Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Matt Elliott: Welcome to Toronto's golden age of transit

Mayor John Tory chats with commuters Sunday as one of the first trains rolls on the Line 1 extension.
Mayor John Tory chats with commuters Sunday as one of the first trains rolls on the Line 1 extension.

If you’re reading this on a subway train right now, look up.

Find the subway map installed somewhere over your head. And notice: the map got bigger.

It officially happened Sunday when six new subway stops opened on the north end of the Spadina line. TTC subway service now goes all the way to the City of Vaughan.

It’s the first major transit expansion in Toronto since the Sheppard subway opened in 2002. And it feels pretty damn good.

Finally being able to take the subway to York University feels good. Living in a city where transit is actively being funded and then built feels good. Progress feels good.

And this is just the beginning. There will not be another 15-year gap between major transit projects opening. For all our collective grousing about seemingly endless transit debates that never seem to lead to anything happening, Toronto has now officially entered an era where debates are ending and stuff is happening.

Following this subway extension, the city will see the Eglinton Crosstown LRT open in 2021, assuming all goes to plan. That will provide 19 kilometres of new service, with 10 kilometres in a tunnel.

More under the radar but no less important, the Finch West LRT is set to open the same year — an 11 kilometre transit line providing long-needed relief to the more than 40,000 daily riders jammed into the Finch West bus.

And just a few years later, in 2024, Metrolinx is scheduled to launch their Regional Express Rail service on all seven GO Transit routes. Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan is part of this, but it’s complicated. Don’t think about it too much.

The bottom line is simple: for a lot of riders, this will mean service operating at frequencies of 15 minutes or better — and that’s good news.

Those projects – all of which are well beyond the early stages – will with any luck be followed quickly by ribbon cuttings for the relief line subway, the Eglinton West LRT to Pearson Airport, light rail across the waterfront, and some variety of transit expansion in Scarborough.

Compare the next 10 years of expected Toronto transit construction with the last 30 and it’s reasonable to conclude that we’re living in a golden age.

That doesn’t mean transit advocates should cease our complaining and not demand better. A few ribbon cuttings do not make up for the wasted time, nor do they justify the overly politicized debates and decisions that led us here.

Take the new subway extension, for example. The three stations north of York University are impossible to justify from a ridership perspective. And the decision to build this subway extension before the relief line subway — needed to address passenger volumes downtown — was questionable when it was made and unforgivable now.

Toronto must be careful not to use the questionable transit decisions of the past to justify more questionable transit decisions.

But at the same time, the opening of Toronto’s new subway extension reminds me that I am sometimes too cynical about the state of Toronto transit.

For all the consternation, Toronto is moving forward. Bit by bit, Toronto transit is making messy, frustrating, amazing progress.

This post was originally published at on 2017-12-17T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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