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Royson James Calls For Subway 401

Royson James, columnist for the Toronto Star, and potentially a decent candidate to be mayor one day, has taken the city, the GTA and the province to task for not doing more to solve the transportation woes of our commuters. In his column (found here), he calls for David Miller, Hazel McCallion, Bill Fisch (Regional Chair of York) and Roger Anderson (Regional Chair of Durham) to sit down and hammer a skeleton GTA transportation plan that they can take to the province with the full weight of the GTA’s four million voters behind it.

Among James’ favoured projects:

a cross-GTA subway line, along Sheppard-Highway 401, stretching 58 kilometres from Pickering Town Centre to Mississauga Centre — 27 stops, nine of them underground.

It’s interesting that this proposal, raised by John Stillich of the Sustainable Urban Development Association, was among the projects I proposed as a part of my subway fantasy, written up almost six years ago.

The thing is, I’ve changed my mind since then. The only way we can get a Sheppard/401 subway line within the next twenty years is if we spend at least $300 million per year for the next twenty years putting this line together, and that’s over and above other valuable capital projects.

As transit activist Steve Munro notes, there is an unfortunate propensity to refuse necessary transit improvements unless it comes plated in gold, and subway represent that. They offer capacity far in excess of immediate need, and they are grotesquely expensive to build — so much so, that other transit initiatives that could increase ridership to a greater degree get missed out.

Munro noted that if the money committed to the York University extension were committed to purchasing more buses and streetcars, and paying the drivers to operate them, we could increase the size of the TTC’s rush hour fleet by 33%. Instead of waiting nine minutes at a particular stop for a vehicle to come, you’d only have to wait six, and you’d be more likely to find a seat once you boarded. The impact of such an investment would be felt system-wide, rather than in a particular section of the north of Toronto, and it would generate far more new riders to the system than a subway extension.

Even if we didn’t just buy new buses, if we invested in cheaper LRT technology, we could dramatically increase ridership on the TTC for far less expense. The Sheppard subway could have been built to its full and useful length for the cost of the current stub line if it had been built as a surface LRT rather than a subway.

The TTC already has a Ridership Growth Strategy capable of increasing ridership on the commission by twice the amount the York University subway extension provides. All we need to do is enture that surface transit is more reliable and frequent; that full service operates on all TTC routes, and one never has to wait longer than twenty minutes for a bus or streetcar. This can be done for less money than any subway extension.

This is what should get priority in terms of our government’s spending. Only if more money is available should we turn to the big ticket items like creating a GTA-wide subway network. This may not excite some people, but if we sit on our hands until we find perfection, we’ll end up doing nothing more than sitting on our hands.

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