Scarborough RT/LRT Benefits Case Analysis (Updated)

Updated February 3:  In a previous version of this post, I was using 4-car trains for the Base Case and therefore claimed that the fleet was undersized.  This has been corrected.

On January 16, the Metrolinx Board approved release of the Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) for the replacement and extension of the Scarborough RT.  This document is now available online.

The original TTC proposal, was simply to replace the current technology with Mark II RT cars on the existing alignment. This is now referred to as the “Base Case”.  Four alternatives, all considered superior to the base case, were evaluated in the BCA.

  • 1: Extend the RT 5.4 km to Malvern Town Centre using the current technology.
  • 2: Extend the RT to Markham & Sheppard where it would connect with the Sheppard East LRT including an LRT branch north to Malvern.
  • 3: Replace the RT over its entire length with LRT and extend to Malvern on approximately the same alignment as the first RT option, completely in an exclusive right-of-way.
  • 4: Replace the RT with LRT and extend to Malvern with a partially exclusive right-of-way east of McCowan.

Major Flaws in the BCA

To save readers from combing through the rest of the text, here are major points where the analysis does not hold up.

  • The peak demand for which the line is designed, 10K/hour, is substantially above the modelled peak demand of 6.4K/hour in The Big Move.  The Metrolinx regional plan includes frequent commuter rail services through the extended RT’s catchment area, and this likely attracts some riders away from the RT.  Designing for higher capacity than required inflates fleet, carhouse and operating costs.  It may also affect train lengths and the cost of retrofitting existing stations.
  • LRT options presume the construction of a dedicated carhouse for the Scarborough line even though, by the time an LRT would operate, the Sheppard line’s new carhouse would be operating and could act as the base for Scarborough trains.  This inflates the capital cost of LRT options.
  • The alleged cost-benefit ratios are highly sensitive to the presumed value of travellers’ time.  This value is orders of magnitude greater than the value of environmental effects (reduced car use) and dominates the calculations.  The model overall favours proposals that serve long trips at comparatively high speeds (e.g. with widely spaced stations) that may not be conducive to the type of neighbourhood preferred in the Official Plan.
  • The values assigned to savings from reduced automobile use are based on a much higher factor than in the VIVA Benefits Case report, 95 vs 23 cents per km (2031).  The effect is to grossly overstate the savings from reduced auto usage for all options.
  • Economic benefits include the money spent on labour during construction.  This value for all options is a disconcertingly low percentage of the total project cost (well under 20%).  This shows that a substantial portion of any scheme is consumed by planning and design, materials, vehicles and system component costs.  Moreover, the idea that spending more on one project is “good” because it generates more work is valid only if one ignores other projects that could be built with the same money and labour.  This will be an important factor when projects are weighed against each other.
  • Estimates for the length of time the RT would be closed for upgrade or restructuring are “at least 8 months” for RT and “up to 36 months” for LRT.  These figures need to be reviewed in detail to determine where the differences lie.  The numbers are taken from the original TTC study (which did not include the qualifiers) when the physical changes needed to handle Mark II RT cars were considered to be trivial.  This may no longer be true.
  • Overall the analysis looks at the RT in isolation from the surrounding network and ignores alternative ways that the demand might be served on the network, not just on the RT corridor.  Although the report shows LRT as the less expensive option, the difference versus RT options may actually be understated.

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