clearly preferred option in Green Paper 7.  Sadly, nobody was worrying about how to fund the network, or which elements of the network had the greatest benefit to the whole.

Metrolinx plans to unveil its draft Regional Plan in a few weeks aiming at a July 25 approval by their Board, with a full approval in late fall.  This agenda is pure folly — planning 25 years’ worth of transportation in such a short time — and its clear purpose is to have something ready for the next Provincial election.  Does this sound familiar?

I have already written at length about the problems with Metrolinx’ plans and, no surprise, haven’t heard a word out of them.

The exercise began with the intent that a regional body would set priorities more or less within the framework of MoveOntario2020, but Metrolinx has gone far beyond that.  Some additions are justified, but some are dubious. 

We’re not allowed to debate that issue by the very process Metrolinx uses for public feedback, a process designed to validate what has been done rather than to challenge assumptions and look for alternatives.  You can’t go from a draft plan in July to a final version a few months later with any meaningful examination of alternatives.

A plan for 25 years should not be carved in stone, and we need not decide today the final details of a network that won’t be completed for decades.  History shows us that such plans leave at best one or two reminders of political expedience, but little of value to the transit system.

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park must take a step back and decide just what they are trying to achieve, and what we can all afford.

25 thoughts on “How Much Will It Cost To MoveOntario? (Updated)

  1. I think my comment got lost in the technical difficulties? Anyway the jist of it was that $17.5-billion is just PART of what we need to spend to really get ontario moving.


  2. Great note,

    I always worry about these long visionary statements made by bodies such as Metrolinx. I hope they don’t get too far ahead of themselves, and then deem the overall project impossible to pull off.

    Imagine if they were to take control of long-term planning of the TTC? All we would need is another Harris regime at Queen’s Park to totally destroy the local transit fabric…

    On the bright side, I do like how they are seemingly doing a better job of connecting different systems together. I would love an alternative for Durham Transit to connect to the TTC in a meaningful way, to avoid paying three fares to commute (DRT, GO, TTC).


  3. Steve,

    I can’t help but feel pessimistic after reading this. But it does leave me with questions.

    How will this fear of lack of funding affect things like transit city. It seems they’re moving along rather well in terms of planning (at least for sheppard east and don mills).

    Does this mean that all this will stop, or will there be momentum to see them through?

    Steve: The real issue here is what happens when the Board has to transform a smorgasboard of ideas into something realistic, a multi-stage plan that we can actually afford to build. The work already done on Transit City will help both because the projects are further along, and some of the messy technical details will have been worked out.

    If Metrolinx (and Queen’s Park) are stupid enough to stop all this work in its tracks, then their credibility vanishes.


  4. One thing in TC’s favour is that the press has been covering it for, what, a year now as if it’s definitely going to happen. Dalton and co. would look really stupid if they pulled out, I think.


  5. Metrolinx’s plans for more subways is definitely on a collision course with the TTC’s light rail strategy, but I wouldn’t sweat it — their plan for full subways on Eglinton, Queen, and Sheppard will never fly. Too much money and too long to build.

    And their subway planning isn’t all that great either — let’s see, three new E-W subway routes in Toronto and no new N-S route in the central section? They must of used the flip side of the Transit City planning/scribbling napkin.

    Anyone looking at their map would wonder why the Queen/Downtown “U” route connects with BD but doesn’t extend up to the Eglinton subway to provide alternating crosstown and direct airport-to-downtown service.


  6. I think the biggest problems with this won’t surface until McGuinty loses an election. If he stays in Queen’s Park until 2019, OK, that solves that one (nevermind that there are enough other problems), but is that likely?

    It will be like Harris and the Eglinton West Subway all over again if McGuinty loses office in the next election, and because he has designed the system to work like that is a key reason why I don’t have much faith in his attitude towards transit, nor in Metrolinx’s ability to deliver transit; Metrolinx was never given any teeth to be sustainably [read:financially] independent.

    If McGuinty and the Liberals were serious about transit, they’d take a lesson in history from 1995, and try to take politics out of transit (or at least restrict political involvement to the municipal level(s)) to avoid repeats of past mistakes. McGuinty is currently on track to becoming “Peterson 2KX.”

    Mind you, it might be rather interesting if the NDP, with their yet-to-be-determined new leader, wrestles a minority government in 2011… talk about history repeating (since Rae beat Peterson).


