Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

It’s worth taking another shot at getting Scarborough transit right

Published on Fri Dec 13 2013

I don’t think anyone really wants to sit through yet another debate about the Scarborough subway. We’ve sat through too many of them already, and they’re all the same — packed with pandering, persecution complexes, bad math and the word “subway” repeated three times in quick succession. I’ve had enough.

But despite the fact that it could drag us all back into the abyss, I welcomed news this week that Coun. Josh Matlow plans to make an effort to put a pause on the Scarborough subway project. He wants to take subway financing out of the 2014 budget — which would knock 0.5 per cent off the city’s proposed property tax revenue increase — and revisit the decision in 2015, after the election.

I’m in support. Not because I’m a sore loser who thought LRT was the better option, but because it’s become clear over the last couple of months that Mayor Rob Ford and a handful of other subway-supporting city councillors still refuse to acknowledge reality.

Despite voting to raise taxes to build this subway, too many supporters still seem stuck in a fantasy world where they can have subways for free. The mayor has decided that he’s a psychic who always intended to fit the subway funding into his property tax target of 1.75 per cent. Subway-supporter Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti has said he thinks the subway could be funded with a property tax revenue increase of zero per cent, an opinion that is just an all-out war on math.

For other supporters, there’s a willingness to ignore things like the property tax implications, the mounting LRT cancellation costs, the inherent risks associated with debt-financing, the likely possibility that the full cost of the project will be more than estimates, and the legacy of operating and maintenance costs this subway will leave to the city.

Everyone wants to talk about the subway, but no one wants to talk about the costs.

Politically, Matlow’s motion is savvy. He’s dangling a carrot at right-wing populist councillors who would love to be able to claim a lower increase to their constituents’ property tax bills.

But if they support Matlow’s delays, those same councillors will be putting the future of the Scarborough subway at risk. It’ll become an election issue, up for debate all over again. And though I’m not confident presumed front-runner left-wing candidate Olivia Chow will oppose the Scarborough subway, elections have a way of shaking up transit plans.

On the other hand, if councillors reject his motion, they’ll at least have been forced to acknowledge — again — that they’re cool with paying the costs Matlow has highlighted: $30 million to $40 million in ongoing capital maintenance costs, $450 million in accelerated installation of automatic train control on the Bloor-Danforth line, at least $85 million in sunk and cancellation costs, all on top of the $745 million in debt supported by property taxes.

That’s the price tag. There’s no getting around it. If Toronto politicians won’t own up to the real costs behind their decision, then maybe they should reverse the decision. At the very least, Matlow is right to want to hit the pause button.

This post was originally published at on 2013-12-13T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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