The waiting is the hardest part
After a long wait for Scarborough residents, the path to their transit future remains unclear
A two-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre is studied by the Toronto Transit Commission. The idea lacks political backing and the transit agency does not publish a ridership estimate. It does conclude that, based on growth expectations beyond 2021, it would be "prudent" for this section of transit to be able to carry 7,500 to 8,000 at its busiest hour, about one-quarter the capacity of a subway. The agency says "the huge capacity achievable with a subway is not needed or warranted in this corridor."
Veteran councillor Rob Ford wins Toronto's mayoralty, partly on his strong backing for subways. He tells people in Scarborough, in particular, that they deserve underground transit.
2010 and 2012
Toronto City Council approves, and then reaffirms several times, support for Light Rail Transit (LRT) in Scarborough.
In a report to the TTC board, city staff conclude this part of Scarborough could be served by either light rail or a subway. They project peak ridership of a three-stop subway to Sheppard Avenue at "upwards of 9,500" an hour, but warn that "because it would be located underneath established, low-density, stable residential neighbourhoods, [a subway] would have only three stations north of Kennedy Station, and there would be limited opportunity for intensification and redevelopment which is normally associated with subway investment."
During a debate about transit funding, councillors vote 35-to-9 in favour of "the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue."
City council votes 40-to-4 to confirm support for the three-stop subway proposal to Sheppard, at a cost of $3.56-billion. The vote comes after a new, higher and controversial figure for peak ridership – pushing it from 9,500 to 14,000 – emerged in a report from city staff. The new figure made assumptions about other transit being built, doubled the number of trains running on the proposed subway extension and, crucially, it put the number of potential riders near the limit of what light rail could carry.
But staff warned that building a subway in the area carried its own challenge: "Because the subway's design capacity exceeds 2031 forecast ridership levels, a robust program to attract significant employment growth (and to a lesser extent residential growth) to the Scarborough Centre will be required to increase ridership."
Provincial Transportation Minister Glen Murray wades into the debate with a new idea. He proposes a mostly above-ground subway where the RT now runs, with the Ontario government funding the first phase of construction to Scarborough Town Centre. City planner Jennifer Keesmaat derides this idea as an attempt to "contort a plan" into a set amount of money and criticizes it for not having enough stops. "It wouldn't be serving the people of Scarborough, because a lot of them, they would have a subway going through their community but they wouldn't actually be able to get on it," she said.
Oct. 3, 2013
To analyze the merit of Mr. Murray's subway plan, city staff compare various ways to deliver heavy-rail transit in Scarborough. Among them is a scaled-down version of the city's plan, which shows that a two-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre would cost $2.71-billion and have a peak ridership of 13,400 people an hour.
Oct. 8, 2013
Council votes 24-to-20 to confirm support for the three-stop version of the subway to Sheppard, at a projected cost of $3.56-billion.
The higher projection for peak ridership continues to ruffle feathers at city hall. Some councillors say they can't understand the basis for the increase, raising concerns it could have been torqued to sway votes. Bernard Farrol, a senior planner with the TTC, explains that the ridership would probably end up somewhere between the two projections of 9,500 and 14,000. "We would be in the ballpark," he says of the higher figure. "How big is that ballpark? I'm not going to say that. But, would it be double that? I doubt. Would it be half that? I doubt."
Amid the controversy, some subway supporters begin to play down the importance of the numbers, pointing to the project's city-building value. "If it went as low as 9,000 people per peak hour, I would still say you build the system," Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said.
Ms. Keesmaat and her staff pitch a new idea: a one-stop subway that only goes as far as Scarborough Town Centre, coupled with a massive redevelopment of the area around the station. The bureaucrats estimate this could be done for about $2-billion and propose using the money saved to extend the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project, a provincial project now under construction, as far east as the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.
The promise of getting more transit for the same amount of money helps convince many who had backed the LRT over a subway to support the combination. "It actually builds peace in the land," says Councillor Joe Mihevc.
