More plans yield more problems for city’s transit hopes

Toronto Star columnist Royson James says Consumer Policy Institute’s report on the Downtown Relief Line is part of a “massive rethinking of transit options.” 

This article by Royson James originally appeared in the Toronto Star. You can read the article here.

Contradictory and confusing, voluminous and too often vainglorious, Toronto’s multiple transit plans could collapse under their own weight as the dust settles following provincial and municipal elections this year.

Of necessity, of course.

For, what would you do — faced with the variegated visions, each costing multiple billions of dollars, each propped up and beset by a multitude of competing opinions, validating and questioning the wisdom of each as a solution to traffic congestion.

Many have long since lost faith in the process.

Anyone with Internet access can point to credible critiques of the Big Move as doing little to forestall the Big Crawl; in fact, transit improvements only contribute to the Big Sprawl.

Even before we get there, the Scarborough subway is a waste of money — destined as it is along a route that neither has the ridership nor the office jobs of a commercial centre to justify to cash outlay. The alternate LRT plan, some argue, won’t go quickly enough or be part of a significant enough network to lure people out of their cars. Besides, yanking the subway away from Scarborough residents now is a messy political prospect.

One is inclined to pursue an updated RT technology — a TTC report in 2006 estimated it would cost less than $400 million (for modern new cars and technology and tracks). But this is only sensible if it becomes part of a network, maybe linking the Scarborough Town Centre to the North York City Centre, replacing the Sheppard stubway with this Vancouver SkyTrain technology. A Neptis report late last year envisioned such a scheme. Cheaper. Faster. Better connections. Seems better positioned to move more people more quickly.

But what do I know. I just listen to people who study these things and raise questions that the prevailing transit doctrine does not answer.

The most sacred of these doctrines is the absolute need for a downtown relief line. A new report from the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI) is the latest to question the dogma.

Depending on the route and option chosen, the DRL could cost between $3 billion and $8 billion. (We know it will be more like between $4 billion and $10 billion, if we are lucky.) But what if it’s not needed? What if cheaper, smarter options are available?

The CPI study has this heretical idea: offer free TTC rides into downtown for two hours prior to the morning peak time. After all, it’s this crush that is driving the need for the DRL. Lure them to the trains at different times and we might not need to provide more trains, more lines, more capacity, more money.

Fewer than 2 per cent of riders would shift their travel time to take advantage, and that shift alone would create space on the Yonge line so the DRL would not be needed, the study concludes.

And what of the lost revenue? CPI estimates that over 17 years the TTC would lose between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion in revenues — half the cost of the cheapest DRL line. And the system would be left with loads of capacity, thanks to coming improvements in signalling and longer trains.

Suddenly, you don’t need the DRL anymore. You can expand the Yonge line into Richmond Hill without needing the multi-billion-dollar subway line from Pape Ave., in a flattened U, looping through downtown along King or Queen and over to the Bloor-Danforth line in the west end, around Dundas West or Weston Rd.

If you are the new Toronto mayor or Ontario premier, wouldn’t you want to reconsider all this, seek fresh perspective, question the evangelists?

A Neptis report last year also suggests that a simple short run shuttle from Union Station to the Main subway station, using GO trains and the Lakeshore corridor east, could provide the extra capacity to make the DRL unnecessary — for $100 million.

And mayoral candidate John Tory has proposed a scheme, using the GO corridor and technology, that seems to make the DRL unnecessary for decades at least.

Then, of course, there is the planned LRT lines on Finch and Sheppard Aves. New reports cast doubt on the viability of the one on Finch, where thousands of trucks and oil tankers make the roadway a busy industrial zone. Maybe a BRT, dedicated buses in a fancy right-of-way, is enough to handle riders there.

Reasonable questions. Healthy skepticism. Hard decisions to be made.

It all points to a massive rethinking of transit options — even as citizens are most impatient with the slow pace of transit building.

Read CPI’s full report here.


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