What Does Scarborough Transit Need?

At the risk of re-igniting the Scarborough subway debate, I am moving some comments that are becoming a thread in their own right out of the “Stop Spacing” article over here to keep the two conversations separated.

In response to the most recent entry in the thread, I wrote:

Steve: Probably the most annoying feature of “pro Scarborough subway” (as opposed to “pro Scarborough”) pitches is the disconnect with the travel demands within Scarborough. These are known from the every five year detailed survey of travel in the GTHA, and a point that sticks out is that many people, a sizeable minority if not a majority, of those who live in Scarborough are not commuting to downtown. Instead they are travelling within Scarborough, to York Region or to locations along the 401. Many of these trips, even internal to Scarborough, are badly served by transit. One might argue that the lower proportion of downtown trips is a chicken-and-egg situation — it is the absence of a fast route to downtown combined with the impracticality of driving that discourages travel there. That’s a fair point, but one I have often argued would be better served with the express services possible on the rail corridors were it not for the GO fare structure that penalizes inside-416 travel.

We now have three subways — one to Vaughan, one to Richmond Hill and one to Scarborough — in various stages of planning and construction in part because GO (and by extension Queen’s Park) did not recognize the benefit of providing much better service to the core from the outer 416 and near 905 at a fare that riders would consider “reasonable” relative to what they pay today. I would love to see service on the CPR line that runs diagonally through Scarborough, out through Malvern into North Pickering. This route has been fouled up in debates for years about restitution of service to Peterborough, a much grander, more expensive and less likely proposition with added layers of rivalry between federal Tory and provincial Liberal interests. Fitting something like that into the CPR is tricky enough without politicians scoring points off of each other.

The most common rejoinder I hear to proposals that GO could be a form of “subway relief” is that the service is too infrequent and too expensive. What is the capital cost of subway construction into the 905 plus the ongoing operating cost once lines open versus the cost of better service and lower fares on a much improved GO network? Nobody has ever worked this out because GO and subway advocates within the planning community work in silos, and the two options are never presented as one package.

With the RER studies, this may finally change, and thanks to the issues with the Yonge corridor, we may finally see numbers comparing the effects of improved service in all available corridors and modes serving traffic from York Region to the core. I would love to see a comparable study for Scarborough.

Meanwhile, we need to know more about “inside Scarborough” demand including to major centres such as academic sites that are not touched by the subway plan.

I will promote comments here that contribute to the conversation in a civil manner. As for the trolls (and you know who you are), don’t bother. Your “contributions” only make the Scarborough position much less palatable, and I won’t subject my readers to your drivel.