  7. Given the massive inflation with regards to fuel prices, I’m willing to bet that within the next few months we will see a dramatic and sudden shift among 905ers who just a year ago could never be pried from their cars. Once that happens the train (hopefully GO Trains) would leave the station, and politically transit becomes as important as health care.


  8. All of the above takes on new meaning in the face of today’s announcement that the draft RTP and investment strategy have been delayed until the end of September, with the primary cause being on the funding side:

    Specifically, the delays gives them “the opportunity to more broadly address a full suite of funding options, through expanded evaluation, design and assessment.”, to quote from the release.

    It could be that they are working with the government to get preapproval for the funding mechanisms. It could be that there is political resistance from the government. At the moment, it’s impossible to say. But it’s clear that it is impossible to judge the reality of specific line proposals in the test cases without understanding the funding mechanisms that we end up with.


  9. Since the ‘6o’s, about how much money do you think was actually spent, with nothing to show for it? Would the amount be too depressing for words?

    Steve: Oh dear, oh dear … where to start?


  10. Well I guess we shouldn’t be surprised and the Olympics can’t lose money [more] than a man can have a baby either. [For our younger readers, this is a reference to a comment made by the then Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau.]

    It is truly the nature of the beast back as far as building the CPR the initial estimates resemble nothing of reality. I’m sure the ancient Egyptians and Romans had the same problem (although slaves were cheaper back then). Sadly though it seems to confirm my (our) suspicion that MetroLynx is nothing more than a talking shop to pacify voters.

    I doubt that high gas prices will drive 905’s to GO trains though, the train doesn’t go to where they’re driving to (and neither does the bus). It might make them rethink the suburban dream though.


  11. This is very disappointing indeed.

    For years now I have been pushing for a lighter but more extensive network here in Toronto. The conclusion that I have reached is that politicians do not want something that simply works unless it has a high enough profile to get them votes.

    It would seem that the best way to get large scale infrastructure off the ground would be to make transit planning agency an independent body much like the judiciary.

    Also I would not be so sure that people from the 905 are willing to leave behind thier cars just yet. Given the vast distances between destinations and sparse population, transit is not much of an alternative. Building transit may also be futile for years to come as it can take anywhere from 2 to 4 times longer to take a bus in the suburbs that it is to take your car.


  12. Until Toronto, Ontario and Canada come to terms with dedicated taxes for capital projects that allow for real long term planning and funding certainty, its unlikely much will get built. This is the way that Europe, where they actually build stuff, does it, and even the US to some degree, which is embarking on something of a transit renaissance. When everything is “subject to annual appropriations”, as it is here, that is code for wishful thinking because it’s all going to Ministry of Health.


  13. Well, let me tell you about a conversation I had with an Austrian on Amtrak six years ago. He brought up exactly the same concerns about full subways vs. light rail or trams that get discussed here and elsewhere on the net. He felt that full subways were getting built in too many places in Europe where LRT would have been sufficient. So neither side of the Atlantic is immune to this controversy.


  14. Part of the problem with LRT VS Subway is that of line capacity and location. While you can easily move a bus route (IE, someone who lives at bay and bloor and works at bay and front may have taken the bay bus before the yonge subway opened, but now will almost certainly take the subway) moving LRT lines (because they are far more rare and spaced out) is not as easy. So lets build LRT all over the city, what happens in 2030 when Eglinton is maxed out? Do we shut down the LRT line to build a subway? Do we build a subway under Lawrence?

    These now become the issues, and we look back at the decisions we made in 2008 and wonder how we could have been so short sighted. Dont get me wrong, I think Eglinton should indeed be built to LRT standards (we can later add LRT on Lawrence, and York Mills etc) but it brings up the whole ideological question of do we build for what we need today (as transit city does), do we build for what we need once construction is done (as moveontario does) or do we build for what we will need 10 years after construction is done (something we have not seen since the 1950’s)

    Steve: Pardon me, but MoveOntario only picks up all of the existing plans, including Transit City “as is”. The only difference is that MoveOntario includes a bunch of other projects including GO improvements, but it has nothing substantial beyond what was already planned by others.

    As for 1954, the Yonge corridor (comprised of Yonge, Bay, Church, with some additional traffic via Parliament and Bathurst) was carrying in the mid tens-of-thousands at peak hour. Yonge alone was over 10K, and was wall to wall streetcars. This was clearly a route where LRT was not an option.

