Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

No winners in Scarborough subway debacle, except maybe Rob Ford

By: Metro Canada Published on Thu Sep 05 2013

The latest chapter in the ongoing debacle surrounding Scarborough transit revealed itself yesterday when Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray introduced a new transit vision, separate from both the LRT and subway proposals debated earlier this year.

Murray's plan calls for a $1.4-billion provincially funded subway extension following the existing Scarborough RT route, but only to Scarborough Town Centre.

The map he was pointing to yesterday shows just two stops — but Murray says there might be more. And we all know governments often deliver more than they promise on transit projects.

It's a bad plan, of course. It takes the worst elements of both the LRT and subway options that were previously on the table and smooshes them together like a greasy cronut burger. Just as with the LRT plan, the new subway will require a lengthy closure of the SRT, relegating Scarborough commuters to shuttle buses for a few years. Like the original subway plan, it will cost more and inevitably have fewer stations.

Almost nobody wins with this plan.

Scarborough residents don't win. Yes, after a rebuild of Kennedy Station, they'll no longer face an inconvenient transfer, but funnelling $1.4 billion toward a transfer-removal project effectively kills off the idea of building an actual transit network in Scarborough for a generation. No Malvern LRT. No Centennial College or University of Toronto Scarborough rail connections, though Murray says there will be a busway connection to those schools. And the utility of the Sheppard East LRT — should we ever actually live to see it built — will be significantly reduced with no connection to the subway or RT line.

Murray certainly doesn't win. He tried to spin this yesterday as proof that the provincial Liberals are committed to building transit, but his political attacks and posturing just made for an embarrassing press conference. This new plan doesn't show that the Liberals actually care about building transit. It's just more evidence that they'll stop at almost nothing to shamelessly pander for votes.

The same goes for Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has been conspicuous by her absence in this latest round of transit debates. When I spoke to her during the leadership race, Wynne seemed to put a priority on Toronto transit. But we've seen none of that — and little of her.

At the city level, TTC chair Karen Stintz definitely doesn't come out of this looking like a winner. She's made it clear that she doesn't really like Murray's plan, but seems almost resigned to it because the province is the one with the money. It's actually remarkable how much of a mess Stintz has made. After inheriting a decent transit plan and then bravely fighting to keep it, Stintz has made things worse with every attempt to put her own stamp on the city's transit future.

And Scarborough councillors, though passionate about their beloved subway, seem poised to lose here, too. One of the major motivators behind re-opening the subway-or-LRT debate was concern that shutting down the SRT for a few years to allow for LRT construction would result in a backlash, possibly costing some councillors their seats. But now we have a subway plan that will do the same thing — and it's not clear that the anger from commuters relegated to shuttle buses will be at all lessened because what's being built can be called a “subway.”

But hey, there is one guy who comes out of this looking like a winner: Mayor Rob Ford. A variety of disparate forces have congealed to inexplicably and unbelievably hand Ford the ability to say he kept a campaign promise. He just sort of stumbles into success, doesn't he?

This post was originally published at on 2013-09-05T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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