What is wrong with the schemes?

Few benefits for the costs

According to Metrolinx’s own Benefit Case Analyses, these schemes are not worthwhile, at least as transport investments. The Benefit:Cost ratios are all less than 1.0 and some are  less than 0.5, indicating that costs are more than double the estimated benefits. Cost per new transit rider is high: $40,000 or more. At this rate, Metrolinx would need $50 billion to achieve its 2033 ridership objectives, not the $36 billion it is currently trying to raise.

The Transit City schemes seem to have been developed more to achieve an urban design vision than to improve transportation in Toronto. The TTC’s original “Transit City” report of 2007 describes the scheme as supporting “city-building,” and includes pictures of LRT systems in attractive, mostly European environments. At about the same time, the city was developing its “Avenues” program, attempting to create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment along urban and suburban arterials.

The TTC’s Transit City report includes estimates of annual 2023 ridership for each line. Existing ridership is also given for each corridor, but (as with the TTC’s background report) it is not clear how much of this is new ridership due to the scheme, and how much is due to underlying growth in existing ridership. While the text says explicitly that it describes the “benefits and costs” of each scheme, there is no other quantitative information in the report, such as operating costs, revenues, or time savings. The Transit City schemes might have a purpose as urban design initiatives, but it is hard to imagine how the costs could be justified in this way alone. Certainly they are not an effective use of Metrolinx’s limited funds. Nevertheless, work is proceeding on many of these initiatives.

Figure 16: Metrolinx’s cost estimates and proposed completion times for Transit City schemes.[1]

Choice of technology

There has been an unproductive debate about whether Sheppard and Scarborough lines should be built using “subway” or LRT technology. Torontonians think they understand the key features of a subway – fairly fast trains, running mostly in tunnels, not interfering with traffic. LRT is thought of as being a superior form of streetcar, as operated on Spadina, Harbourfront, and St. Clair; slower than a subway, not much faster than a bus, but cheaper to build and operate. At least, that is the advertisement. Reality may be somewhat different.

The Sheppard and Finch lines are, indeed, fairly cheap, although they still cost about $1 billion each. They also deliver a slight improvement over the existing bus service. It remains to be seen whether a relatively slow surface transit line will transform the suburban streets into pedestrian-friendly urban “avenues.”

Passengers on the Sheppard Line who want to go downtown will need to transfer at Don Mills onto the Sheppard Subway, then onto the Yonge line. On the “Big Move” map, there is the suggestion of a continuous LRT line across the north of Toronto, but in fact, passengers would need to change at least three times to travel from Malvern to York University.

Figure 17: Scarborough RT and planned Eglinton Crosstown[2]

TTC looked at converting the Sheppard Subway to LRT technology, but the cost to rebuild the stations for low-floor cars would have been about $600 million. Metrolinx also considered a plan to turn the Sheppard line north up Don Mills Road, then west to connect with the Finch West line, but the case for addition is weak, and Metrolinx has not announced any firm plans to build the line.[3]

Figure 18: Map showing existing and proposed extensions of Scarborough RT. The existing line has sharp curves at the Kennedy terminus and where the line turns to cross under the GO rail line north of Ellesmere Road.[4]

The Scarborough RT “replacement” and extension is not cheap, almost $2 billion when rolling stock costs are included. This buys 3.5 km of additional line, from the current terminus at McCowan to Markham Road. About $1 billion of this is being spent converting the existing RT to LRT standards, so TTC can operate it with the same LRT cars as the Sheppard and Eglinton lines.

TTC does need to increase capacity on the line, and it is true that the 10m-long “Mark 1” cars are “no longer in production.” The newer “Mark 2” cars, which are 16m long, cannot go around the curves at Eglinton and north of Ellesmere. But curves can be rebuilt, and all transit cars are built to order. It is not clear why the TTC believes the line needs to be rebuilt at all, when Vancouver is operating and even extending a line of similar age and technology, carrying many more passengers, without serious problems.

One alternative would be for TTC to get Bombardier, or another manufacturer, to supply 40 replacement cars, for a price of about $4 million each or $160 million. For perhaps $100 million, TTC could remove the curve at Kennedy, and build a new station on a north-south alignment alongside the GO platform. If GO is eventually upgraded into a regional metro, most Scarborough RT passengers will want to transfer onto GO anyway, because it offers a much faster service to downtown. We suggest that TTC is trying to improve the wrong interchange.

Too Many Stations

Although the Eglinton line has the cost of a subway (which it is across the central 11 km from Jane to Laird Drive), it will deliver a service more like that of a streetcar. Like the Bloor-Danforth subway, there are many stations, so trains will have a very low average speed. And some of the stations will have very low ridership. According to TTC’s forecasts, the station at Chaplin Crescent will be used by only 850 passengers in the a.m. peak hour, or maybe 5,000 per day.[5] Most of the 850 passengers are probably assumed to be transferring off the Glencairn and Forest Hill buses, which together carry only 2,200 passengers per day. Probably fewer than 1,000 of the daily boardings at this station would be new transit riders.

Underground LRT stations, of the kind planned for Eglinton, cost $150 million to $300 million each to build, including property design, project management, and contingency costs.[6] In addition, there is a cost of about $20 million NPV for operations and maintenance, as well as fleet operations and maintenance costs to serve it. Each station adds about a minute to the trip time, and thus reduces ridership by a few percent.

For most of the route between Weston Road and Laird Drive, Eglinton is surrounded by stable neighbourhoods containing single-family homes, densely developed on relatively small lots. Based on experience on the Bloor-Danforth and Spadina subway lines, more intensive development will occur slowly, if at all. At an incremental cost of at least $100,000 per new transit rider, there seems no reasonable case for building the station at Chaplin. Stations at Avenue Road, Oakwood, Laird Drive, and Mount Pleasant should also be subject to further study. The case for these stations depends upon whether the surrounding areas are likely to be redeveloped at higher densities. Given current policies, this prospect seems unlikely.[7]

Figure 19: This drawing from Metrolinx shows how the underground stations along Eglinton will be built. For the full interactive version, see the Metrolinx website.[8]

[2] From Metrolinx Eglinton Crosstown BCA. Note that the label is incorrect; the map shows Option 3, which is the scheme now being implemented, but it is not the “futureproof” scheme, which is Metrolinx’s Option 2.
[3] This is Option 3 in the Benefits Case Analysis for Sheppard Finch. http://www.metrolinx.com/en/regionalplanning/projectevaluation/benefitsc...
[4] Source: Scarborough Rapid Transit Environmental Project Report, http://www.toronto.ca/involved/projects/scarborough_rapid_transit/epr/a5...
[5] TTC: Eglinton Crosstown LRT Demand Forecasting Report, p. 25, http://www.toronto.ca/involved/projects/eglinton_crosstown_lrt/epr/appen...
[6] Metrolinx staff and consultants have verbally confirmed that costs of Eglinton LRT stations are in this range.
[7] By comparison, redevelopment is being encouraged along Cambie Street, a broadly similar corridor in Vancouver served by a new underground line. See http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/cambie-corridor-plan.aspx