Rob Ford Wants a Few Subways, But Mainly Buses (Updated)

Updated September 9, 2010 at 10:15pm: The Toronto Sun cites Rob Ford’s “transit policy guru” Mark Towhey in a followup article to the Ford transit platform.  Oddly enough, Towhey’s own blog post, an inaccurate rant about the TTC from February 2010, is still online even though Ford’s people disowned the article.

Toronto deserves an explanation of just what Rob Ford’s real agenda is, and to what extent it is driven by someone who has an even more radical view of what would happen to transit in this city than candidate Ford’s own official position.

The original post from September 8 at 4:00 pm follows here.

The Rob Ford mayoral campaign has released a transportation plan, and it’s a rather threadbare effort.

Ford’s subway plan involves redirecting Transit City funding to completion of the original Sheppard Subway plan from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre, and extension of the Danforth subway to STC via the SRT alignment.  The Eglinton line has completely disappeared even though the money scooped to build Sheppard would have paid for the first stages of Eglinton’s construction.

As the Smitherman campaign has already pointed out, $790-million of the provincial $3.7-billion Ford counts on is earmarked for the Viva system in York Region.  (See page 25 of the Metrolinx funding summary.)  It is unclear why Queen’s Park would agree to such a massive shift in transit priorities, effectively turning the clock back to the 1990 transit network announcement rather than building the more extensive network already agreed to.  [Note:  As of 2 pm on September 9, Metrolinx has fouled up their website and the funding summary is not available.  The link above is to the relevant pages copied to my own site.]

Notable by its absence from the Ford plan is any rapid transit service to northeastern Scarborough, the UTSC Campus or anywhere in Etobicoke, Ford’s home turf.  Presumably everyone west of the Humber river won’t need transit.  Nothing about downtown or the waterfront.  Nothing about addressing priority neighbourhoods.  Nothing about regional integration.

That SRT conversion has appeared in other candidates’ platforms, and it suffers from problems with assumptions about recycling the existing infrastructure and route.  Kennedy Station faces east, and an alignment up the SRT corridor would require a new subway station.  Although the Transit City LRT lines will result in construction at Kennedy, they wrap new LRT platforms around the existing structure while leaving the subway itself intact.  Further north on the SRT there are narrow sections, a tight curve at Ellesmere, and stations that were not designed for full subway service.

Yes, this could all be rebuilt, but the line would never go further because the cost versus demand numbers simply wouldn’t work out.  That’s the whole reason for using LRT, but Ford’s folks don’t seem to understand this.

Ford really doesn’t like streetcars in any form, and trots out the expected complaints about how construction fouls up businesses, how streetcars delay traffic and thereby create more pollution.  Indeed, he would shut down our streetcar network and sell our new cars elsewhere to recoup whatever money could be had.  The platform material says Ford would remove “some streetcars”, but according to a media source, Ford wants to get rid of all streetcars in 10 years.

Oddly enough, they would be replaced by even more buses that would sit in the same traffic jams behind delivery trucks, illegally parked cars, taxis, J-walking pedestrians, and a whole range of problems common to congested 4-lane roads that cannot simultaneously be speedy arterials and local streets.  Buses pulling into stops on narrow streets with parking regularly block through traffic because they can’t properly reach the curb.  Bus bays are not an option because there are usually buildings right at the sidewalk.

The larger omission from Ford’s plan is any discussion of fares, service quality or what transit should be as part of the city’s fabric.  He condemns much of the city to buses running in mixed traffic, and says nothing about how he would address the $70-million in additional funding just needed to operate the TTC in 2011.  Will he raise fares?  Will he cut service?  How much filthier will stations and vehicles get?  Will escalators and elevators stop, never to run again?  Will he simply starve the TTC and place the blame for whatever happens on their inability to make hard choices?

Ford’s financing plans simply don’t add up, nor do his construction schedules.  He claims that the Sheppard and BD extensions could be completed by 2015.  That’s a real stretch considering that we have not even been through a project assessment and approval, detailed design and tendering.  The SRT is 6.4km long, the Sheppard West connection is about 4km, and the Sheppard East extension would be about 7.5km from Don Mills to McCowan.  The total is 17.9km.

