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Doug Ford raises eyebrows with expensive subway plan that would link Toronto to nearby regions

Incoming Ontario premier Doug Ford says he envisions a future where Toronto’s subway line expands all the way into Pickering, a suburban community northeast of the city that is already served by GO regional rail and far from the existing subway network.

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“We’re going to build rapid underground transit that’s going to extend not only in Toronto,” he said in Pickering on Thursday. “So folks in Pickering eventually will be able to hop on a subway and get [to] downtown Toronto. People of Markham and the outlying areas, over time, will be on a subway, to make sure that we get traffic moving.”

Mr. Ford’s campaign pledge to extend the Yonge subway line farther north would run it up the western boundary of Markham. But no transit agency is currently exploring expansion to Pickering, a project that would cost many billions of dollars. Mr. Ford’s own platform made no mention of it.

The idea’s emergence renewed concerns among those worried that the next government could bring turmoil to the transit file. Toronto Transit Commission chair Josh Colle warned that statements such as this can take on a life of their own.

“You say it, people in that hometown love you for it and it starts to kind of catch fire,” Mr. Colle said. “When you’re in that leadership role, even if he chalks it up to personal musing, you can’t do that any more.”

A spokesman for the premier-designate suggested later that the remark was more of a philosophical approach than a firm plan. In an e-mailed statement, the spokesman said that Mr. Ford wants “a state of the art transit system” and that goal involves looking “at all options for extending transit lines to regions outside of Toronto.”

The idea raises questions about the degree to which Mr. Ford’s long-term vision for subways conflicts with plans to increase service on the GO Train and integrate its fares with that of the Toronto Transit Commission.

GO Transit’s regional surface train service has traditionally been much pricier than the TTC, making the subway more attractive to many commuters. But if GO and TTC fares converge to some extent, a subway, which stops more often and takes longer than the surface option, may lose part of its appeal.

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Pickering is currently served by GO, with a station that handles about 4,300 passengers on a typical weekday. Transportation planners say a subway is not needed unless there is passenger demand of at least 15,000 an hour.

“It’s inappropriate technology for the people in that region,” said Cameron MacLeod, executive director of the transit advocacy group CodeRedTO. “It’s like, honestly, his toolbox has only one shape of screwdriver in it and he’s trying to use it in every situation.”

While in Pickering for an unrelated event, Mr. Ford said he has always advocated for subways when asked by reporters about congestion. But then he went further and sketched his vision for a massive subway expansion.

The idea caught off-guard the regional transit agency Metrolinx, which would take over expansion planning under the subway upload proposal that was part of Mr. Ford’s platform.

“I can’t really comment on something I don’t have full context or information about,” said Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins. “But we’re happy to talk to the new government about any proposals they have.”

With a report from Justin Giovannetti

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