Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Are Toronto’s LRT plans doomed to go nowhere?

By: Metro Canada Published on Fri Apr 25 2014

Had Toronto's transit planning not taken a hard right turn into crazy town in 2010, the city would be on its way to building a light rail network.

According to the revised construction schedule established after the provincial budget in 2010, LRT on Sheppard Avenue East would have opened to regular service this year. With that, Toronto would have a real, honest-to-goodness LRT line.

But that never happened. Instead, there’s good reason to wonder if the once-promising notion of an LRT network serving is doomed to go nowhere.

Meanwhile, Metrolinx Chair Robert Pritchard, in a keynote address to the Empire Club this week, talked about the sorry state of LRT projects in Toronto. “We have made less progress than we hoped on our plans for LRTs on Sheppard and Finch and our plan to replace the Scarborough RT,” he said, understating things greatly.

“We believe LRTs are an excellent solution for routes that need more than bus service but lack the ridership demand to warrant a much more expensive subway. However, absent a live working LRT in Toronto, we have had difficulty maintaining the necessary political consensus to allow these projects (apart from the Crosstown) to proceed on the original timetable. We continue with essential preparatory work, but don’t yet have shovels in the ground.”

And without shovels in the ground, it’s easy to imagine LRT plans for Sheppard and Finch slipping into the void, like so many other forgotten Toronto transit projects. That would be a big loss — not just for commuters along those corridors, but for everybody in the city.

LRTs became a big part of Toronto’s transit plans in 2006, not because a bunch of people got together and decided they hated subways, but because the subway-only strategy adopted by the TTC in the 1980s and 1990s was failing. Subway construction had become so expensive that Toronto only seemed capable of achieving a few kilometres of new track every decade or so. And those small expansions put even more pressure on the TTC's operating budget.

The promise with LRT — which costs about a third of what subways cost, on a per-kilometre basis — was that it could allow for more rapid expansion of the network. While the upfront cost of establishing the initial LRT lines was steep, once in place it’s flexible enough to allow for affordable expansion. And as a big bonus, LRT expansion wouldn’t strain the TTC’s operating budget as much as subway expansion.

LRT was always about cheap, fast, effective service across an expanding network — nothing more and nothing less.

That was the dream, anyway. But with the way the political winds are blowing, there’s reason to wonder if it’ll ever be realized.

This post was originally published at on 2014-04-25T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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