The Spadina extension to Vaughan is only 8.6km, has fewer stations, and will cost $2.6-billion including inflation.  This brings the pricetag of Ford’s subways to somewhere over $5-billion, not the $4-billion he claims, and assumes we could build them in the same timeframe, with the same inflation factors, as Spadina.  That’s simply not realistic.

Ford also hopes for $1-billion in private sector contributions through development fees.  As we have seen in many locations — the Bloor-Danforth subway, the Spadina line — development does not follow immediately after subway construction and may be decades, if ever, in the future.  Indeed, some neighbourhoods won’t take kindly to someone drawing subway lines through them if the tradeoff is the destruction of what’s there today.  There are ways to earmark lands for future higher taxes once a rapid transit line is built, but no guarantee that we will see the money in the short term.

Seeing a platform like this, not to mention similar proposals from other candidates, makes me wonder if anyone has been paying attention to transit history in Toronto and other cities.  We seemed doomed to turn the clock back 25 years, at least, to an era when making life better for cars trumped all other concerns, when a few subway proposals were a substitute for real transit planning.

137 thoughts on “Rob Ford Wants a Few Subways, But Mainly Buses (Updated)

  1. Andrew Marshall says: “…and Stephen Cheung gets to move back to New Detroit, er, Toronto as the low-tax, no-transit, shell of a city that all Rob Ford supporters dream of….”

    very very offensive – I can’t believe you would actually write that about Mr. Cheung, let alone for all to read, just because he has the nerve to not agree with you and your particular transit views.


  2. Stephen Cheung writes:
    “If there was any other candidate around that had a good transit plan while espousing good fiscal responsibility with the credibility to back it up, then I would back that candidate without question. But as it is, none of the candidates other than Ford do this. And I readily admit that Ford’s transit plan needs a lot of work. ”

    1) Ford doesn’t have a good transit plan. His transit plan seems to be the worst of them all, in fact. (Something you admit when you say that it needs a lot of work.)
    2) Espousing fiscal responsibility? Ford has a good blowhard line about “stopping the gravy train”. Anyway, I don’t think the City of Toronto is any much more fiscally irresponsible than a lot of private sector businesses. A 2.5-million city can’t be run as lean and mean as a one-person printing shop. It doesn’t scale.
    3) Credibilty? Ford!? Credibilty???! Ford????!?

    This is not to say that there are a whole lot of good transit plans on offer. In fact, Pantalone’s “stay the course” seems the best plan to me, and I’m pretty sure that some course corrections and vision is required.

    Ford’s fiscal “plan” is clearly impossible to implement. While I don’t welcome a Ford mayorality, he isn’t going to get any part of his platform accomplished. It would be nice to get some candidates with intelligence and vision, though.


  3. Sorry, Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cheung, but I’m not seeing what was so offensive about Mr. Marshall’s “New Detroit” comment fired back at Ford supporters. Those supporters tout that they appreciate Mr. Ford’s fiscal credentials, which are based entirely on a “don’t spend” premise. That can easily be construed by both political sides as don’t spend on new projects, don’t spend on staff, and don’t spend on services… basically everything that transit supporters hold dear. Ford as mayor would control debate topics and city agenda, and would dominate the budget and it’s apportioning. To believe he will support even the same level of dollars to transit when he’s proposed a lesser revenue stream for the city in a general is folly — it’s very clear he intends to cut. Cut services, cut staff, and cut projects.

    You may want that, but why? And why propose it here? The “New Detroit” label is apt — there’s a broad sense out there that Toronto as an economic machine is infallible and can continue to prosper even if we feed it less. Good luck with that. Cities decline very rapidly, and for many reasons, but often it comes down to a handful of leadership decisions here and there, and believe it or not, even large centres can go from bustling to bust within just a couple decades — one short generation. Numerous North American cities were vibrant and growing post-war in the fifties, only to be abandoned and fled-from by the seventies. Took until the nineties for them to start to resemble vibrant cities again, and some — neighbours of ours on the Lakes — have still not recovered and may never.