    In 1966, Bloor-Danforth was carrying close to 9K per hour and had clear scope for growth thanks to feeder bus routes in the growing suburbs.

    The highest of the Transit City projections is nowhere near this.

    As you say, if Eglinton fills up, then what do we do? Well, we look at the travel patterns and decide from that where more capacity is needed. A good parallel here is the Sheppard Subway. Almost all of the riders on that line have one goal — getting on the Yonge line to go somewhere further south. The question is not whether to provide more capacity on Sheppard (which would only overload Yonge), but to address the origin-destination pattern with new service.

    Coming back to Eglinton, I suspect that a Don Mills to downtown line (of whatever technology) would offload some of Eglinton’s peak demand by creating a new path to downtown that didn’t rely on Eglinton Station and the Yonge line’s capacity.


  15. After a week in NYC… I was kind of wondering what it would take to make it so some of our existing lines could carry multiple trains with different stops like the blue line I was using for my entire trip… A C E baby.

    Steve: Aside from resignalling, there is not much time to be gained by A/B operation because demand at few stations is low enough to warrant being skipped. The amount of time available to b saved isn’t much, and the trains on close headways would constantly be catching up to each other.


  16. You’re missing Nick’s point. BD was 150k per day in ’68 — it’s 3x that now.

    Yonge was 10k per hour in the early 50s, and it’s 30k per hour rush now. That tripling in growth would not have occurred without the subway.

    Spadina-University would be an even better example of what new subways can do, because it was an entirely new corridor. Look at the ridership on it now vs. 1978/79.

    Steve: I return to the point I have made over and over again. If someone could actually guarantee me the pot of money needed to prebuild all of that subway capacity, much less to operate it, and the stations would be close enough together to support local traffic, not just commuters, then I might be talked into supporting a subway proposal.

    As we have seen many times before, the money isn’t there, and the requirements for better transit are fare wider-reaching than can be served with a few subways.

    Moreover, I have not missed Nick’s point. YUS is a very different animal from other lines because it serves an extremely high density node downtown. Eglinton does not, nor does Sheppard, and a buildup of demand on them will be (or has already been) mainly due to riders who want to go downtown. I hold that there are better ways to get them downtown, and that we don’t need to overbuild on the east-west corridors.


  17. The question of building a subway versus an LRT should be obvious. Steve you hit the mark dead-on, the volume of traffic isn’t likely to exist for a long, long time. This isn’t a movie about dead baseball players where “if you build it they will come”.

    The total cost of building and operating a subway is far greater than an LRT. Take Sheppard as an example how much does it cost to run the nearly empty 4 car trains (4 trains for most of the day?) versus say 10-16 ALRV sized LRT cars? The personnel costs are nearly identical with 2 per train and a collector at each station, plus station maintenance. How far could the route have been built as an LRT line for what the subway construction cost? Could the Don Mills DRL been built as well for the dough we spent?

    As to Spadina arm of the YUS, it runs at far less than capacity outside the rush hour because north of Eglinton West the density drops considerably. Downsview Station may as well be a farmers field in Vaughan when compared to most of the Yonge, Bloor-Danforth and even many Sheppard stations as to population density. If we hadn’t built Spadina as a subway but as an LRT we might have been able to build much of Transit City already!

    Politics of course notwithstanding.


  18. I just heard news that construction on the Spadina Subway extension to York has just begun, with further planning to go to the VCC.

    Previously I figured that a line to York would be a decent idea, one that is overdue. But after considerable thought, I come to the conclusion that such a large project of that magnitude is not warranted and is better served by a network of LRT. With this subway finally under construction, I do not think Toronto will be able to realize its dream of a large LRT network in Toronto.

    “You have your carrot now shut up” is what provincial and federal politicians would likely say if Toronto dares to ask for more funding for the Transit City plan. And with the likelihood that the extension is going to be a flop, this may spell the final nail of the coffin for LRT.

    Rest in peace, Transit City, you will be missed. It is indeed a sad day for Transit in Toronto.

    Steve: Now all we need is for the feds to actually pay for their share which, as reported in today’s Globe, is snagged in red tape, as usual.

    Promise frequently, pay rarely.


