To bolster support for their plan to bury the Eglinton LRT, Rob Ford’s supporters on city council have been distributing an email of bullet points stating their case. We refute the faulty logic behind their spurious claims.
There have been a lot of transit facts and figures floating around in the past couple of weeks, and yesterday we took a look at the value of the Forum Research poll on the subject. (Spoiler: It’s not all that valuable.)
Today, we take a look at the talking points that have been making the email rounds at City Hall among councillors who support Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to bury the entire length of the Eglinton LRT line.
At issue is the easternmost stretch of the Eglinton LRT line, where $2 billion could be saved by running tracks at street level in a dedicated lane.
Below, in italics, are the main talking points from Team Ford’s email, followed by our analysis thereof:
Team Ford says: The underground is 70% faster than the surface option.
This statement obscures the fact that it’s station distance more than anything that drives transit speed with LRTs and subways. Take a look at this chart, which shows that, in the original Eglinton Crosstown LRT plan, the slower rate on the Eastern portion of the route is due to more stops and shorter distances between them.
If brought to street-level (at grade), the Eglinton LRT would be in a dedicated right-of-way so, if speed is the concern, then there could be a debate over the number of stops, which was originally set at 43. The underground-only plan has fewer stops (26, but with 12 more underground stations).
It is also unclear what data is used for the “70% faster” claim, but it is more a function of station spacing, not underground versus surface.
Team Ford says: The underground is projected to carry 11,000 riders/peak hour. The surface, 2,500.
Metrolinx, the agency that coordinates regional transit planning between municipalities and the province, contradicts this claim by projecting 12,000 riders/peak hour (in 2031) for the underground and 5,000 for surface—see Metrolinx’s June 2011 presentation, in particular slide three and transit activist Steve Munro’s embedded letter. To be sure, it’s still a sizable difference between under- and overground options, but it’s important to look at the larger context of that change.
In that presentation, where they announced the projected ridership update, Metrolinx also said that much of the increased ridership would come from people at Kennedy station who currently get off the Scarborough RT to go on the Bloor-Danforth line or bus, but would now take the Eglinton Crosstown to get to the Yonge line. In other words, they were already existing transit users, but are now reallocated; a small number of the increased riders are expected to be car users.
Munro has further questions about this presentation that he raised on his blog. Namely, these transit projections are devoid of the context provided by other projections and planning, including how other transit options like traffic congestion, the subway system and a downtown relief line would change this. Notably, it seems this Eglinton projection is made without the assumption of Ford’s Sheppard subway.
Transit is an integrated network, and the numbers should be looked at that way, too.
Team Ford says: “Blending” capital costs (higher for sure for an underground option) and operating costs (considerably lower for the underground route), the underground option is less expensive.
This is a recent and creative argument. Essentially, it says that, despite the $2.1 billion in additional money required to bury the entire Eglinton line, money would be saved due to various decreased operating costs, like the weathering on tracks or the cost of drivers. The latter argument was made by Ford ally Mike Del Grande in a recent Toronto Sun article, wherein Del Grande claimed that the city could run the underground line with driverless light-rail vehicles, thus saving money. (Technically, this claim is true but in practice is wildly unlikely to occur.)
Considering that the overall operating costs to the city of the entire TTC (let alone one line) were $429 million in 2011, the difference between the two plans on an annual basis to be greater than $2 billion in the long term just isn’t there. When you add in the secondary costs of an all-underground plan, like increased costs for station maintenance and security, this claim does not add up.
Team Ford says: Eglinton Ave. in Scarborough will see an enormous growth in residential and commercial activity in the next 3 decades. (Think of Scarborough as “Growth City”.) A surface LRT is an intermediate step towards an eventual underground system: TTC staff readily admit of this. So, why trail growth when you can promote it? And why pay twice when once will do?
It is true that projections show that Scarborough is growing at the fastest rate in the city (and may very well continue to do so), but it’s population density that matters when planning transit. Scarborough doesn’t have a particularly high density; the 2006 census put it at 3,161 people per square kilometre, whereas Old Toronto has 6,961 per square kilometre.
By this measure, surface level LRTs suit Scarborough very well because of their reduced cost and the road space available allows for a right-of-way without losing a lane of traffic.
If it’s all about promoting neighbourhood growth, then the way to go about it is to build the density to justify underground transit, not vice versa, as OpenFile journalist John McGrath excellently outlines with regards to the Sheppard subway on his personal blog.
The question thus becomes one of whether Scarborough would be willing to have close to twice the density needed to economically justify underground transit expansion and whether councillors in the area would lead the charge to promote that growth. That is how you build for the future of transit.
Team Ford says: Have the least impact on the business and residential life of Eglinton Ave. in Scarborough. Think St. Clair Ave.
As a point of clarity, the St. Clair streetcar rebuild was never part of Transit City, although it is often lumped into the argument against LRTs because it introduced right-of-way surface transit.
But if the concern is the impact on businesses and residential life in Scarborough, then there are some problems with Ford’s plan. Chief among them is that the Scarborough RT is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2015, and commuters will have to use buses instead for anywhere from four to seven years. By contrast, the Transit City plan would have had an LRT substitute built in time for 2015.
Team Ford says: Points to Remember: 1) The Eglinton line is not a city project. It’s a provincial project and Metrolinx is the organization responsible for its construction and maintenance, not the city.
This is true, but the city expresses its wants and needs with Metrolinx, which acts as a regional co-ordinator between the province and regional municipalities. Obviously, when Rob Ford was elected, he managed to indicate a new direction. Metrolinx seems open to doing so again if there was a clear consensus from City Hall.
2) The surplus money and its spreadability—projected by the surface supporters—is fictional. Any surplus—urface or underground alike—will be:
-Capped at $650,000,000
-And will go exclusively to the city’s project on Sheppard Ave.
This argument hinges on Ford’s Memorandum of Understanding with the province. However, the MoU is non-binding until council approves it (and it won’t in its current form), so these concerns are more rhetoric than reality. It’s true that the province won’t let the city spend its $8 billion transit budget on just anything and that there has to be co-operation and planning. But for a provincial government badly in need of money to balance its books, it might look at $2 billion to unnecessarily bury Eglinton as just the kind of thing that would go a long way.
The various arguments and talking points put forward by Ford’s supporters on council rely on fuzzy math, overly optimistic or pessimistic projections and convenient evidence. Planning is always going to be political but, to ensure a connection to good policy, we need to look at the factors that cause the numbers, the larger context and how limited resources are best used.
After all, is the privilege of burying 8 km of transit along a low-density portion of Eglinton worth close to $1,000 for every Toronto resident, or can that money be better spent elsewhere?