As both a Councillor and a resident I recognize transit to be among the most critical issues facing our City, and in the discussions leading up to Council's consideration of Scarborough transit, these have been extremely difficult decisions to make. Each proposal had value and throughout this discussion I have done my best to make the decision I feel best represents the future interests of our City.
I strongly believe in having a mixed use transit system. The City of Toronto has a diversity of transit needs and we require a diversity of transit tools to meet these needs. For this reason, I supported an LRT on Sheppard, Finch and Eglington where ridership supported Light Rail. I absolutely support Light Rail and believe it is a critical part of the TTC system. It is, however, only a part of a larger transit system.
As we well know, Toronto is deeply behind in its transit building, with congestion costing our city billions every year. But in sprinting to catch up, we risk compromising the longevity of our transit decisions. Transit planning is a marathon, and we must think far into the future to understand the significance of our decisions.
In July, I voted in favour of a subway line extension to the Scarborough Town Centre. There are strong reasons for this option, including greater capacity to carry more riders, more quickly, at nearly double the life expectancy of other options and with seamless transitioning – all with no disruption to the SRT during construction.
City staff have clearly stated that within a decade the LRT would be approaching a ridership level which would again require Council discussions about how to expand the capacity of this line. This is not the fault of Scarborough residents. It is a testament to the desperate need they have for quality transit. It is also testament to the need to build for the future. Yet, we cannot solve this problem by looking at the next decade of transit expansion, only by looking at the next century.
By building transit that will more quickly approach its limit, we risk limiting our potential. As Torontonians who want the best city possible, we cannot allow this. Scarborough is among the fastest growing populations in Toronto with startling projections of growth in the coming years. This is our chance to provide the highest order transit possible and we have the funding to do this now. Are there unknowns? Some, yes, but no more than other subway expansions approved in Toronto and different by being the first to have the transparency and reliability of dedicated revenue funding – a terrifically important precedent as we commit to expanding transit in the years ahead.
Despite outward appearance, the subway was the more difficult decision. It is more expensive, has fewer stops and will take slightly longer to build; but it is also the option which guarantees to move the most residents the most quickly. The subway plan will create more jobs and greater investment in one of the most underserved and highly-populated areas of our City, and importantly, it will last.
At the core, this is about City building, about creating a network that connects our City in the most fundamental way possible. With 1/3 of Toronto's geography, Scarborough needs the investment to keep it connected to our city, not just for the near future, but permanently.
I also recognize the inconvenience caused to customers during the LRT construction. In good conscience, I cannot support the 40 buses that would be required every hour during the 4 years of construction estimated for the LRT proposal. The subway will take 3 additional years but can be built with no disruption to the SRT service on which 50,000 Scarborough residents use every day.
Yes, the LRT project was fully-funded, yet too often City Council has shied away from the needed investment in favour of the easiest option – only to require costly improvements in the near future. With a Scarborough subway we have an opportunity to make an investment, using provincial and federal dollars for the long-term development of this area, and there is great value in that.
I am also aware that in the time since the provincial government offered to fund the Scarborough LRT they have presented a subway proposal of their own that is both slower and smaller than Council's proposal. If the province has committed to build a subway, then let it be a transit design that suits Scarborough residents, that reflects our projected growth, and works best for our City.
I strongly believe that City Councillors have the greatest direct understanding of the transit needs in their communities and deserve to have a strong voice in determining the transit priorities of Toronto. Over the last two years, however, Council has demonstrated severe inconsistency on the transit file. In July, Council agreed to conditions for a subway to the Scarborough Town Centre. Having received the federal funding requested and identified a dedicated revenue tool, for Council to go back on its agreement would further illegitimize our voice in directing transit in our City, in this instance and for the future.
In politics it is rare that all governments, with their varying priorities and constituencies, agree on a single project. In the case of a Scarborough subway, all levels have expressed public support and – more importantly – contributed significant project funding. Toronto is facing major issues – housing, childcare, and congestion among them – these are issues that are larger than party politics and will require the commitment of all levels of government. It is time that demonstrated how we can work together with common cause.
Finally, I deeply appreciate all the residents who contacted my office to share their thoughts on this issue, and carefully considered each opinion. As I work hard to advocate the priorities that will serve our residents – the Dufferin Bus, the electrification of the Georgetown and the Downtown Relief Line – I will continue to consult closely with Ward 18 residents and support fast, efficient and accessible transit options for our City.