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Transit City a better bang for Toronto's buck, report concludes

An environmental research group has slammed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to scrap a multi-billion dollar light rail train expansion.
FILE -- Workers at the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay inspect a TTC subway car made at the local facility before shipping it to Toronto in this Bombardier supplied file photograph. Bombardier is now preparing for make streetcars for a Metrolinx contract, which current Toronto mayor Rob Ford hopes to scrap in an effort to advance his own subway expansion plans. (Bombardier media handout)

An environmental research group has slammed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to scrap a multi-billion dollar light rail train expansion.

At risk locally is a $770-million light rail car deal signed last June between Metrolinx, the Toronto Transit Commission and Bombardier.

Ford’s plan, which he has yet to officially endorse, would see four proposed LRT lines being partially funded by the province cancelled in favour of an 18-kilometre single subway line servicing parts of North York, Scarborough and other parts of the city.

According to the Pembina Institute’s 20-page report, titled Making Tracks to Torontonians, it would cost taxpayers $344 million a kilometre to extend the subway system, more than double the cost of the $167 million per kilometer cost of the 52-kilometre phase one of the LRT priority projects.
Ford’s plan would also service far less people, with only 61,000 people living within a 500-metre radius of the new subway stations, compared to 290,000 in the light-rail scheme. Twenty-two more communities, many with low-income populations, would also be serviced under the LRT plan.

Overall Ford’s subway plan would cost at least $6.2 billion, compared to $8.7 billion for the four light rail lines, but the Pembina Institute’s Cherise Burda, who co-authored the report, said the city would receive far less bang for its buck by going completely underground.

“For about the same amount of money the LRT will bring rapid transit to the doorsteps of three to five times as many Torontonians within a 500-metre radius – a six-minute walk,” Burda said. “We have a large radius of Toronto that is not currently served by rapid transit.

“These areas are in the suburbs and these areas only have access to buses. What the LRT lines were designed to do is actually access these faraway places and start to connect them to the city. The subway plan would only access one of these corners, where the LRT plan would access the four corners.”

The 23-kilometre second phase of the LRT proposal would cost an additional $1.83 billion.

Burda said Toronto is looking at the largest transit expansion in the history of the planet, with a huge amount of money already on the table.

“Cancelling those contracts with Bombardier could also mean that we might be throwing some of this money away, money that’s already been spent on the plan, money that’s been invested, all the work that’s been done and the environmental assessment, stuff like that,” Burda said when reached Wednesday afternoon by phone at her Toronto office.

“If we do this, we’re going to back-track, we’re not going to get the transit in place in a speedy time. So is it worth it to be taking all this money away from the LRT line and putting toward the subway extension.”

The subway plan is expected to take at least until the end of the decade to start moving passengers, while the light rail deal would have people commuting as early as 2014.

The four-part LRT line would connect Scarborough to Pearson International Airport and North York to Etobicoke, among its new routes, which when completed would total 75 kilometres.

The proposed subway extension would see the Sheppard subway extended to Scarborough, upgraded service and North York connected to the Downsview subway station.

Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs on Thursday said he's less worried now about the state of Bombardier's contract than he was in the days following Ford's election, but it has little to do with the Pembina report and more with what they're hearing out of Toronto.

"It appears they're going to aim toward a hybrid mix. We're just monitoring it right now. There's supposed to be a report coming out on Feb. 2 and we're going to try to coincide a trip to see Mayor Ford around that time when the report comes out," Hobbs said.

Hobbs said he met with Bombardier officials on Wednesday to discuss the subject, adding he doesn't put too much stock in the Pembina Report and its results, noting they also did a similar environmental report for Horizon Wind Inc.

"Somebody can suit a report to whoever commissioned a report," he said.