Scarborough transit goes underground with council vote
Following the surprise announcement two weeks ago that the federal government will provide $660 million for a Scarborough subway, Toronto city council voted yesterday to finalize the plan. They have decided to scrap the LRT and phase in a 1.6 per cent property tax levy to help fund the project, with expected completion in 2023.
Torontonian tax dollars will account for approximately $1 billion of the project, to be paid over a 30-year period, with the 1.6 per cent tax levy to be phased in over the next three years. The provincial and federal governments are providing $660 million and $1.48 billion, respectively.
The current Ottawa-approved proposal extends the Bloor-Danforth subway line from Kennedy up to Sheppard Avenue. Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s earlier plan, however, advocated for the Sheppard East LRT rather than an underground route.
Mayor Rob Ford’s celebratory tweet two weeks ago, “I did exactly what the taxpayers asked me to do. And that’s fight, fight and don’t give up on the Scarborough Subway,” was followed by a somewhat simpler one today: “Subways Subways Subways Toronto!”
Not everyone is so ecstatic, however.
With the proposed underground route comes a higher price tag; subways simply cost more than LRTs. The issue of added costs once construction begins has also been brought up and may pose additional financial strain on the project. The total cost for Toronto to build the Scarborough subway is estimated at between $2.5 and $3 billion dollars.
Top-left: a diagram of the proposed Scarborough subway line, taken from a TTC report. Plans for the LRT have been officially scrapped.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting Scarborough councillor Paul Ainslie dramatically spoke in favour of the LRT, arguing that a Scarborough subway is not a cost-effective solution for the people he represents.
Matti Siemiatycki, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Toronto commented on the project’s relatively large funding gap. The “one-off basis” on which the government is spending on transit, “is not the basis of strategic planning. We need to be planning transit as a network.” He cited the city’s need to be looking at “the big picture,” in terms of “city building, connectivity, and ridership.” For Siemiatycki, the subway versus LRT debate is not as important as “delivering transit that provides city building initiatives.”
Guled Arale, Vice-President External of the Scarborough Campus Student’s Union commented on the $1 billion being raised by the city, saying it should rather be used to benefit Scarborough itself, not simply one transit line.
“[We] need a cohesive network within the city,” said Arale. Ottawa’s proposed subway map “won’t improve the commuting time for UTSC students,” and it is “more costly.”
In September 2012, students at UTSC held a silent protest to raise awareness about the campus’ lack of access to transit lines. Like Midtown councilor Josh Matlow, who has been straightforward in his belief that the project has been fueled by re-election prospects, UTSC students and Arale feel that the Scarborough community’s voice has not been heard.
“The way the conversation has been going is not conducive to what the people in Scarborough really want,” stated Arale. The government needs to initiate “a conversation rather than talking at us. ”
It is still possible, though unlikely, that the current SRT will be closed during the subway construction, leaving Scarberians and UTSC students with more of a commuting hassle. Regardless, the finished project isn’t due for another 10 years, and it leaves Arale questioning, “what do we do now?”