The Fiscal Realities of Subways Surface

Taxpayers in Ontario are slowly awakening up to the fiscal realities of modern subway construction, just as their European counterparts did in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Little known on this side of the pond, is that subway construction in Europe has almost bankrupted public transit en mass and by the 1990’s subways were only considered as a last resort when ridership on a transit route demanded grade separation.

This has given birth to the Light Rail Renaissance, which has seen a massive resurgence of the modern tram.

In North America the financial reality of subway construction has not been recognized, leading planners on this side of the pond planning LRT as a light metro and trying to make “streetcars” a separate transit mode.

In about two decades we will be singing the European tram tune as today’s subways will become tomorrow’s money pits. Vancouver taxpayer’s please take note.


Wavering public support puts cracks in political subway deal: James

The Scarborough RT has never been upgraded – unlike the SkyTrain system in Vancouver that uses similar technology.

By:Ai??Royson JamesAi??Toronto Politics, Published on Wed Aug 05 2015
Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John ToryAi??(open John Tory’s policard)Ai??no doubt share a common unease about their stubborn, unsubstantiated faith in the proposed Scarborough subway. But the doctrine of political expediency helps them keep the faith.

Even as they mouth support for the project that is essentially a $2-billion over-build of transit infrastructure, both political leaders know the justification is non-existent.

Oh, the payback in political support is demonstrable.

Link the current east-west subway terminus at Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre, and enough Scarborough residents are ecstatic enough to vote for you. It worked for Mitzie Hunter of the provincial Liberals. As a member of a study team, she advocated an LRT for the corridor. Then, reading the political tea leaves as a Liberal candidate, Hunter became a subway convert. And won the riding.

Politicians being politicians, they canai??i??t help themselves when their strategists point out the direct link between public policy and vote buying. But on this scheme, the link weakens with every revelation about its shaky foundations.

Further evidence that, perhaps, Torontonians want a second look comes with a Forum Research poll that shows nearly half the city wants city council to re-examine the project. Nearly one in five respondents donai??i??t know what to think and one-third want the subway.

Some think the downtown relief line demands higher priority. Others want an LRT because it covers more neighbourhoods and costs less. Still others feel the subway runs too closely to the mayorai??i??s SmartTrack line ai??i?? a multi-billion-dollar project shoe-horned into existing plans and treated as if itai??i??s a fait accompli.

By now, the subway proponents should be comfortably ahead in the public opinion game. The subway extension has $660 million promised in federal money. Premier Wynne sticks by her $1.48-billion contribution. The city has approved a dedicated property tax hike for some 40 years. New mayor John Tory doesnai??i??t want to upset pro-subway councillors and potentially lose their votes on his SmartTrack scheme, so he hides behind the claim that city council has already voted ai??i?? the train has left the station, he says.

So, why is such a significant cohort of residents uneasy about the project? Why is support falling, not building?

Because approval and survival of the Scarborough subway is based on deception, faulty data, poor analysis, political opportunism and hubris.

The more residents learn about the Scarborough subway, the more they are convinced that the ridership is not there; the line runs where the fewest riders are and where the development potential is restrained; the projected ridership numbers that gave cover to councilai??i??s support in 2013 have not been tested, were done hurriedly and may be fictional; more cost-effective and appropriate alternatives exist and have been offered for decades; and other transit proposals now gaining steam (see SmartTrack) will only aggravate the waste.

Worse, citizens realize their city council is not working in the cityai??i??s interest. Councillors have voted, and will continue to vote, with the mayor ai??i?? so long as they feel they can get plum appointments and support for pet projects. These alliances are deaf to reason. Councillors literally put their fingers in their ears and vote ai??i?? whipped into action, they are, by the mayorai??i??s henchmen.

This condition is not unique to the current John Tory administration.

For decades the TTC urged the politicians to fix and upgrade the Scarborough RT into a modern system. The technology is the same one running well in Vancouver. Itai??i??s just that ours has never been upgraded. In 2006, TTC estimated the fix at $360 million.

Instead of acting, the transit commission and council let the RT go to ruin. Instead, Mayor David Miller proposed Transit City ai??i?? a light rail system. Then Rob FordAi??(open Rob Ford’s policard)Ai??bellowed ai???subways, subways, Then, cynical politicians mined the idea that anything other than a subway in Scarborough is akin to dismissing borough residents as second-class citizens. And the pro-subway political juggernaut was born.