    So go ahead. Chastise writers on here that challenge that model. Support Mr. Ford and somehow believe he actually knows and will do positive things for city transportation — that is your right to do so — but I’m with Mr. Marshall on this. It will start with small cuts and changes, done with an intent to change the overall system by, say, the end of a second term, and change it so fundamentally that restarting it by the next group would be out-of-reach. Ford’s supporters expect him to live up to his fiscal pledges, and guess what? He will. God help us all — everything we’ve looked forward to, everything we talked about and met about and planned about — gone. Gone in a simple act of living up to what his supporters thought they wanted… and within a generation, livability in the city will also be that — Gone.


  4. You are right OC,Corktown…my mistake, transit is king and is the only issue that matters in this election. No, actually, transit is the only issue that matters to the entire city.
    Actually no candidate has come out and said anything positive about improving transit or improving the roads. I tend to think that is because transit is not a big issue or rather any issue at all with most people. I think most people are thinking about huge property tax bills, huge water bills, all utility bills have tripled, yet salaries stay the same… I pay twice as much, I get half as much services in return… you know, small stuff like that. But maybe you are right, they should be thinking about the grand LRT that will serve the bustling intersections of Eglinton & Leslie?, Don MIlls?, Bermondsey, Victoria Park? Pharmacy? Warden and so on… Transit is important, but in perspective please!


  5. No it won’t. It will be a much better, more accountable and livable city. Rob Ford is not campaigning on a “don’t spend” premise, more of a “spend responsibly” premise. Transit is necessary spending and Ford isn’t shying away from it. What I am more concerned about is the increasing cost of doing anything here in Toronto. Out of control contracts with unions who have too much power in this city. Out of control contracts with third parties costing more money than the nearest competitor. Councillors spending taxpayer money to fund expensive parties and cappucino machines. This stuff is what gets me riled up about Toronto politics these days. Ford wants to cut down on the increased overhead. Cut off councillors from spending taxpayer money on frivilous things. Contract out services like garbage collection. Make sure every contract signed with the city is competitively sound.

    As for Transit and the notion of cutting underperforming routes, I’m talking about buses that spend most of their time empty while going through their routes. 98, 115, 120, 162, and 169 are the worst offenders. These are not “Suburban routes” by a longshot, they simply run empty 99% of the time. No one takes these routes. So why do they still exist? Otherwise, I’m not calling for a gutting of the transit network. That would simply be foolish.


  6. For the record, Adam Vaughan paid for the cappucino machine in his office out of his own pocket just like Rob Ford pays for his own expenses.

    If you are going to slag misspending at City Hall, get your facts straight.


  7. As for Transit and the notion of cutting underperforming routes, I’m talking about buses that spend most of their time empty while going through their routes. 98, 115, 120, 162, and 169 are the worst offenders.

    Are they? For the 120, I agree, but I’d be interested in knowing what metric you used to conclude these as the “worst offenders.” To explain, I’ll present the metric that I would go by, which is cost-recovery.

    Let’s begin with the cost-recovery of the routes you listed:
    Route (Cost-recovery ratio)
    98 Willowdale-Senlac (34%)
    115 Sliver Hills (34%)
    120 Calvington (24%)
    162 Lawrence-Donway (42% (paired by TTC with 124 Sunnybrook))
    169 Huntingwood (29%)

    My picks for worst offenders are as follows:
    107 Keele North (15%)
    192 Airport Rocket (22%)
    120 Calvington (24%)
    127 Davenport (25%)
    51 Leslie (26%)

    I don’t support cutting any of these, as they’re subsidized by the highest-performing parts of the subway network that they feed riders into, and that they all play a role in keeping most of the city within a certain walking distance of a transit stop, which is an important policy in delivering choice to people. If people aren’t within a short walk to transit, then they do not have a choice; they have to drive, unless they’re very brave cyclists.

