Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Subway or LRT? It looks more like Sheppard Avenue will get nothing

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Apr 29 2015

There’s been good news and bad news for Toronto transit users this week.

First, the good news. After a long period of uncertainty, the Finch West LRT project is moving forward, with construction beginning next year. It’s delayed again, sure, but at least it’s happening.

The bad news is the Sheppard East LRT project has been once again pushed back. and it's been pushed very far. Construction isn't even set to begin until after the Finch LRT project is complete in 2022.

While cheerful optimists might maintain there’s a chance the Sheppard LRT — which was supposed to open last year — could still see construction, cold-hearted realists must acknowledge that a delay into the next decade means the project is effectively dead. There is too much that could happen between now and then — political change, economic shifts, technological advancement, SkyNet — to hold out hope that we’ll see an LRT along Sheppard Avenue.

But this isn’t a victory for subway advocates, because a subway extension isn’t happening ether. Not without a real plan to find a few extra billion dollars. Not with so many suburban councillors along the proposed route continuing to oppose new taxes. Not with general historical opposition to the residential density to support suburban subway ridership.

Instead, after years of debate around the subject of the right transit solution for Sheppard, Sheppard will get no transit. Nothing.

Nothing was always a possible outcome to this debate, even though it wasn’t talked about nearly enough. Too often the LRT-vs-subway thing is presented like a matter of preference or ideology, as if both are workable options for transit projects across the city. Voters have been led to believe they can just pick one and have it handed to them, like choosing between a hotdog and a hamburger at a backyard barbecue.

But Toronto’s LRT-vs-subway debates were — and are — more about the plausible versus the implausible, with costed, designed and ready-to-build plans competing against lines scrawled on a map. Reality against fantasy.

And now, with the reality-based transit plan for Sheppard seemingly evaporating, we’ll be dragged into the realm of fantasy once again. Expect regular pledges from Scarborough politicians that they'll finish the Sheppard subway. Expect dramatic pleas about how Scarborough will only feel respected as a part of Toronto if they get yet another new subway line. And expect a lot of hand-waving about timelines and cost — both capital and operating.

And expect nothing to happen. Not for a very long time, if ever.

Toronto politicians can’t really pull the same trick they did to get the Scarborough subway plan approved. Not with limited debt room, an affordable housing crisis and a mayor that’s promised to keep property taxes at or below inflation.

Meanwhile, the provincial government seems to have realized they’re better off turning their attention to less-controversial plans — ones that have unambiguous municipal support — like the LRT project they’ll fund in Peel Region.

Sure, the news means Scarborough will still have the promise of a far off Sheppard subway extension. For some, that will be enough. But they won't be able to ride to work on a promise.

This post was originally published at on 2015-04-29T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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