Updated October 9, 2013 at 1:20am:
Toronto Council, by a vote of 24-20, has approved proceeding with the Scarborough Subway project including a three-stage property tax increase totalling 1.6% to finance the City of Toronto’s share of the budget.
There is little new to add at this point on the technical issues all of which were covered on this site before.
My personal reaction is disappointment, but more strongly, disgust at the behaviour of some Councillors and a few City Officials. The outright hatred and slander against “downtowners” and their motives in “pushing” LRT does not bode well for cordial relations on Council, not to mention sowing equivalent feelings among the electorate. There are arguments to be made for the subway option (many of them have appeared here in the comment threads), but this should be done in a civil manner relatively free of distortion.
Instead, we got warped versions of the truth about both the subway and LRT options, and not a few outright lies. TTC CEO Andy Byford, one who trotted out the “100 year subway” myth was forced to backtrack on two counts by questions at Council. He admitted that the tunnels last for 100 years, but much of what is in them does not. Meanwhile, he talked about LRT lasting 50 years, not the 30 year figure that has been bandied around of late. The obvious issue is that a tunnel may very well last 100 years, but if you don’t have to build one in the first place, and can save the expense, what does it matter?
We will have to wait a decade to see whether the suddenly much rosier projections of demand for a rapid transit line in Scarborough come from the same well-cooked land-use and population assumptions that brought us the vastly overstated estimates for the Sheppard Subway (and for growth at Scarborough Town Centre).
In any event, the vote is taken, and barring a discovery of a major extra cost for the City appearing during detailed design, the decision is as final as we can expect to see from this Council and the provincial government.
How the rest of the LRT network will fare really depends on the 2014 municipal and provincial elections. Mayor Ford has already declared that subways on Sheppard and Finch are goals for his next term.
The half-hearted advocacy for LRT from Metrolinx and Queen’s Park plays a big part in this situation, but I never thought their hearts were in it going right back to the early days of Metrolinx when I was persona non grata for asking their newly-minted Chair if they would consider this mode as an option in their grand plan.
How many more ridings will the Liberals feel the need to buy off with a subway promise?
The original article from October 4 follows the break.
[In a previous posts, I have been tracking the debate over the proposed Scarborough Subway including the provincial scheme announced by Minister Glen Murray, the City’s plan for a subway via McCowan and, of course, the original LRT line from Kennedy to Sheppard. With the Toronto Council debate coming up on October 8, it’s time to start a new thread (with apologies to those who want to see an even longer comment string on one article).]
Toronto Council will debate, again, the fate of rapid transit for Scarborough at its meeting starting on Tuesday, October 8. Back in July, Council voted to support a subway scheme with various provisos that some thought would act as a “poison pill” because all conditions would not be met. Critical among these were requests for federal funding and for additional money from Queen’s Park. Since then:
- The Ontario government announced (through Minister Glen Murray) that it would support a subway on the existing Scarborough RT alignment, but that the available funding would take it only to Scarborough Town Centre. This alignment and no other would be acceptable for provincial support.
- Metrolinx published a feasibility study supporting the subway-via-SRT option.
- The federal government announced (through Prime Minister Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty) that it would contribute up to $660-million toward the city’s subway proposal.
- The TTC published a report critical of the provincial alignment, but with only superficial comments on the technical aspects of the route pending further detailed study.
- Metrolinx, originally strongly supportive of the government’s subway proposal, retreated to a more generic support for rapid transit with a preference for the LRT plan, but a willingness to support a subway on any alignment, subject to an Environmental Assessment including analysis of competing proposals.
The City Manager has issued a report for Council recapping the issues and updating the cost and tax implications. An appendix to the report includes copies of the correspondence between the parties showing the evolution of their positions.
Going into the debate, we now have more details about the funding for the Scarborough line that has been transferred to the Eglinton-Crosstown project. $320m was originally described as the cost of restructuring Kennedy Station to accommodate the new Scarborough LRT, the Crosstown and provision for the future LRT line east on Eglinton. With the subway option, provision for an SLRT station is eliminated and the cost of rebuilding Kennedy for the McCowan subway alignment plus the Crosstown LRT should be less than the original budget.
