Just four months after Toronto politicians rejected Mayor Rob Ford’s plan for a Scarborough subway, city council is poised to reopen that debate – but this time it is TTC chair Karen Stintz who is pushing for subways over light rail.
The fight over subways to Scarborough could be back on the council floor as early as Wednesday, rising from the ashes as part of Ms. Stintz’s OneCity transit plan. It envisions a Scarborough extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway rather than the approved – and funded – light rail line.
Scarborough councillor and TTC vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker will ask council to support a study of the proposed Bloor-Danforth extension to Sheppard Avenue at this week’s meeting, Ms. Stintz said.
During this winter’s transit showdown, Ms. Stintz spoke passionately about the fiscal wisdom of building light rail in the suburbs. Now she is asking council to commit to a Scarborough subway and settle the question of cost another day. The sudden change of heart has Ms. Stintz and her supporters facing critics on both the right and the left as they scramble to gain support for another subway plan.
“It’s a bit of a joke coming from councillors who were asking how the mayor was going to pay for subways,” said Scarborough councillor Michelle Berardinetti, who supported Mr. Ford’s plan to bury the eastern portion of the Eglinton light rail line. “It’s a flip-flop,” she said of this latest plan.
Gord Perks, a left-leaning councillor who backed Ms. Stintz in her bid to revive Toronto’s light rail plan, called this latest development “heartbreaking.”
“We are either going forward with what we decided in February or we aren’t,” he said. “We have a funded plan that will deliver transit to people in Scarborough. Throwing that out the window and saying we’ll think about whether there might be some money and a different technology puts at risk delivering transit to people in Scarborough and I won’t stand for that.”
Mr. Ford said if Ms. Stintz wants subways, she should have backed his efforts. “I support subways more than anyone,” he said on Tuesday. “If we would have listened to my plan on Eglinton and Sheppard, people in Scarborough would be getting subways. … We’re going to get subways one day.”
Ms. Stintz and her supporters counter that their proposed subway extension, unlike Mr. Ford’s, is supported by ridership numbers. A light rail replacement for the old Scarborough rapid transit line will have funding from the province, but upgrading it to a subway could be done for $500-million – a small cost in the long term, they say.
Council will debate how to raise those dollars when it considers funding options in the fall. What others see as a flip-flop on the Scarborough line, OneCity supporters characterize as the result of sober second thought after the dust settled on the Sheppard subway fight.
“The business case and the transit case is there for that line,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc, one of the architects of the OneCity plan. “We needed to rethink this.”
Councillor Adam Vaughan, another light rail supporter, said it is time council backed a plan and stayed with it. “This constant revision is undermining people’s confidence in the decisions we make down here,” he said.
The province has signalled it is not interested in reopening the debate, but Mr. Mihevc said there is lots of time to discuss that before work on the Scarborough light rail line is scheduled to start.
Asked what to expect at this week’s council meeting, Ms. Stintz described the debate over the Scarborough subway as a “stepped” process. Council will decide if it wants to advance “the notion of a Scarborough subway,” she said, with the understanding that a decision on how to pay for it will come in the fall.
Even with the critics, Ms. Stintz said she has no regrets about reopening the transit debate with the 30-year OneCity plan. “I think we have galvanized the city,” she said. “I think we have helped move this issue and it is all exciting.”