—The number of suicide attempts, including nine deaths, that have occurred on TTC subway lines so far in 2014. At a meeting on Monday, Toronto’s board of health voted to urge city council to fund platform-edge barriers at TTC stations, in part to prevent people from jumping in front of trains.
Museum Station may not even be the most beautiful station on the Yonge-University-Spadina line (ever seen Dupont Station, guys?), let alone the planet, and yet it seems to have impressed someone at the Guardian. There, on a list of the most beautiful metro stations in the world, is our very own sculpture-bedecked subway stop. None of this is to say that Museum Station’s interior, completed in 2008, isn’t very nice. It is, and it would have been great if the Toronto Community Foundation, which helped fund the renovation, had been able to follow through with its plans to help remake other stations in similar style. Still, Museum is no Stockholm rainbow cave.
Since he unveiled it in late May, SmartTrack has been the centrepiece of John Tory’s One Toronto transit plan. Consisting of 22 stops (including five TTC interchanges) over 53 kilometres, the line would cut a loosely U-shaped curve through Toronto, starting near the airport in the west and dipping down through Union Station before heading northeast into Markham. Running largely on electrified GO Transit tracks, the new line would, Tory claims, serve 200,000 riders daily. He says the project will cost about $8-billion and will be operational by 2021, with the city’s one-third share of the funding coming from tax increment financing (also known as TIF)—which is basically a way of borrowing against future property-tax growth. Tory has also promised to start construction on the Scarborough subway immediately and provide express bus service along a few select routes.
IF TORY IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?
Because SmartTrack relies so heavily on existing GO Transit infrastructure, Tory will first have to get Metrolinx on his side. That might be harder than it sounds, according to transit advocate and writer Steve Munro. There are legitimate questions to be asked about whether SmartTrack’s extra trains could coexist with Metrolinx’s own plans for regional express rail. There’s also reason to be concerned about whether the extra stations are actually desired or even physically possible (smaller trains wouldn’t hit Tory’s ridership promises, but larger trains would require larger stations). “There’s going to be a reckoning fairly soon,” Munro says. “If Tory is elected, some bright spark at the December 11 Metrolinx board meeting is going to ask how SmartTrack fits with their [regional express rail]. At that point, we can no longer pretend that Tory’s plan is simply a doodle on a piece of paper that we don’t have to worry about.”
Unlike the single-idea transit plans of the other leading mayoral candidates—John Tory’s SmartTrack and Doug Ford’s “subways, subways, subways”—Olivia Chow’s transit platform is a patchwork of different proposals. To address immediate issues, she has promised to devote $15 million to increasing bus service and another $184 million to an expanded fleet of buses and a new garage, to be paid for by adding a new bracket to the land transfer tax. She has also pledged to build provincially funded light rail along Finch Avenue West and Sheppard Avenue East, and also to turn the planned Scarborough subway extension back into a light-rail line, freeing up additional funds. Her long-term goal is to build the downtown relief line—or at least set it in motion with engineering studies—to take pressure off existing subway lines.
IF CHOW IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?
Each of Chow’s ideas comes with its own set of obstacles. Critics generally consider the $15 million she has pledged to improve bus service to be realistic. She could find the money; the problem is that it wouldn’t be enough. “The political challenge is to have the guts to give priority to transit on the streets and to convince people that everyone will be better off if we do that,” says Eric Miller, a transit expert and University of Toronto engineering professor. Miller and others contend that, if elected, Chow will have to be firm with the TTC if she intends to see more buses on city streets within a reasonable timeframe. She would probably have to fork over more money to lease a parking lot or facility until the TTC could finish building that new bus garage, otherwise the extra vehicles would have nowhere to go.
If Doug Ford’s transit plan has one thing going for it, it’s simplicity. He wants to do one thing, and one thing only: build subways. In the first phase of his Toronto Subway Expansion Plan, a scheme originally advanced by his brother, he proposes not only following through with the Scarborough subway, but also building a Sheppard extension connecting Don Mills to McCowan, a downtown relief line from Queen to Pape, and a Finch West line, to Humber College. He also wants to bury the rest of the Eglinton Crosstown (or however you spell it). Then, in the second phase of the plan, he says he’ll extend the Sheppard line west to Downsview, lengthen the relief line on both ends, burrow the Eglinton line farther west of Mount Dennis and connect Kipling to Humber College with a north-south line. Altogether, the plan would create 32 new kilometres of subway. Ford claims the price tag for the first phase would be $9 billion—an amount he says he’ll raise using a series of measures that would include reallocating existing LRT funding (and, in the process, cancelling approved LRT lines), forging public-private partnerships, instituting development charges, using tax increment financing and selling air rights above stations.
IF FORD IS ELECTED, WILL IT HAPPEN?
As a map, Ford’s plan is far superior to any other transit platform. “From a point of view of coverage, he’s got a big network that covers the whole city,” says transit advocate and writer Steve Munro. “The problem is there’s no way we can afford to build the damn thing.”