However, Metrolinx is also working on improvements to the design of the Crosstown line’s interchange with the Yonge Subway, and wants to keep the full amount in the project budget to help pay for these improvements. Only when the final cost of the Eglinton-Crosstown line is known would money be released from the Crosstown budget for additional funding of the subway scheme.
The budget for the subway extension includes a provision for additional trains and storage at a cost of about $400m although the current fleet is actually large enough to handle the future requirements. However, the TTC’s fleet plan (published as part of the 2013 budget) shows the gradual addition of trains on the BD line over the coming decade to bring the peak period headway down from 141 to just under 120 seconds (roughly an 18% increase in capacity with 51 rather than 43 trains on the line).
If this is implemented (previous plans for subway service improvements such as an extension of the Spadina line’s short turn beyond St. Clair West Station have never materialized), it would soak up all now-surplus equipment and yard space. It is unclear whether the amount of extra service planned is dictated by the available fleet, the minimum headway possible with existing technology, or actual planning for demand growth.
An extension east and north to Sheppard will certainly add to demand and crowding on the BD line over and above regular growth, and it is unclear how much reserve capacity is available even if the line moves to automatic train control and a moving block signal system. Constraints will remain at major interchanges and at terminals. Where a new yard would be placed has not been discussed in public.
The cost estimate presented by the City Manager is roughly the same in the July and October reports, although the presentation is slightly different (both estimates are on p7 of the respective reports). The capital cost of the subway project is now:
Subway construction, equipment, etc $2.300b 2010$ SRT life extension & demolition .170b Total 2.470b Inflation to completion (2023) 1.090b Total cost $3.560b
This is essentially the same as the number used in July.
The provincial budget for the SLRT project was $1.8b 2010$, but from this must be deducted $320m transferred to the Crosstown project leaving $1.48b for the subway project. With inflation, this amount would be $1.99b.
Funding for the project would come from:
Federal government $0.660b Provincial government 1.990b City development charges .165b City debt and tax reserves .745b Total $3.560b
A property tax increase of 1.6% spread over three years would be required to create a capital reserve (short term) and then fund debt that would be floated to pay the City’s share. Future increases in interest rates could have a substantial effect on costs and the taxes needed to cover them. Moreover, the headroom in the City’s overall debt and appetite for new taxes could crowd out many other necessary projects in future years.
Further deductions include $85m for SLRT sunk costs and the unknown penalty that will be imposed for reduction in the size of the LRV order to Bombardier. These amounts are not included in the City Manager’s estimate of total project costs, although they represent over 10% of the amount the city plans to finance through new taxes.
(Note: As a matter of City policy, the tax increase on non-residential property would be 1/3 of whatever is levied on residential. This would continue a multi-year practice of lowering the ratio of non-residential to residential tax rates that was in place well before the Ford era.)
The City would be entirely responsible for any cost overruns on the subway project. At this time we have only an order of magnitude cost estimate, and as the details are worked out, this number could rise. Obvious questions include the location and cost of the new Scarborough Town Centre station and whether a station should be provided somewhere on Eglinton before the line heads north up McCowan.
Capital improvements to the existing BD line (notably resignalling and a larger fleet) could also be triggered by this project. To be fair, the LRT plan would also have increased BD subway demand and the cost of handling this must be included in budgets for all proposals in any comparative evaluation.
There are many unknowns as Toronto faces the Scarborough subway debate, but we most definitely do know that subways are not “free” as was promised during the Ford campaign. Having created the expectation that subways would come at no cost and that they are the birthright of every Torontonian, subway advocates now must face the implications of a long-lasting city-wide tax hike to pay for one subway extension.
For too long, the true cost of expanding our transit system in capital and operating funding has been buried under rhetoric about cost efficiencies and the magic of private sector partnerships. Coming in to the budget debates, we now have TTC Chair Karen Stintz advocating increased support for TTC operations through municipal subsidies rather than the flat-lining she herself championed for the past two years.
Budget debates have always attempted to sequester capital financing from operating subsidies, but at last we are seeing how spending in capital and the inevitable demand for greater debt service will affect the headroom for spending on operations. Is subway building a replacement for providing better transit service that will rise to meet the growing travel demands of Torontonians? This is not an either-or choice, but a need to balance spending and to spend wisely where the money is needed.
Writing that, I cannot help recognizing a “conservative” voice, but one that recognizes public spending as a necessary part of city building, not as something to be avoided except when buying votes.