  19. In all honesty, you both miss my point, because I said that I support Eglinton being built as LRT.

    My point is that one does not have to be crazy to think that Eglinton may one day soon(ish) need to be a full Subway. While one does have to be wrong, the idea itself it sound and has a logical backing.


  20. @Micheal Vanner:

    It is true that no streetcar line is near to what Yonge and Bloor-Danforth streetcars were seeing in the days preceding their subway transformations. That said, you’d have to be pretty naive to be setting the same requirements today when considering what gets converted to subway next and what the prerequisites are; things change a lot over half-a-century.

    When Yonge and Bloor-Danforth were first converted, the auto was still a rising entity; it wasn’t the dominating king yet, although it was on the rise quite rapidly as it was already very popular (fortunately it had been mitigated during WWII, but when one party begins (soldier’s come home), another ends (transit loses road space)). It was this rise in traffic that was part of the package of incoming problems for the Bloor-Danforth streetcar services, in addition to a dangerously high and projected to keep growing ridership (for a streetcar route), that got Bloor to leap-froq Queen in the queue (and I’m in agreement with Steve that this was a fortunate turn of events, even though I believe the data available clearly indicates the DRL subway is needed ASAP).

    Back in the 50s, the auto and the streetcar had enough road space to share.

    Welcome to the new millenium, where the car’s dominance has been in effect for decades now. There is not enough space to share the streets with the streetcars in such a saturated road network and the environment that that breeds. Obviously, we don’t want to increase the size of roads either.

    This makes it impossible to run streetcars with capacity like Bloor-Danforth saw in the 50s unless we start closing streets to autos (because many of the streets we’d like to see improved streetcar service on cannot squeeze in an exclusive ROW, too narrow). One of the reasons for Bloor’s conversion to subway was the increasing traffic itself and its associated problems with running reliable service in such traffic (it must be noted that there were other reasons, too, though).

    While many of us like the idea of dedicated roads to streetcars (transit malls and the like), which are fairly big steps if you think about it, any solution needs to be palettable to others (particularly those along the corridor itself), including (unfortunately) the road works department at City Hall, and because of that there are big problems with improving the conditions on these lines to allow for ridership that is twice of King’s current level or greater.

    With King and Queen combined, they have a ppdph that is around 5.5K if I’m not mistaken, 6K if you tack on the measely Kingston Road services, for a purely mixed-traffic streetcar line in today’s traffic chaos. A Richmond/Adelaide subway line becomes a very strong contender to satisfy not only the existing capacity woes that a mixed-traffic route will struggle with, but also the latent demand made up of people who refuse to tolerate a poorly-managed mixed-traffic route.

    Yes, we can and should improve route management, but even if we do, demand will inevitably grow from these improvements should they actually make the line reliable.

    Agreed, they could double the size of the vehicles but running coupled pairs at the same frequency as they do today (if they had the rolling stock… which they currently don’t) and see what happens, but how long will that measure suffice? King and Queen combined would hit 10K+ if well-managed. Then when we syphon off passengers from the Bloor-Danforth subway to by-pass Bloor-Yonge as a DRL, that number will jump to 15K+, a figure that is beyond LRT’s ability to satisfy.

    As has been proven by Steve in great and undeniable detail, Queen is grossly mismanaged, and its Kingston Rd. cousins are even worse. King is a little far from a prize-winner itself, despite having the highest ridership of the lot in the entire surface system and even some subways… it’s higher than Sheppard and the SRT (as a per day figure). Despite these rather glaring performance issues, which should be enough to turn away most riders… they still pull (combined) 6K on King and Queen/Kingston? That is 1K short of what Bloor-Danforth had in the 50s, and we haven’t included the “relief” load yet from Bloor-Yonge by-passers.

    I agree that Sheppard and Spadina should have been originally built as LRT. However, the same costs of Sheppard alone would not have built the DRL subway (it would have built between 1/3rd and 1/2, depending on what time-period your talking about since inflation keeps changing the price-tag).

    The DRL cannot be run as part of the Don Mills LRT though, it will be easily become overloaded very earily in its life (if not opening day) and be unable to seriously address the Bloor-Yonge and St.George bottlenecks, making it an utterly pointless venture – and a huge waste of funds all because of efforts to be too cheap on a critical project. “Skimming off the top” is not the attitude to be looking at this problem with, since it only shoots this city in the foot when, 5 years later, the exact same problem re-surfaces, since the problem wasn’t seriously addressed with a long-term solution.

