Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Is subway really the better way? - Toronto Star

Is subway really the better way?
'Frustrated' TTC chair says money for line extension looks sexy but should go to further regional transit links
March 07, 2007
Tess Kalinowski
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

It is being hailed by federal and provincial politicians as a breakthrough in cutting commutes and greenhouse gas emissions across the Toronto region.

But transportation experts were less enthusiastic about yesterday's announcement of $962 million for Toronto-area transit, particularly the extension of the Spadina subway line into York Region.

To put it bluntly, the city would have spent the subway money differently.

"We're frustrated in some ways we don't get to decide where you spend the transit dollars," said TTC chair and Toronto Councillor Adam Giambrone.

"If we have limited dollars there are better ways to service more people and get more riders – or better serve existing riders – than the York subway,"

If he had the $2.1 billion the extension is expected to cost, Giambrone says he'd spend half finishing the Sheppard line.

The other half would be used to build a light rapid transit system – such as dedicated streetcar lines – that would criss-cross Toronto.

That's what the city's official plan calls for.

But subways are sexy, particularly at election time, although they're not necessarily the best or most cost-effective way to reduce gridlock, say the experts.

They say the 8.6-kilometre subway extension with six stops, including a high traffic hub at York University, won't do much to address the transit needs outlined in the city's official plan, particularly in Scarborough where the rapid transit system is near the end of its life.

Then there's the cost of construction. Subways cost about $150 million per running kilometre to build compared with about $30 million to $35 million per kilometre for light rail transit or $20 million to $25 million per kilometre for bus rapid transit, Giambrone said.

And the announcement offers no operating funding. What still needs to be negotiated is whether there will be an operating subsidy for the Spadina subway.

"Subways get older and are more expensive to maintain in the long run," said Giambrone, backing up Toronto Mayor David Miller's call Monday for a national transit plan that would feature sustained funding of about $2 billion annually.

Although the extension will make this the first time the subway has crossed Toronto's city borders, with two stops in York Region, it will be wholly owned and operated by the TTC, said Giambrone, with York paying part of the operating cost.

"The subway is significant inasmuch as it traverses municipal boundaries. (But) ... the really heavy lifting in terms of integration and co-ordination has yet to occur," said Rob MacIsaac, head of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority.

Still, it remains to be seen how far the subway and the other investments in a Mississauga bus corridor, Brampton's rapid bus system, called AcceleRide, and enhancements to York's Viva rapid transit go toward improving regional transportation links, he said.

MacIsaac argues the region is so starved for transit it needs more of everything, including subways.

Of the 1,660 buses that run on the York University campus each day, about half are operated by the TTC.

The others are regional transit services, including about 500 GO buses.

The 87 per cent of York's 50,000 students and 10,000 employees who list a Toronto-area address are evenly split among 416 and 905 residents, said a university spokesperson.

"This is another political subway in the same vein as the Sheppard line was," said Ed Levy of BA Consulting Group.
This will be my last post on the subject, as I have become very disillusioned by the reaction to this announcement.

A professor of mine once said that in 25 years, when the development around the stations is complete, we will be praising Mel Lastman for his foresight in pushing for the Sheppard Subway to get build. It may take 25 years, but Torontonians of the future will wonder why the people of 2007 ever questioned its merits.

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