    The source, for the record, are 2005-2006 TTC figures for every surface route that used to be on their old website, but as far as I know was never transferred to their new one.


  8. Karl: The TTC had some sort of metric in which it identified worst performing routes with the criteria that if a particular route were to be scrapped, what is the impact, given if there are other routes in the nearby area.

    Let’s go through the routes that both of us have posted here:

    98 Willowdale-Senlac: I’m only proposing that this be a weekday daytime route since during other times, ridership is almost next to nothing, and it is close to the subway and other major routes. I don’t dispute the importance of this route during peak periods.

    115 Silver Hills: The only major ridership on this route is on York Mills, and not the Silver Hills area itself. In fact, buses empty their passengers just as it turns on to Leslie. Why do we need this when the 95 York Mills bus can do its job? It basically is just a glorified short turn bus.

    120 Calvington: We are both in agreement on this one, so I won’t go into these any further.

    162 Lawrence-Donway: Not many people ride east of Bayview. West of Bayview, it is shared with 124 Sunnybrook. I don’t think people on the Bridle Path would miss that bus anyway.

    169 Huntingwood: Only the portion on Van Horne sees any significant ridership. The portion between Victoria Park and McCowan is very underused. There are so many north-south routes crisscrossing this route it is uncommon for people to rely on those routes instead.

    107 Keele North: My question is why doesn’t YRT take over this route given that 75% of this route is outside of Toronto.

    192 Airport Rocket: Almost all of the riders here are either starting or ending their rides at the airport and not in between. Tossing all those riders in the cold would be foolish. The only alternate service, the 58A Malton doesn’t even come close to properly serving the Airport.

    127 Davenport: Did you know this was supposed to be just a rush hour route when the Harris cutbacks took place? That’s how bad this route was.

    51 Leslie: The route still performs strong during the daytime, so if anything, only evening service may not be necessary. I remember seeing a proposal at one point that would have a branch of this route running from Lawrence to Steeles with timed transfers with the 54 Lawrence East at Leslie and Lawrence.

    Steve: Sometimes I wonder if people ever look at a map. Davenport Road is isolated to the south by the CPR and to the north by the escarpment. The 127 exists for people who don’t want to tackle the hill to get north to St. Clair, or walk the long way around to a street going under the railway and thence to the less-than-frequent service on Dupont. Some other routes exist to fill in holes in walking distance to transit. The routes you mention run infrequently, and the amount you will save by cutting their service is minimal. However, the cost-cutting brigade trots them out regularly as if all of the TTC’s ills could be solved just by getting rid of such routes. That’s misleading, as they say in parliamentary language.

    As for Keele North, the service north of Steeles is contracted by YRT and doesn’t cost the TTC anything. Cutting the route only transfers the physical operation from TTC to YRT.


  9. Okay, it may have been stated elsewhere here, but here’s a position I’d like to put forward.

    To those on the right advocating cutting transit:

    I’d support eliminating transit subsidies if you’ll support de-assuming roads.

    If Rob Ford is elected, I will lobby hard for killing all municipal maintenance and improvement of road infrastructure. All of this is pure subsidy, paid for by the tax payer. I have no car, and yet 20% of the rent I pay goes to taxes. A huge portion of that goes to roads, the overwhelming beneficiaries of which are drivers of single occupancy vehicles. So let them pay.

    How about this? If you own a property that is on a local street, your neighbourhood association can contract with a road maintenance firm (there are already several in town currently paid by the city) to maintain it, or maintain it yourselves as a cooperative effort. I’m sure the kids will love learning to fill potholes and lay asphalt.

    Arterial roads can be paid by toll transponders on every car. The tolling can be mananged by a private company (407/ETR inc, for example). And maintenance can be provided by them.

    Of course, all liability for injuries caused by unsafe roads can be assumed by anyone who maintains them. Your neighbourhood association will have to be especially vigilant about potholes, bumps, and other imperfections, because personal injury suits are expensive.

