Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

The OneCity transit plan: What the hell happened?

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Jul 11 2012

On June 27, TTC chair Karen Stintz and TTC vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker revealed OneCity, a grand plan for Toronto transit with a funding strategy attached. It was a big deal—the kind of thing that could rightly be called revolutionary.

But then things changed. At today's council meeting, only a few weeks removed from that splashy reveal, Stintz and De Baeremaeker will bring forward a neutered version of their plan that will probably only address a small subset of the routes originally envisioned. It won't include any mention of the revenue strategy that made OneCity so daring. It may, in fact, not even be referred to as “OneCity.”

It'll be something else entirely.

OneCity did a lot of things right. In the wake of recent squabbles over rival transit maps, council is in desperate need of a strongly-endorsed comprehensive transit plan. This city also needs elected officials who have woken up to the fact that a great transit system requires great revenues, which invariably need to come through new taxes and/or tolls.

But OneCity fell to pieces in the execution. It entered the world without confirmed support from a majority of council, which led to players on all sides of the debate savaging the plan for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons were valid. Some weren't. Things got worse when it was revealed that the province wasn't buying into the strategy. The compromises started happening soon after.

If you can set aside that OneCity was originally pitched as Toronto's transit messiah, the remnants of the plan coming to council this week are actually worth cheering about.

QUEEN'S QUAY EAST LRT: A no-brainer. Not only will this route provide much-needed higher-order transit service to new developments, it'll also spur the kind of neighbourhood development this city needs on its waterfront. Plus, it's actually pretty cheap when compared to some of the other multi-billion dollar megaprojects drawn on the OneCity map.

THE 'SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY': This is more problematic. In an attempt to shore up last-minute support for their motions, Stintz and De Baeremaeker have started using terrible, pandering arguments in support of this project—which would see an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough Town Centre and beyond.

Repeat after me: Scarborough does not deserve a subway. No one deserves a subway. Subways should be built where the ridership exists to support their operating costs. “Light rail” and “subway” are not the policy equivalent of football teams.

That said, there is a sensible argument to be made in support of this Scarborough subway. Thanks to repeated delays and false-starts, the plan on the books for the Scarborough RT replacement will put east-end commuters on dinky shuttle buses for four or five years. It'll make for a miserable situation for both transit riders and politicians in the area, who will inevitably wear the blame as the project misses its deadlines.

The facts are still up in the air, but it mightbe possible to avoid this, allowing the rickety RT to continue operation as a subway extension is built on a new alignment. And it might not even cost that much.

At the very least, it's worth looking at as an alternative—but, please, for the love of God, don't present it as Scarborough finally getting the subway it deserves. That's not how we build transit in Toronto.

This post was originally published at on 2012-07-11T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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