Truth has punched some cracks into that bedrock doctrine. But it will take something tectonic to crumble the foundations of this ruinous adventure.

In the fall, city council is to decide on the actual route of the subway. That provides an opportunity to reconsider and, maybe, change technology. It wonai??i??t happen. The entire weight of the mayorai??i??s office is arrayed to ensure its survival. Itai??i??s not that Tory cares about the project; he doesnai??i??t. Heai??i??s got a bigger fish to fry.

Tory needs votes to keep on track his transit pet project ai??i?? SmartTrack. That idea to run trains from Markham, through downtown and out near the airport at a cost of $8-, $9-, $10-billion is entirely untested. But it is the central plank in Toryai??i??s election campaign. It must proceed or the mayor loses credibility.

As such, Tory supports the Scarborough Subway to secure six or so crucial votes of city councillors politically invested to deliver the subway. The alliance is formidable ai??i?? never mind the wasted billions of taxpayersai??i?? dollars.


One Response to “The Fiscal Realities of Subways Surface”
  1. eric chris says:

    There isn’t much money to operate transit when billions of dollars are spent on the concrete infrastructure for elevated and buried rail lines whose carbon footprint is vastly greater than the carbon footprint of trams or LRT. Concrete requires sand mined from the oceans and this results in the destruction of aquatic ecosystems and loss of island habitats for people.

    You don’t see the COV “engineers” talking about the environmental degradation of their proposed “transit” subway to UBC. They also don’t mention that trams are the fastest mode of transit in Vancouver where the median distance commuted is only 5 km (one way).

    Reporters here don’t ever mention the UBC research paper showing how trams are the most environmentally sustainable transit mode, either. It almost looks as if the reporters here are too scared to do any critical reporting. Instead, they merely pass on advertorials (news releases by TransLink paying newspapers huge sums for advertising) and ignore the lies which TransLink makes about how great the subway and s-train lines are at reducing road congestion – as road congestion worsens (now the worst in Canada).

    At the same time, car sharing continues to explode in popularity while TransLink use continues to plummet. If people are so happy with the hub to hub transit by TransLink (subway, b-line and s-train) as TransLink contends, what’s the reason for the growing demand for point to point travel by car and car sharing?

    Here is an email which was sent to the major newspapers in Vancouver a few years ago. One editor replied and said that he was going to expose the Evergreen Line for the sham that it is. I guess; he had second thoughts after TransLink put the screws to him and he never did print the following about the Evergreen Line.

    From: eric.chris
    Sent: Sunday, October 07, 2012 9:54 PM

    Subject: tram outclasses skytrain for evergreen line

    “SkyTrain is by far the worst possible alternative for the proposed Evergreen Line from Burnaby to Coquitlam in Metro Vancouver. Here are some highlights from a recent UBC research paper comparing tram lines and light rail transit (LRT) lines to SkyTrain lines:

    Total cost per trip (Figure 22 on page 10 of research paper):
    Tram = $3.04 (best)
    LRT = $7.64
    SkyTrain = $12.34 (worst)

    Total cost per passenger mile (Figure 21 on page 10 of research paper):
    Tram = $1.22 (best)
    LRT = $1.68
    SkyTrain = $2.66 (worst)

    Lifecycle carbon emissions per passenger mile (page 7 of research paper):
    Tram = 32.59 (best)
    LRT = 51.6
    SkyTrain = 156.3 (worst)

    Energy use in kWh per passenger mile (page 5 of research paper):
    Tram = 0.11 (best)
    LRT = 0.13
    SkyTrain = 0.30 (worst)

    Number of passengers by transit mode (page 4 of research paper):
    Tram = 155 (close second best)
    LRT = 178 (best)
    SkyTrain = 105 (worst)

    By any measure and by a huge margin, modern tram lines are superior to outdated SkyTrain lines. Tram lines move more people and use much less energy than SkyTrain lines. Tram lines are much more economical than SkyTrain lines, and on an trip by trip basis, SkyTrains are 306% more expensive than trams to operate. SkyTrain isn’t just a financial disaster; however, SkyTrain is also an environmental disaster.

    According to the UBC research paper, carbon emissions for a SkyTrain line ultimately exceed carbon emissions for a tram line by 380%. All SkyTrain lines require extra diesel buses to shuttle transit users to the distantly spaced SkyTrain stations. When carbon emissions from these diesel buses are included, carbon emissions by SkyTrain are far worse than the UBC research paper suggests. Moreover, SkyTrain lines rely on redundant rapid bus routes (articulated diesel or hybrid diesel bus routes) to fill in the gaps of the SkyTrain network and to connect SkyTrain lines (99 B-Line route operating underneath existing trolley bus lines in Vancouver, for instance).