    But hey, it’s your road, isn’t it?

    As I pay my $8 fare to board a TTC LRT, I’ll chuckle a bit in air conditioned comfort as you sweat maintaining your local street while I whiz by on infrastructure I paid for, but I’ll know at least that finally we’re all paying our fair share.

    And hey, our tax bills will be real small, won’t they?

    … Or we could just decide that some things are ‘social goods’ when we all subsidize them.

    Your call.


  10. Hi Steve, I’m in Montreal though there are people here that have a lot of concern about this Rob Ford guy and his anti-tram agenda.

    I wouldn’t want to see Toronto make the same mistake that we did here in the 1950’s, now we’re trying to bring back trams in Montreal!


  11. “For the record, Adam Vaughan paid for the cappucino machine in his office out of his own pocket just like Rob Ford pays for his own expenses.

    If you are going to slag misspending at City Hall, get your facts straight.”

    It was reported in the Toronto Sun that the Cappucino machine somehow ended up on Giambrone’s expenses list. Only after this was exposed did he “reimburse” the city.

    Technically, it was paid from his own pocket, but the perception that the city is mired in wasteful spending remains.

    Steve: What does Adam Vaughan’s cappuccino machine have to do with Adam G? The inaccuracy of the Sun’s reporting is a good example of how people are misled into thinking the “waste” at City Hall is out of control. Ford wants to concentrate on the small stuff that people can see in relation to the personal budgets, but cannot begin to address the really big issues.


  12. Streetcars cause traffic congestion? That must be why the Don Valley Parkway seems to be always in a traffic jam, the streetcars must be removed from the Don Valley so that the single occupant cars can move better.

    Steve: Don’t forget those traffic jams on the 401, highway 7, anywhere in Mississauga (these are anticipatory jam-ups in case the Hurontario LRT is actually built). And only 56 years later, those streetcars are still making a mess of Yonge Street.


  13. Yeah, and look at the awful mess the streetcars are STILL making of traffic on Bloor and Danforth! It’s just positively horrendous there!


  14. Seeing how a lot of the track is new and improved, wouldn’t it take decades for Anti-Streetcar advocates to justify abandonment of Streetcar routes? I’ve heard that a reason why Trolleybus service was abandoned was because the entire system needed upgrading/replacement after many decades of neglect.

    Steve: Yes the TB system, both vehicles and overhead, were decrepit by the time the system was decommissioned. Of course TTC management used problems induced by the systems condition as part of a general attack on TB’s as a transit mode. The fix was in from the start.


  15. I have also been censored by Ford on youtube. And I have to agree with andrew marshall: Ford does aim to create an anti-transit shell of a city where everyone live north of Lawrence, thanks to his plan to get rid of streetcars. That’s exactly how Detroit went to sh@t. Their streetcar system was axed by municipal governments just like Ford. His supporters just don’t seem to get this.

    On another note, we’ll have to see whether Detroit becomes more vibrant when (if) the M1 LRT opens in 2016. I’ve already noticed some new housing developments being built in a formerly derelict area close to the proposed route.


  16. Steve, you said: “Indeed, he would shut down our streetcar network and sell our new cars elsewhere to recoup whatever money could be had.”

    It is my understanding that the TTC rail system for both subways and streetcars uses a 1,495mm track gauge, which is unique in the world. If I’m not mistaken, then wouldn’t that mean that selling these already outdated streetcars would face the additional roadblock of expensive upgrades to the wheel mechanisms to be usable on any other streetcar track system?

    Of course, I could be completely mistaken on so many fronts, but I would appreciate a little bit more knowledge, because saying that he’ll sell streetcars to recoup costs for busses is one thing, but saying that he’ll be able to find buyers for unaccessible, outdated streetcars with unique track gauges seems more than a little bit ridiculous.

    Steve: The new streetcars have not been built yet, and as the Toronto cars are adapted from a design that normally is built for standard gauge, it would be child’s play to manufacture them in the “standard” configuration. Ford is talking about selling off the new cars, not the old ones.


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