Ridership modelling shows that the service volume on Smart Track – Mayor John Tory's pitch for new transit on the GO rail corridors, which has evolved into additional stations on two GO rail lines within the city – makes a profound difference in the attractiveness of the Scarborough subway. If the GO trains come at 15-minute intervals, the subway would peak at 13,700 passengers. Each day, the projection shows, 7,130 people who had not previously been using transit would ride the extension. "The [subway extension] is expected to generate quite low net new daily ridership," a report notes.
But if the GO trains come every five minutes, subway ridership plunges to 9,800 at its busiest hour.
At a public meeting, city staff unveil new and lower ridership projections for the Scarborough proposal. A one-stop subway would now peak at 7,300 passengers. The daily ridership total would now include 4,500 people who had not previously been taking transit. The Scarborough subway and the Stouffville GO rail line, to some extent, would compete for ridership. This new, lower peak ridership number for the Scarborough project assumes that there is a stop at Ellesmere on the Stouffville line, slowing that route and making it less attractive.
June 17, 2016
Mr. Tory calls a news conference at Scarborough Town Centre to take questions about the project's rising cost. The new price, according to the mayor's office, is $2.9-billion. The mayor insists he would push ahead with both the subway and the LRT, which is suddenly short more than half its funding. "They cost what they cost," Mr. Tory tells reporters.
June 21, 2016
A city staff report says that the cost of the original three-stop plan had jumped to $4.605-billion. It says that the one-stop version is also up – to $3.159-billion – incorporating into the figure several costs that the mayor's staff had excluded.
"Based on the current capital cost estimates, an additional $1.18-$1.27-billion in funding will be necessary to implement the full Scarborough Transit Network Plan," staff conclude.
July 7, 2016
A TTC briefing note raises the prospect of low demand resulting in only half the Bloor-Danforth trains carrying on east all the way to Scarborough Town Centre, with the rest turning back at Kennedy station. Noting that a subway line running six-car trains can carry 14,000 to 36,000 people an hour, the document explains that, "The lower ranges of the passenger demand thresholds determine whether they warrant five-minute or better rapid-transit service."
The note also undermines one of the key political arguments – that Scarborough Town Centre will be one of the busiest stations on the line – noting that a station's passenger volume "is usually not used for determining transit technology."
July 12, 2016
Council votes to remove from consideration the three-stop subway option and have staff push forward with the combined plan for a one-stop extension and the Eglinton East LRT, although the latter has little funding left.
"There were a number of members of council who voted for the Scarborough subway extension specifically as part of a package deal," Councillor Gord Perks recalled this week. "Now that it's no longer part of a package deal – and it's not – the interests of those councillors have been betrayed."
The city website offering information about the Scarborough subway project touts the importance of attracting people to transit to make the case that the one-stop version is better than the three-stop, even though it would carry fewer people during peak hours. "The express subway extension would attract more 'new' transit riders than the 3-stop subway extension would," the site notes. "This means that the transit network that includes the express subway offers more benefit to people than the transit network that includes the 3-stop subway extension."
Mayor Tory's executive committee votes in favour of advancing the project, including a more expensive bus terminal that pushes the price to $3.346-billion. Another change is that, by running the ridership projections without a station at Ellesmere on the GO rail line, planners found this made that line more attractive and meant that the Scarborough subway would attract far fewer new riders. Of the daily total on the extension, only 2,300 would be new riders. This new plunge in ridership, coupled with the higher price, prompts opponents to note that it is to cost nearly $1.5-million to attract each new person to transit.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the costs will go up," Councillor Janet Davis said.
Mr. De Baeremaeker, the pro-subway Scarborough councillor, acknowledged the price might rise and said he would "absolutely" support the project, even if it exceeded its current budget. "This is an investment that we have to make," he said. "Whether it's $2-billion, $3-billion, $3.5-billion, $4-billion. It's an investment we have to make."
The project goes to full council again later this month.