The 100-Year Lie

How about a bottle mister?
Only costs a penny, guaranteed.
Does Pirelli’s stimulate the growth, sir?
You can have my oath sir,
‘Tis unique.
Rub a minute,
Stimulatin’ i’n’ it?
Soon you’ll have to thin it once a week.

From Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim

A commonly repeated myth in the LRT vs subway debate is that subways “last 100 years” while LRTs last “barely 30”.

If we were standing in a less-than-reputable circus, in a town that had only a passing familiarity with modern technology, and we still had an innocent, childlike faith that everything we are told is true, then I might put down the frequency with which this line is repeated to a bunch of rubes who can’t be expected to know better.

Toronto is not such a town at such a time and place.  It has pretensions to greatness.  Soon there will even be a train to the airport, although the Ferris Wheel won’t be ready to meet it for the Pan Am Games.  We think we are a “world class city”, a phrase that any con artist will recognize as the sign of a mark ripe for the picking.  We even have a flock of daily newspapers and local media to shine the light of truth in dark places.

Alas, no.  We’re ready to plunk down our money for the miracle of subways that will cure all our ills.  If Rob Ford were were a rather large man with a tail coat, a top hat, tights and a short whip, we would expect a certain amount of hyperbole.  It’s part of the greatest show on earth, after all.  If we faced a sly man, twirling his moustache, with his shop wares displayed in a back alley well out of sight of the constabulary, we might reasonably expect that our money would vanish into thin air for goods of dubious value.  But at City Hall, we trust everyone.

Let me tell you something, gentle readers: subways do not last for 100 years.  There is more than ample evidence of this right under our noses.  Anyone who says otherwise is not merely misinformed, or “poorly advised” to use parliamentary language, they are outright liars.  They care only to convince you that spending an extra billion or so is obviously worthwhile because the alternative is simply not worth the money.

Before the subway foamers start scrolling down to the comment box, let me make one very important point:  if you want to pay for a subway rather than an LRT (or a BRT, or a horse-and-wagon, or a Swan Boat), and you accept the tradeoff of higher capital cost for the supposed benefit of that technology, then an argument can be made for a subway in some places.

But don’t try to con me with lies about how long it will last for that huge investment. Continue reading