—The maximum amount of revenue that could be generated through tax increment financing (also known as TIF) for John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan, according to an analysis prepared on behalf of the Olivia Chow campaign by economist and electricity-sector consultant Mitchell Rothman. While that number sounds high, it’s significantly lower than the $2.5 billion that Tory’s campaign has claimed the financing scheme—which is essentially a way of borrowing against future tax revenues—could be used to raise. The feasibility of Tory’s whole funding model hangs on the difference between those two numbers.
Doug Ford, like his brother Rob before him, is busy promoting a $9-billion, 32-kilometre subway plan that, according to him, would come at no extra cost to taxpayers—even though experts agree that the scheme is, for a huge number of reasons, completely unrealistic. Late last month, Doug offered the public a glimpse into how he hopes to finance the ambitious transit platform. Among other revenue measures, he intends to earmark $540 million of expected revenue from Build Toronto, the organization that sells city-owned real estate, for the sole purpose of building subways. “We want to take the underutilized property in Toronto, sell it at a premium, and make sure that it goes directly to subways,” said Ford, “not the general coffers, where the councillors can get their hands on it and spend it.”
WOULD IT WORK?
Though we wouldn’t put it past him to be, er, “disingenuous” with his numbers, it’s probably fair to assume that, as vice-chair of Build Toronto, Ford is in a position to communicate how much revenue the agency can expect to pull in from its current collection of properties. The first question, then, is whether Build can sell its land and generate $540 million within Ford’s promised timeline: five years.
—The amount John Tory would need to spend on tunnelling alone in order to deliver his promised SmartTrack transit plan, according to an unusually meticulous Globe analysis. Tory has said that the whole scheme will cost $8 billion, but with more than a quarter of that amount going toward putting tracks underground, it’s likely that the total would end up being much higher. How much higher? Nobody knows.
At a press conference this afternoon, according to the Star, Doug Ford made a major adjustment to the transit plan he inherited when Rob Ford dropped out of the mayoral race last month. Rob had promised to prioritize subway lines on Sheppard and Finch avenues—a crowd-pleasing pledge, but one he had no workable way of paying for. Doug is now saying that he will instead prioritize the downtown relief line—a possibly even-more-crowd-pleasing pledge that he still has no workable way of paying for. Both Fords have said that they can get all these subway lines built for the bargain price of $9 billion, and at no additional cost to taxpayers, but experts have long agreed that some form of taxation would be needed to jump-start the tunnelling.
This month’s feature on the outrageous political pandering, incompetence and inertia that feeds Toronto’s gridlock problem has seemingly tapped into a deep well of commuter rage (that is, if the online commentary is anything to go by). On Friday, the author of that article, Toronto Life contributing editor Philip Preville, went on Newstalk 1010 to chat with host Jerry Agar about the many, many ways transit planning in this town has gone terribly wrong. “The only cash businesses left in this city are the TTC and pawn shops,” Preville says at one point during a tirade about the long-delayed implementation of Presto. Click the “play” button, above, to listen to the rest.
Getting around the city, by public transit or by car, has become a perpetual nightmare of sardine-tin crowds, endless queues and construction bottlenecks. Gridlock is the lightning-rod issue of this mayoral race, with candidates sparring over which transportation fix—underground subways, surface subways, LRT, more buses, more bike lanes, no bike lanes, more speed bumps, no speed bumps—is best. But to voters, who’ve endured a generation-long succession of false starts, bad decisions and political interference, it’s all empty promises. Toronto’s epic infrastructure fail has put commuters in a fury and brought the city to a halt. Here’s a list of the most egregious scandals in recent memory—and who’s to blame.
This Globe and Mail video of Rob Ford riding the Sheppard subway during his public-transit photo-op on Monday is curious for a few reasons. For one, it shows the mayor bobbing and weaving a little more violently than the average train passenger. For another, the 57-second video was quietly uploaded by someone at the Globe to YouTube yesterday with little context beyond the title—”Rob Ford rides the subway, pushes subway plan”—even though Ford says nothing about that plan, and talks instead about Richard Pryor and some upcoming football games. So what’s up? Over on Reddit and Twitter, people have some ideas.
At a press conference this morning, hours after his subway-expansion annoucment had already leaked online, Rob Ford told reporters all about his proposal to build 32 kilometres of new underground transit connections, and all without raising property taxes, somehow. The mayor’s plan, such as it is, calls for a tunnelling spree on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch avenues, and also between Pape and Queen stations downtown. And that’s just phase one. Sound good? Of course it does—but, as with all Ford promises, there’s a hitch: the proposed funding scheme relies on a number of improbable money sources, including the very same private-sector investment that failed to materialize the last time the mayor tried to build a subway all by himself. Part of the money would come from the outright cancellation of two planned LRT lines. Also, the cost of construction is crudely estimated and the timelines are totally unclear. Details!
With only a little more than a week to go before the first of the TTC’s next-generation streetcars goes into service on Spadina Avenue, it’s natural to be a little curious about what’s in store. There are many important questions: How do the doors work, and what if you’re in a wheelchair or have difficulty climbing stairs? What’s the deal with air conditioning? How many different kinds of flashing lights will there be? What new buttons do we get to push? As the latest in its series of surprisingly enjoyable propaganda videos, the TTC has put together a brief explainer of all that and more. Let the soothing sound of TTC CEO Andy Byford’s British accent carry you away to a land where riding surface rail is more reliably enjoyable.