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Panelist defends report's pro-LRT conclusions

Dr. Eric Miller - head of of the Transit panel recommending an LRT on Sheppard Ave to Toronto City Council, poses for a photo on Queen St W, in Toronto, Ont., Friday, March 16, 2012.

Brett Gundlock for The Globe and Mail/brett gundlock The Globe and Mail

The advisory panel on Sheppard East transit released its much-anticipated report Friday, but not before Mayor Rob Ford dismissed its pro-LRT findings as biased hogwash. Panelist and University of Toronto professor Eric Miller spoke to Kelly Grant about the panel's conclusions, the mayor's rhetoric and why this isn't a battle between downtown and the suburbs.

Why did the panel recommend LRT over subways on Sheppard?

After looking at all the evidence and evaluating the two options across nine comprehensive criteria – which should guide any investment decision – LRT was the clear consensus of the panel.

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Before reading the report, Mayor Rob Ford characterized it as "hogwash" and said you were biased. Are you?

No. Certainly I'm not biased. I'm a university professor. I've been trained to look at the facts and come to independent conclusions. That's what the panel did. I've also been trained to read reports and documents before judging them. … A large portion of the report is factual information presented by a wide variety of parties, so surely it's not hogwash. It's factual evidence.

Does that mean reality is biased against Mayor Ford?

Well it is, yes. The mayor has taken a position that he genuinely believes in, but it's not fact-based. … Anybody is entitled to their own beliefs. They're not entitled to their own facts.

The mayor has said repeatedly, and there's been polling to back this up, that people want subways. Why isn't that a key consideration for you?

It is a consideration. But the LRT option has never been properly explained to them. Mayor [David]Miller did not explain it properly to them when Transit City was first announced.

So what should people know about LRTs that they don't know already?

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It's not the streetcar we have out running on Queen Street. It's a thoroughly modern, efficient, high-quality transit service. It's in operation in something like 115 cities around the world working very nicely. … In all cases, LRTs are used to provide high-quality service where the density and the urban form and the travel pattern does not support the enormous investment in subways. That's exactly the situation we have in Scarborough.

Density? Urban form? Those terms don't exactly fit on a bumper sticker. How do you sell people on this plan?

It's not easy. But, first of all, you use proper terminology. You don't use labels like trolleys and streetcars. The best way to show people will be once we actually build one of these lines and people can actually see them in operation. … I don't think 115 cities around the world are crazy.

Gordon Chong [the mayor's subway advocate]has suggested that what Toronto really needs is six months to a year to properly seek out a private-public partnership. Why not do that?

It ignores the fact that the mayor and Dr. Chong have had about 15 months already to put this deal together and it hasn't happened.

Do you think it's possible to build subways with private-sector investment if Toronto City Council and the province are willing to raise new taxes or fees or road tolls?

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If the subway is in the right place and the value proposition is there, yes. … There may well be places in Toronto, other lines where there would be much greater private-sector interest. Sheppard, so far, hasn't passed that litmus test.

Is that code for a downtown relief subway line?

Possibly. Certainly a downtown relief line is a very important piece of this puzzle.

Doesn't that bring us back to the fancy, elite folks downtown get higher-order transit and Scarborough gets screwed?

That's such a rabble-rousing, miscasting of the whole debate. This is not a downtown-versus-suburbs debate. The reason you have subways downtown is because you have the density and the ridership needs to support the capacity. It's not some conspiracy against the suburbs.

There's been a lot of politicking around this panel. Has this experience made you want to run screaming from ever doing anything related to politics again?


This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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