Here’s one way to visualize the cost difference between subways and LRT.
Just a quick thought experiment on the ongoing subway-vs.-LRT debate, since one of the major factors that should weigh in the decision is cost. Those advocating for LRTs can seem like skinflints, and those saying we should splurge on subways often say this in the manner of someone suggesting you should go for air conditioning in your new car: it costs a little extra, but you’re worth it. Except it costs a lot extra. So is it worth it? To you, as the person actually expected to pay the difference? Let’s think about it.
We hear big numbers—a subway extension along Sheppard would cost about $3 billion, or tunnelling the entire length of Eglinton would add about $1.9 billion to the cost of that project. But it’s hard to figure out what such large numbers mean. So let’s visualize it from the perspective of the individual citizen.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s imagine for a moment that the $8.4 billion committed to transit building by the province is money already spent. That money comes from provincial taxpayers, of course, and city residents are provincial taxpayers, too, but since the money has already been committed by the province, our share of that has already been sent to the province, and now this lump sum has been returned to us to spend on transit building. Now, we need to figure out how much, if any, we need or want to spend on top of that.
Option A is to spend the money on what it was originally committed for: the Transit City plan that would build LRT lines on Sheppard East, Finch West and Eglinton Avenue, with the Eglinton line running underground through the central city and everything else running above ground. Under this option, no additional contribution is required.
Let’s call the Rob Ford plan that council scorned Option B—it’s the option the mayor is still trying to revive: The Finch line is cancelled altogether, while the entirety of the Eglinton line goes underground. That eats up all the existing money. In addition to that, we build a $3 billion subway extension on Sheppard. This requires each citizen of Toronto—all 2.48 million of us—to write a cheque for an additional $1,209.68. There are five people in my household, so our bill comes to $6,048.35.
Let’s say Option C is the James Pasternak Deluxe edition, which would see Option B plus an additional extension to the Sheppard line running west to Downsview subway. That’s estimated to cost $1.48 billion, or $596.77 per person. That’s another $2,983.85 for my family.
And finally, let’s say Option D is the “Mammoliti Proposition”: that in addition to Option B (and, let’s say, C), we also build, at some time in the future, a subway line along Finch West. That kind of comes out of the blue, but since Giorgio Mammoliti and the mayor say the reason not to build an LRT on Finch is that the people out there deserve a subway, let’s imagine it being formally, actually proposed. Since no one that I know of has recently studied the cost of that in any depth, I’ll estimate that, like the Sheppard subway extension estimate, the cost will be about $375 million per kilometre. If the subway travelled the same distance as the proposed LRT line, it would be 23.4 kilometres long, bringing the total cost of construction to a ballpark of $8.8 billion on the back of the most drink-ringed and crumpled of napkins. So that’s an additional $3,548.39 per resident of Toronto. Additional bill in Chez Keenan sees another $17,741.95.
So, as a citizen weighing the discussions about relative speed, capacity and the likelihood that subways in Scarborough will run two-thirds or half-empty for generations—and as someone unlikely to make much use of any of the proposed lines, but hopeful my fellow citizens will see good, rapid transit built—my options are:
Option A (“Transit City”): $0 per person, $0 total for the Keenan family.
Option B (“Ford Plan”): $1,209.68 per person, $6,048.35 for the Keenan family.
Option C (“Ford Plan, Pasternak Deluxe”): $1,806.45 per person, $9,032.25 for the Keenan family.
Option D (“Mammo Proposition”): $5,354.84 per person, $26,774.20 for the Keenan family.
There is no question that, as the mayor says, people prefer subways to LRTs. And even if the number of people expected to ride the things could be easily carried by an LRT, and an LRT would go maybe 80 per cent as fast, we still probably on some level prefer subways. The $26,774.20 question for my household is whether we prefer them enough to take out a second mortgage on our house to pay for them. And that’s before we start to talk about operating costs.