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The upload won't give you a Better Ride Now. Here's why.

Toronto has reached a critical point in its conversations with the province about the proposed subway upload. Despite what the provincial government and some of my colleagues at Council say, the conversation about transit doesn’t have to be about politics.

It has to be about science – that is, the science of how to move people in a densely-populated city.

Instead, Toronto received two letters from the province making it very clear this conversation will be deeply political, indeed. After completing an agreed-upon terms of reference for discussion between the two governments and viewing a presentation on the current and future needs of the TTC, the Premier's special advisor wrote a formal letter essentially saying: "Thanks, but we don’t care. We're going to start over and change your planned expansions, some a little and some entirely.”

What changed?

You can expect to be dazzled in the media with the Premier’s fanciful tales of new subway lines that will spring up by magic. But everything I have learned about transit tells me it will take nothing short of magic to get this done. Changing plans in the middle of the decade it takes to design and engineer a subway means – you guessed it – extensive delays.

We discussed these changes for our entire Council session yesterday. There, transit engineers and planners confirmed the following:

1 The province has proposed changing the current Scarborough subway plan to include three stops instead of one. This will add a minimum of three years to a finish date that is already hugging 2030 and likely double its costs.

2 The province wants to change a significant portion of the Eglinton West LRT to be underground instead of above ground, as planned. This will double the engineering time needed (this type of tunneling has never been studied) and the cost will “be significantly more than double,” according to one staff member.

3 The province's proposal for the Downtown Relief Line is the most curious of all. We all know how much the Premier loves subways – but he's changed his tune. Now, we're expected to scrap the subway and replace it with a mysterious "new, free-standing technology." Of course, the technology and cost of this proposal is completely unknown.

4 Finally, the province is proposing that the expansion of Line 1 north to Richmond Hill must be planned in parallel with the secretive new relief line. I have no objection to this, as long as we understand the relief line must open first. Without it, the Yonge Line is in no position to expand and Bloor/Yonge station cannot absorb any new ridership onto its platforms.

What does this mean?

Such high-stakes conversations between governments can take several months. I can assure you, with my TTC Commissioner hat on, that we have continued to direct TTC staff to advance transit system improvements as much as possible. With 1.7 million trips every day, there can be no slowing down of daily operations while an upload is being discussed with the province.

The new transit lines Council has already voted for, namely the Scarborough subway extension and the downtown relief line are continuing as usual – for now. We assumed an upload meant the province would want to build the lines faster. Now it appears they want to redesign it entirely.

What will happen now?

We've been here before with Doug Ford. We all know his ideas of transit have never aligned with those of experts with proven records of delivering transit projects. He simply parrots the refrain of "Subways, subways, subways!" with no regard for consequence or cost.

For this reason, I focused my comments in Council on the state of the transit system we have today. As your Councillor and as a TTC Commissioner, I begged the Mayor and the City Manager to go back to the table and focus the discussion on the system you ride right now.

The TTC has been starved of funds since 1995 when Premier Harris removed the partnership funding arrangement put in place by Premier Davis 20 years prior. The TTC needs $33 billion in new vehicles and maintenance work over the next 15 years to keep up with our city's needs.

We need to reinstate Premier Davis' funding formula to ensure the system we use now runs well while the expansions are built. We need to tell Premier Ford that uploading our subway won't help – but investing in it will.

Because Toronto commuters can't wait any longer. You need a better ride, now.


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