6 myths surrounding the Downtown Relief Line

A critical look at many of the myths surrounding the proposed Downtown Relief Line. 


The TTC is kicking off a round of public presentations about the proposed Downtown Relief Line (DRL). Many readers, transit customers and other Torontonians might be confused about what the DRL is and whether it’s necessary. CPI debunks a number of the myths surrounding the project.

Myth #1: The Downtown Relief Line is the only way to ease overcrowding on the subway

The TTC could avoid having to build the DRL by using discounted fares to entice customers to travel outside of the busiest travel times. Under the current proposal, transit officials and political leaders want transit customers and tax payers to pay for an entirely new subway line – at a cost of more than $3 billion (and counting) – because the current subway system is too crowded during the morning commute.

Transit agencies around the world either offer customers a free or discounted ride in off-peak hours or charge customers more to ride during the busiest travel periods in order to ease overcrowding. The TTC could offer differentiated fares in order to shift demand out of the peak travel period – the morning commute – and avoid the expense of building an entirely new subway line just to handle overcrowding during a very short period of time. An analysis by CPI showed that shifting as little as 1.5% of all customers out of the peak morning commute would more than offset overcrowding. Our analysis also showed that offering a free ride in off-peak hours would be cheaper than building the DRL and would solve overcrowding issues.

Myth #2: The DRL is needed to ease overcrowding on the Yonge subway and handle overcapacity during the morning commute.

While ridership on the Yonge subway line south into the downtown core is currently at or above capacity during the morning commute, upgrades currently underway by the TTC will address this issue. New, higher capacity trains and a better signalling system will increase capacity by 10% and 30%, respectively, on the Yonge subway line during rush hour. According to research from the TTC, these two upgrades could move as many as 38,000 customers per hour into the downtown core, while ridership is expected to grow to 35,800 by 2031. Current upgrades being implemented by the TTC will handle future ridership into the downtown core until 2031 and beyond.

Myth #3: The Downtown Relief Line will service the downtown.

A majority of the downtown would not be serviced by the DRL.  In the most realistic version (see Figure 1) of the DRL, it would run from Pape station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line, south to Queen Street, with a stop at Gerrard along the way, west to Bayview and across to St Andrew station along King street. Using the official boundaries of the downtown core (see Figure 2), most residents of the area won’t be serviced by the DRL, as the line would only run along the south-eastern edge of the core.

DRL option
Figure 1


Of the seven stops currently proposed, four of those will be outside of the downtown core – though, admittedly, the Bayview-River station would sit on the border of the core.

downtown core
Figure 2


Myth #4: The DRL will provide new transit to areas that need it most

All of the proposed stops along the DRL are already well serviced by transit. The current transit services at the proposed DRL stations:

Customers on busy streetcar lines such as King Street West – the busiest surface route in Toronto – will hardly benefit from the DRL.

Myth #5: The DRL is needed to service growing demand for transit in the downtown core.

The DRL is being built to deal with customers from outside of Toronto. While transit ridership into the downtown core during the morning commute is expected to grow by 55% by 2031, most of the ridership is not coming from downtown customers. Trips from customers outside of the city into the downtown core will grow by 83% over that time, while trips from customers within Toronto are expected to grow by just 17%. The TTC’s capacity challenges moving forward are largely a result of a growth in suburban, long-distance ridership.

Transit customers in the downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods will be serviced by streetcars, not the DRL. The TTC estimates that the added capacity of the new streetcars will be adequate to handle future demand.

Myth #6: The DRL is economic and would service high ridership

The DRL would operate well under capacity, according to current ridership forecasts. Ridership on the DRL during the busiest period – the morning commute – would be 11,000, or about 30% of its total capacity. Because the DRL would be unable to cover a significant portion of its operating costs through fares, the TTC would need to raise fares for all customers and require more subsidies from taxpayers.

Recent forecasts from the TTC show the DRL moving 178,000 people per day. The TTC’s subway system currently operates for around 19 hours a day, meaning the average hourly ridership on the DRL would be 9,300 or below 1/3 of its capacity.

The DRL’s peak ridership of 11,000 customers per hour is just slightly more than the proposed controversial Scarborough subway, which is expected to move 9,300 customers per hour.

Brady Yauch is an economist and Executive Director of the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI). You can reach Brady by email at: bradyyauch (at) consumerpolicyinstitute.org or by phone at (416) 964-9223 ext 236

Photo by Ricky Webster


3 thoughts on “6 myths surrounding the Downtown Relief Line

  1. Wondering about the source for this statement: “Trips from customers outside of the city into the downtown core will grow by 83% over that time, while trips from customers within Toronto are expected to grow by just 17%.” If this is the case, we definitely need to examine who we are building the DRL for.

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