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Toronto Toronto’s twisted, tortured transit saga is even more tumultuous than Brexit (really)

Toronto’s transit saga is like Brexit, only longer. It goes on and on, round and round, and nothing is ever settled.

Politicians have been arguing for years about what the city’s future mass-transit network should look like. Where should the first new routes go, downtown or in the suburbs? Should the vehicles travel underground or on the surface? Britain’s Parliament looks positively decisive by comparison.

Plans have been drawn up, approved and announced, only to be torn up and replaced with something different by the latest bright light who thinks he knows better. Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money has disappeared down the drain. Years − decades − have been wasted. Other, better-run global cities have leapt ahead, building integrated modern systems that leave Toronto in the dust.

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Two brothers named Ford share much of the blame for the most recent chaos. Ford One, Mayor Rob, blew up a carefully designed, comprehensive transit plan on his first day in office. He persuaded a craven Ontario government to toss out a proposed network of light-rail lines and substitute a plan to tunnel one line far into the suburbs along Eglinton Avenue.

City council eventually overruled that nonsensical project and, after many more detours, Toronto settled on a plan of action. Finish the huge Crosstown light-rail line along Eglinton, with the suburban parts on the surface. Build more light rail where needed. Build a new downtown subway, called the relief line, to take pressure off the overcrowded north-south line that runs along the city’s Yonge Street backbone. Proceed with an approved Bloor-Danforth subway extension deeper into the eastern suburb of Scarborough. Make better use of the regional rail routes through the city.

Now along comes Ford Two, Premier Doug, to put another stick in the spokes. A new, new transit plan being promoted by his provincial Progressive Conservative government would replace the one extensively debated and then approved by Toronto City Council.

Like Ford One, Ford Two hates seeing transit vehicles on tracks above ground. They get in the way of the cars! So, just as his brother would have buried the Crosstown line, he would bury large parts of a proposed western extension − one that just happens to run through his home turf.

That is just as goofy as Ford One’s idea. Running light-rail vehicles underground in a low-density suburb would add hundreds of millions to the cost, which is why Toronto transit planners firmly rejected the notion.

Doug Ford would take a new look at the relief line, too. Rather than a run-of-the-mill subway, his government wants to build a “truly unique transit artery” using “alternative delivery methods.” What on earth that means he hasn’t said. Even John Tory, the city’s mayor, doesn’t know. The Premier didn’t bother to tell him.

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Whatever Mr. Ford has in mind, it is bound to slow the start of construction on the desperately needed relief line. Planners have spent several years and many millions designing it. The Ford intervention threatens to send them back to the drawing board.

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His government now says planning for the line should proceed “in parallel” with a northward extension of the Yonge line to the suburb of Richmond Hill. That feeds Toronto’s worst fear about Mr. Ford’s transit plans: that he will push city hall’s No. 1 project, the relief line, down the to-do list in favour of suburban subways. Mr. Ford, after all, once told the people of Pickering, well east of the city, that they would one day be able to jump on a subway.

Some of Mr. Ford’s ideas are not so bad. He would add two stops to the planned one-stop Scarborough subway. That was the original idea, before city council executed one of the many zags on Toronto’s zigzag course to the transit future. Three stops would allow for better connection to the area’s network of feeder buses.

But these sorts of decisions should not be left to the whim of politicians. We can’t have successive mayors and premiers endlessly revisiting transit projects and redrawing transit maps. It’s the main reason Toronto is so far behind with its transit buildout. Leave the experts to decide what kind of transit to build and where the lines should go. Let politicians focus on finding the money to pay for them.

Otherwise, we will be trapped in our own private Brexit forever.

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