The Subway Panacea Myth

Subway here, a subway there, a subway everywhere.

The notion that a subway is best way to solve congestion, emanates from the USA where it is considered the biggest is the best. The more expensive a transit project is, the better it is.

This is simply childish.

Subways are built on transit routes which have the ridership that demands long trains, traveling at close headway’s which in turn demand grade separation and subways are aesthetically more pleasing than elevated construction, even though they may cost three or four times more to build.

Subways are also extremely expensive to operate as each station must have elevators and escalators, lighting, ventilation, fire suppression equipment, etc.

What is missing is the key ingredient of providing good transit and that is user-friendliness, which subways just do not provide, thus they are poor in attracting new ridership.

Then there are ongoingAi?? maintenance issues which subways tend to become money-pits always sucking money from the rest of the transit operation.

The Broadway subway neither has the ridership nor the capacity to sustain itself and will be a financial black hole further driving up TransLinks costs.

The Broadway subway is only being built for one reason and one reason only: To ensure profits for Liberal/Vision Vancouver’s political friends, the Condo Kings and land speculators who will make windfall profits on assembled lands where subways stations are planned, all at the expense of taxpayers.


Cut and cover subway construction, a la Cambie St., coming to Broadway very soon.

A subway is not the way to prosperity for Scarborough or Toronto: James

There are much better projects council could spend taxpayersai??i?? money on. But our city politicians have put us on a path to transit bankruptcy.

By Royson JamesToronto Politics Columnist
Mon., March 6, 2017

There are so many misconceptions and alternate facts circulating around how pampered, or not, Toronto taxpayers have become that the subject begs another column or two.

But there is also this.

Nobody is helped ai??i?? and all taxpayers are angered and harmed ai??i?? when valuable and tight tax dollars are spent on projects that have no chance of fulfilling the stated goal.

Such is the case of the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway up to the Scarborough Town Centre.

The project would add one new station. An aggrieved constituency of Scarborough residents who feel they get no respect will be temporarily satiated. The corridor now served by an aging RT will get the highest order of transit, even if that is an overbuild. Politicians who have peddled trumped-up claims of benefits that will never be realized in our lifetime will get re-elected.

But will the subway deliver transit benefits to Scarborough residents in keeping with its bulging price tag? No. Will it deliver what transit projects in this city are supposed to deliver? No.

The transit corrider where the Scarborough RT, above, now runs is set to get a subway.

The transit corridor where the Scarborough RT, above, now runs is set to get a subway.Ai??Ai??(Marcus Oleniuk / Toronto Star) | Order this photoAi??Ai??

Will it enhance the growth and viability of downtown Toronto? No. Does it improve access to work and school for the largest number of Scarborough residents? No.

And does it deliver growth and development in the corridor as promised? History says no ai??i?? though developers will make lots of money while the residents who purchase the condos have only slightly improved access to the jobs because the jobs are spread out across the region and not where the subway runs.

Are there better transit modes and better routes and better ways to spend the $2 billion, that has risen to $3.35 billion, with alerts from the same estimators that it could jump to $5.2 billion, and a near certainty it will hit $6 billion?

Yes, yes, yes.

None of that will matter next week and next month and whenever city council debates this project. This is a runaway train that cannot be stopped. And it is a sorry tale of how dangerous and useless transit planning is in our city and the GTA.

I think I am right in there with the subway lovers. And Iai??i??ve written in this space that if the city wanted $500, $1,000 from me and all its citizens to set in motion a plan to blanket the region with subways, Iai??i??d sign up.

Iai??i??d start with linking the Yonge and University lines along Sheppard. I know that area and see how stupid it is not to be able to link both ends of the city. Iai??i??d take Sheppard Subway out east to link with the above Bloor-Danforth extension at Markham Rd. or McCowan. Then Iai??i??d extend the Yonge line to Newmarket, for crying out loud. And take the Bloor-Danforth line west out to the airport. And then Iai??i??d do the downtown relief line.

Thatai??i??s the view of a regular guy who travels every now and then and gets subway envy from looking at transit maps in Paris and London and Barcelona and Washington.

But that view is so wrong. And so whack. And so uninformed. And so, so, so Toronto. It will bankrupt us, without achieving the goal of transit expansion: give commuters a better option to the car; make transit more competitive with driving; deliver new riders to transit and, by so doing, free up congested road space.

Everything else is hubris and political palaver and a colossal waste of money ai??i?? which is where we are as a city region.

The transportation experts who have been studying our travel patterns for decades ai??i?? and are not encumbered by the re-election agenda of their political masters ai??i?? say this: Torontoai??i??s subway system ai??i?? and GO rail network ai??i?? exists to deliver commuters to the downtown core where the majority of our jobs reside. In fulfilling this role, the system is a huge success. But the projects being promoted now do not address congestions and deliver new riders and support economic growth.

Much of the improvements in the suburbs should come from express buses, bus rapid transit and light rail on their own corridors.

To say this is to be branded a suburban hater, or worse. It is to go against the tide which says if the wilds of Jane and Highway 7 deserves a subway, then Scarborough Town Centre certainly deserves one. Maybe neither does. Maybe neither delivers the benefits we imagine.

