Blue 22: A Scheme That Just Won’t Die

Last week, both the Globe and the Sun reported that the Blue 22 airport service is back on the rails, so to speak.  On Sunday, the Sun editorialized on the subject with support, sort of, propvided that the line doesn’t turn into another boondoggle like the Sheppard Subway.

The fascinating part about this is the sudden love affair between Dalton McGuinty and David Miller for a transit proposal that was dubious when first proposed (by the Liberals in Ottawa, remember them?), and has been on life support for years.  Indeed, many of us, including some local politicians, hoped that the scheme would just die from lack of interest.

No such luck.  We’re in an era where Queen’s Park is hungry to see some real progress on transit, but nothing’s happening.   Or at least nothing with low-cost ribbon cutting between now and the next election.  In support of faster projects, Queen’s Park has all but eliminated the Environmental Assessment as a mechanism for proper review of transit proposals.  Blue 22 and its impact on neighbourhoods along the line have been the subject of a long-running EA with the Weston Community Coalition painted as ogres for expecting the route to be sensitive to their town and to provide local service.

Now, out of clear blue sky, Blue 22 re-appears.  “This is an important priority for us” says Premier McGuinty.  Mayor Miller says “we just need it to happen”, and goes on to compare Toronto with other cities that have airport rail links to downtown.

Somehow, we are stuck with this proposal.  For years, former Transport Minister David Collenette lobbied for this scheme, and finally, just before he left cabinet, announced that SNC Lavalin would build and operate it.  The idea has been around for a long time.  However, this is no spiffy, 21st century line, but rather a service to be operated with refurbished 50-year old RDCs.  These rail diesel cars once operated on some of Via’s routes including the lines to Niagara Falls, London via Stratford and Peterborough.

Imagine if Transit City had been announced along with a plan to buy up and refurbish 50-year old PCCs for the fleet.  Mayor Miller would have been laughed off the stage.

SNC Lavalin is obviously hedging its bets with a recycled fleet.  Who knows?  Even if Blue 22 doesn’t fly, they might be able to sell the cars to Via.

Meanwhile, the Transit City plans already include a hub at Terminal One with a possible LRT station in the basement.  This station could be shared by LRT services from many parts of the GTA.  Imagine links east on Eglinton, northeast to Finch, southwest into Mississauga and even down to Union along the Weston corridor.  But no.  Instead we will get a premium fare ($20 or more) service for a minority of the airport’s customers.

Aren’t we supposed to be building a regional transportation plan?  Shouldn’t we figure out how the airport fits into a transit network, not one ill-considered scheme that elbows better alternatives out of the way?

Yes, we need good rail transit to the airport, but Blue 22 isn’t the way to provide it.  Can Miller and McGuinty find the will, the energy to promote something better, or are we doomed to ride an ex-politician’s pet project?