    These rapid bus routes, which would not be necessary with tram lines, often operate in parallel to existing bus routes and increase carbon emissions tremendously. From an environmental perspective, tram lines are far more effective in the fight against climate change than SkyTrain lines – SkyTrain lines are lemons.

    SkyTrain is inconvenient to use and deters transit use (by drivers who don’t have to take transit) – most transit users don’t live near a SkyTrain station and have to walk a long distance or transfer from a bus to reach a remote SkyTrain station located every two kilometres apart in distance on average. Tram lines have closely spaced stops and result in faster overall trip times than SkyTrain lines for the vast majority of transit users because the bus transfer or long walk required for the SkyTrain line is avoided. Really, SkyTrain is being promoted by certain individuals who won’t admit that it is terrible mistake because if they do, they will be out of a job.

    Supposed urban planning and transportation guru, Gordon Price of SFU, and self professed transportation expert and City of Vancouver Councillor, Geoff Meggs have little credibility and don’t know the first thing about civil, electrical or mechanical engineering to give any worthwhile advice on the efficient design of transit networks; yet, they never miss the opportunity to support more taxes to pay for more SkyTrain when simply cutting our losses to switch to tram lines would be the shrewd move. Perhaps their inflated egos just prevent them from admitting that they are wrong about SkyTrain. Gordon Price and Geoff Meggs are entitled to express their simple thoughts in the media; however, for the media to ignore technically qualified university professors and professional engineers who disagree with Gordon Price, Geoff Meggs and the rest of the Mickey Mouse club at TransLink is censorship. For the media to withhold the truth and to print lies favouring SkyTrain is tantamount to propaganda, and the media appears to be promoting SkyTrain for TransLink to reward the media with thousands to millions of dollars annually in bribes, advertising.

    Peter Fassbender who is the vice-chair of the Mayors’ Council has capitulated with TransLink to obtain his rapid bus route for Langley. He is a toady for TransLink, and it is disgusting to read articles about Peter Fassbender wanting to raise taxes for more SkyTrain lines by TransLink. SkyTrain is a scam as far as doing anything significant to reduce vehicle use (it does reduce some vehicle use but it also reduces walking and cycling, too). SkyTrain is primarily being used to spur development along SkyTrain lines for developers to profit. This is not the purpose of transit; the purpose of transit is to move students, retirees… tourists in a cost effective and sustainable manner.

    After the Canada Line fiasco (SNC Lavalin submitted a low bid to win the job and then open cut rather than bore Cambie Street to save money while businesses on Cambie Street paid the price and went bankrupt as a result) – it is incredible to see TransLink attempting to build another SkyTrain line (Evergreen Line) with SNC Lavalin – unbelievable. The depth of depravity at TransLink is amazing. Because TransLink is spending too much on SkyTrain lines, conventional transit is being sacrificed, consequently:

    • TransLink operates diesel buses on trolley bus routes to save money and air quality suffers to increase respiratory and heart diseases

    • TransLink reduces the budget for buses to save money and transit buses become overcrowded at peak hours

    • TransLink gouges drivers and homeowners who are unfairly taxed to pay for over priced SkyTrain lines

    Fundamentally, TransLink is a make work program created to increase employment. Not one inch of the proposed Evergreen Line will be built by existing TransLink staff. Everyone at TransLink could be purged and the new palace being built to house the 500 staff at TransLink in New Westminster could be sold to raise cash for transit. TransLink is an awful drain on the economy and employs overpaid economists, planners… accountants who are not required to operate transit. In March of 2012, Shirocca Consulting ranked TransLink as the worst run transit organization in Canada – transit could only improve if current Metro Vancouver staff replaced everyone at TransLink – at least Metro Vancouver is staffed by competent planners and engineers who are in touch with the communities in the Lower Mainland.

    This isn’t a game; people are being harmed and cheated when the bungling buffoons (accountants and economists) making the decisions at TransLink commit to build more SkyTrain lines with money raised by taxing drivers and homeowners. Do your readers a big favour and write the truth for a change – expose TransLink for what it is – a sick organization headed by corrupt individuals building SkyTrain lines when tram lines would lower carbon emissions from transit and lower personal taxes for transit. Here is the UBC research paper for your perusal:


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