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.