    In this respect, I am in full agreement with Nick J Boragina’s attitude.


  21. It’s red tape but the article does not mention that the extension itself is in any imminent danger. The work being done now involves moving around several sewers at York University to make room for the subway.

    I’d rather see this project stopped dead in its tracks. Sure I may have mentioned that they should not extend to Vaughan, but it appears that this is a package deal, meaning that if the extension goes ahead, it goes all the way to Vaughan, where it has no business to extend a subway line.


  22. Not wanting to get into a pissing contest at Steve’s expense but I did say “build and operate”, ‘operate’ being a factor that seemingly gets forgotten.

    The classic example is the SRT, where the cars cannot be used due to a myriad of reasons anywhere else on the system. Had that line been built as an LRT using the conventional technology (like the CLRV) it would’ve reduced operating costs. Also the time to build an LRT especially on the surface is less than the subway or elevated r-o-w, thus delivering the benefits sooner. Even where tunnelling or bridging is required building to the LRT requirements will have reduced costs.

    Much of the demand growth on both subways is from suburban (outer 416 and 905) residents that all but didn’t exist when those lines were constructed. This is based upon the number of YRT/VIVA and GO Buses I’ve witnessed going into Finch, York Mills and Yorkdale. It’s those same passengers who are forced onto the subway because no RT alternative exists. I was one of those, starting in Newmarket on GO with Yonge and Eglinton as a destination via York Mills. If a Don Mills or Eglinton LRT existed I would have had alternatives to the Yonge line.

    There is little point in comparing subway and streetcar loadings for Bloor-Danforth and Yonge-University lines. The suburban dwellers would have never used the traditional streetcar as a commuting option, instead we’d have the horror of expressways dividing the city.

    Steve: I did this only to point out that demands in the downtown area were already much, much higher than in any of our suburban corridors, and there was a clear need for higher capacity. The Yonge streetcar line itself was only part of a corridor that included Bay, Church, Sherbourne, Parliament and Bathurst. Bloor-Danforth absorbed demand not only from the Bloor streetcar, but from King, Carlton and Harbord.

    Eglinton already has consolidated services on it (especially Eglinton East) and no parallel corridor whose demand might be sucked into a new Eglinton Subway. A similar situation applies on Sheppard where the TTC’s original demand projections included an unjustifiably wide catchment area for potential passengers.

    Downtown already existed as a major employment node and was an obvious location for growth. There is no such situation on Eglinton or Sheppard. We will need some sort of downtown relief long before Eglinton reaches full subway demand, if ever. The debate (carried on at length in other threads) is how to divert demand away from the Bloor-Yonge-University travel pattern.

    As to Bloor-Yonge, Union, St. George and Spadina (the 2 stations in 1) had RT alternatives to the Downtown core been built much of the over capacity problem would’ve been solved. The long distance suburban travellers would be on the subway or alternative modes and local commuters on the LRT lines.

    The point being we do need to skim off the top, especially people already using public transit. By creating more options for the existing patrons only then can we attract those so attached to their cars.

    I for one do not see the point in throwing good money after bad to build LRT lines to subway specifications, especially when they may never be needed. The cost associated with construction as subways may cause them never to be built, this achieving nothing. So by building an LRT network now I’ll leave it up to future generations to question our wisdom, the same people we are going to leave our construction debts to pay!


  23. To add to the inter-operability argument

    Some (myself included) wish to extend Sheppard west to Downsview. As LRT, you can do that on the surface. Topography gives us a nice creek just before Bathurst that would make an excellent point from which to extend the line out of the tunnel.

    Frankly, what we need before we really start to build east-west subways (DRL excluded) is to build a parallel line to Yonge. I’m thinking some kind of super-express fancy LRT with GO-bus style seating. Charge $5 for a trip from Steeles to Union with stops only at Sheppard, Eglinton, and Bloor. People will pay and if you do it right, it’ll make a profit.


  24. I agree with Stephen Cheung but only partially. I, too, would like to see the Spadina extension stopped in its tracks but only the portion north of Steeles. Maybe if we’re lucky the money fron Ottawa won’t come through and the City and the Province will decide to just build to Steeles. Any chance that might actually happen?


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