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"Expert panel" recommends light rail transit, not subway,
for Sheppard Avenue East

Toronto City Council’s panel of transit experts released its report on rapid transit options for Sheppard Avenue East today. And, probably surprising few people keeping track of Toronto’s ongoing transit debate, the panel recommended that Council approve light rail transit along the surface of Sheppard East between Don Mills Road and Morningside Avenue.

Also not surprisingly, Mayor Rob Ford, who supports a subway for the area, has dismissed the panel’s recommendations as “hogwash”. The Mayor says councillors should be listening to what Torontonians are saying, not a biased panel — and that the people want subways.

The panel’s 66-page report reveals how it reviewed three possible options for rapid transit:

  • a subway between Don Mills and the Scarborough City Centre, effectively extending the current 4 Sheppard subway line;
  • a light rail transit line between Don Mills and Morningside; and
  • a “hybrid” option — subway between Don Mills and Victoria Park, then LRT eastward to Morningside.

The panel members weighed several factors before deciding on LRT, including:

  1. funding and economic development, considering whether each of the three options

    • was consistent with the City’s official plan;
    • stimulated economic activity, by creating jobs and increasing the property values in the immediate area;
    • was cost-effective, by minimizing the long- and short-term costs of each option, including the cost to maintain the lines in a state of good repair and also support the financial viability of the transit system as a whole; and - met provincial timeframes for the City to make a decision and start building transit in the near future.
  2. transit service, considering whether each of the three options

    • provided the capacity of handle the number of passengers that would likely require transit services in 2031;
    • connected with other transit lines and the transit system as a whole; and
    • reduced the travel time for passengers, including the time traveling between residences or workplaces and the transit lines, and the amount of time waiting for transit vehicles.
  3. sustainability and social impact, considering whether each of the three options

    • improved equity accessibility to the transit system, including issues such as safety, mobility and affordability (meaning affordable fares);
    • supported long-term environmental sustainability objectives, including addressing resource and environmental challenges, such as climate change and higher gas prices, while also supporting healthy and vibrant communities.
    • considered the impact of the lines on local communities, for example, the effects of long construction on residences, businesses and motorists and the effects of rapid transit on the cost of nearby housing.

The panel’s report details tools that the City could use to fund each of the various options, and also examined the impact of each funding plan on the city’s long-term debt. It points out the provincial and federal governments have fully funded the cost of building the Sheppard East LRT line — along with surface LRTs on Eglinton and Finch Avenues. The LRT funds also cover the cost of storage and maintenance facilities for the line.

However, the province has not committed any funds for the subway or hybrid options, both of which will increase the city’s debt levels. To support the subway, the city would have to develop new sources of revenue, including tolls, parking fees and higher taxes. It would also have to pay to build a new facility to store and maintain the subway cars.

The report concludes by urging Council to work towards developing a long-term funding plan to expand transit in Toronto and throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area. It also encourages council to work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the federal government to develop a national transit strategy to help pay for public transit across Canada.

City Council created the panel of experts during its meeting of Wednesday, February 8, when it also approved a plan to build the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT on the surface, instead of in a tunnel, east of Laird Drive.

The panel members included:

  • The Honourable David Crombie, former Member of Parliament, former member of the federal cabinet and former mayor of the City of Toronto and current chair of the Toronto Lands Corporation;
  • Dr. Gordon Chong, former member of Toronto City and Metropolitan Councils, former vice-chair of both the GO Transit board of directors and the Toronto Transit Commission and current chief executive officer of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd.;
  • Professor Eric Miller, professor of civil engineering and director of the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto, chair of the U.S. Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Travel Behavior and Values and past-Chair of the International Association for Travel Behaviour Research;
  • Mitzie Hunter, chief executive officer of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance;
  • Prabha Khosla, Chair, Toronto Women’s City Alliance;
  • Israt Ahmed, community planner - Scarborough, Toronto Social Planning; and
  • Ernie McCullough, Executive Director, Sheppard East Village Business Improvement Area.

City Council will consider the report and its recommendations during a special meeting Wednesday, March 21.

You can read the report, here. (.pdf)

You can read a list (including links) of background materials and presentations that the panel considered before making its recommendations, here. (.pdf)