Consider that 60 per cent of Scarborough residents who get around by transit are not heading downtown where the subway goes. Where is the transit for them?

Three of every four Scarborough residents heading downtown are already on transit, leaving limited growth potential for those going where the subway goes, downtown. In fact, the transit percentage use, or modal split, is higher than for East York or Etobicoke commuters heading downtown.

Yet the narrative propagated by our city politicians and believed ardently by citizens is the way to prosperity and self-worth is via the highest order transit, even if it costs $1.45 million and counting for every potential new rider ai??i?? a performance thatai??i??s sure to bankrupt the system.

Much, much more on this later.


Royson Jamesai??i?? column appears weekly.




2 Responses to “The Subway Panacea Myth”
  1. Matcha says:

    “The Broadway subway is only being built for one reason and one reason only: To ensure profits for Liberal/Vision Vancouver’s political friends, the Condo Kings and land speculators who will make windfall profits on assembled lands where subways stations are planned, all at the expense of taxpayers.”

    The Broadway subway is phase 3 of the Millennium line that was planned and built by the NDP in 1990’s. Phase 1 was New Westminster to Vancouver. Phase 2 was Coquitlam. Phase 3 is UBC.

    Developers will profit from any technology chosen whether it is subway or LRT.

    It looks like you have never been on the 99 bus. The busiest bus route in Vancouver.

    Zwei replies: The Broadway subway was never planned for by the NDP, rather it was the terminus of the old Broadway/lougheed LRT project, which the NDP were bribed to flip flop to SkyTrain. To get the GVRD on board the NDP promised to pay two thirds of SkyTrain only construction w\est of Commercial drive. It was then George Puil and TransLink who planned for subway construction.

    Traffic flows just do not warrant on Broadway, the B-Line bus runs at 3 minute headway’s, offering a peak hour capacity of 2,200 pphpd, at best traffic flows on Broadway are less than 4,000 pphpd which is far less than the North American standard of traffic flows far in excess of 15,000 pphpd to justify a subway.

    The B-Line buses may be full, but Translink’s deliberate mismanagement of the bus system has allowed over crowding to take place. A two minute headway (30 trips per hour or a capacity of 3,300 pphpd), plus transit priority at major intersections would alleviate overcrowding on hour 99 B-Line.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Zwei, its actually a little higher at 3800-4300 passengers/hour/direction however, the point is that its a very small peak number for digging a tunnel that will cost $380-420 Million per km, and that’s on the low side of most of the cost estimates I have seen. The problem is that, you are only paying slightly less per km than Toronto is for their latest Subway Extension (which is late and over budget due to political interference & scope-creep) and their system moves twice the peak amount the Skytrain system can using the current 63 year old signaling system and not the new one that is being installed, that can move 25% more on top of that. .

    I saw the new standard for subways at the Federal Transit Admin. which is currently requires a current peak passenger level and or planned peak level within a decade of 10,000-12.000 passengers/hour/direction if it is an extension to an existing line using 75 foot standard cars with a 6 car train. A higher standard of 12-15,000 now or within a decade and a half, is used if its a stand alone line. This is assuming Tiger Grant funds are used. This nuber drops dramatically if the line functions as a relief line for an existing over capacity line. NOW, I AM GROSSLY SIMPLIFING THIS STANDARD, ITS EXTREMELY COMPLICATED and the conditions go on for pages. The scale can go down to as low as 5000-6500 p/h/d if the system has smaller individual cars and or trains like the ones used on the Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Staten Island systems. Most of these systems for the most part, can only dream of passenger loads exceeding even 10,000 p/h/d. Where as Miami and Atlanta, also have qualifiers because of the nature of their transit system’s service area standards. Both have higher use transit service zones blocked from being considered as possible expansions due to state laws which prohibit any rail based transit unless a 3/4 majority vote is done. Or in the case of Atlanta, the actual areas which have the highest possible subway expansion numbers, aren’t allowed to be expanded into unless the counties votes to actually be part of the transit system. Washington also has special expansion conditions because of the fact that DC is not a state and can’t follow normal procedures for grants. Maryland (which did get a metro expansion recently and is set for another) requires special conditions because planning for transit projects is not done by a local government but at the state level itself. Los Angeles can receive funds for subway expansion regardless of planned peak passenger levels if a highway or expressway can’t serve the area. Plus they have a lot of state and local funding on top of all this. BART uses a population base as it standard because the system is technically a light metro that operates as a commuter rail system using the longest trains operated by a rapid transit system in North America at over 210 metres. The service is really a hybrid between a metro frequency and a commuter rail like frequency of service. Thus traditional peak hour measures are near meaningless for this system and a population and population density measure of the planned route is the prescribed metric.

    Of the recent and current subway expansion projects in the US only 2 came close to 10,000 passengers/hour/direction and only one project exceeded it. All the subway extensions that have been built are heavily used by any measure North American or European. Most European metro/subway system expansions built in the last decade don’t come close to 10,000 passengers/hour/direction at peak hours however, were built for some other key reasons.

Leave A Comment