Obstacles to Construction

Overcoming the Cost Barrier
Political Obstacles
Gaining Support from Drivers

Overcoming the Cost Barrier

It’s true that the initial costs can be daunting – almost $6 billion for the first stage of the line from Spadina to Eglinton. Some of that would need to be constructed in the near future regardless of construction. It is important to show exactly what kind of value can be expected for the investment in the line, as it is common for many to dismiss the line as something that we simply can’t afford140. Slightly over $600 million is reserved for a much-needed new subway yard, which was shown to be necessary by the Subway Rail Yard Needs Strategy Report175. An estimate of the cost to renovate Bloor-Yonge station, also currently required to deal with the overcrowding on the Yonge Subway is currently $500 million171, with some expecting the renovations to cost upwards of $1 billion48. Other costs included, such as the cost of new trains, would also be required regardless on the Yonge subway if the DRL is not built. This takes another $250 million off the net cost of the line.

Simply removing these costs that will be paid for whether the DRL gets built or not brings the cost of the line down to $4.65 billion, possibly lower if Bloor-Yonge costs even more than expected. Councillor Michael Thompson estimates the costs of not building the Downtown Relief Line to be between $2.46-4.67 billion148, which would account for even greater savings. Even using the pessimistic figure of $4.65 billion, we can see how that cost is more than made up for within a few years of construction.

First, we can look at employment. With current stimulus money being used to fund projects across Canada and create jobs through the Economic Action Plan26, money being spent on job creation is seen as a worthy investment. A recent SmartGrowth America report analyzed data in terms of the American stimulus to find that construction of public transportation projects creates 19,299 job-months per billion dollars of spending170. Using the figure of $4.65 billion, as the rest of the money would be creating jobs regardless, this works out to 89,740 job-months. Using an average construction salary of $4,463 per month129, approximately $400 million worth of jobs would be created as a result of construction of this line.

Next, the cost of congestion can be analyzed. The economic benefits of saving even a fraction of a minute can be astonishing. A 2000 Federal Transit Administration paper studied six recently constructed transit lines, noting an average of slightly more than 60,000 hours were saved per day as a result of new transit construction156. To put this into perspective, using a GTA workforce of 3 million71, that would equate to a mere average time savings of 72 seconds, or 36 seconds per direction of travel. While many will save less than this if their commute takes them nowhere near where the subway line serves, many will save substantially more, and thus the numbers produced by the Federal Transit Administration seem reasonable. They conclude that the annual value of the time savings generated is $225 million. However, they use a rate of $15 per hour, while Toronto’s average salary is $23 per hour77. Using the 250 work days that they base their calculations on, and a more accurate hourly wage, a total cost savings of $345 million is saved per year as a result of the subway construction. This number would be slightly higher if factoring in those who work on the weekends, and commute by transit within the corridor of the subway.

Shaving a few seconds off the average commute can save millions

The FTA report did not just stop at the benefits resulting from faster journeys. It went on to note the annual economic impact to the city as a result of productivity gains and economic growth associated with a change in transit presence. Unfortunately, determining how much the construction of a new subway would change transit presence is difficult, though if we assume the surface transportation accounts for half the presence in the city with the rapid transit accounting for the other half, adding 12.7km of subway to the 68.3 km of track would result in an increase of slightly under 10% to the presence of transit in the city. The increase in productivity and economic growth seen in an average metropolitan area that sees an increase in transit presence of 10% is $230 million per year. This number, however, is based upon a population of 1.7 million people. Because the numbers are derived with a per worker figure, we can use Greater Toronto’s metropolitan population of 5.6 million27 to arrive at a figure of $758 million added to the economy annually. Even using the City of Toronto’s smaller population of 2.5 million33 rather than the regional population, we would still see a healthy growth of $338 million to the economy annually.

If we take the overall cost of construction of the line, while subtracting out what needs to be spent regardless of construction, as well as the value of the jobs created, Spadina to Eglinton would cost $4.25 billion pessimistically. This cost can be recovered by the economy in a mere four years: afterwards the region saves over a billion dollars per year as a result of the increased access to public transit. Though the cost of construction may seem high, the economic benefits that the subway would provide to the city more than make up for it.

Political Obstacles

Transit expansion in recent years has had less to do with proper planning principles and more to do with politics. Both new subways under construction and undergoing major planning are planned to cross political boundaries, going into Vaughan and Richmond Hill.

In 2001, the TTC evaluated a number of possible subway extensions119. These included both the Spadina and North Yonge extensions in addition to an extension to Sheppard, the Scarborough RT, a western extension to the Bloor-Danforth line, and construction of a new subway west from Eglinton West station. The lines were compared in terms of their possible success. Subway possibilities were determined to either have potential for success, maybe have potential for success, or have no potential for success. Both the Spadina and North Yonge extensions were rated as having “no potential for success.”
“When sections of existing and potential new lines are compared in terms of future density, daily usage, development within 500 metres of stations and development within 2 kilometres, a similar evaluation results. Easterly extensions of the Sheppard Subway consistently rank higher in many cases than existing lines while Bloor-Danforth extensions, the Spadina Subway extension to the Vaughan Corporate Centre and a Yonge Subway extension to Highway 7 rank among the lowest options. The other extension options (Eglinton, SRT, Spadina north to Steeles Avenue, Yonge Subway north to Clark Avenue) have modest densities and could be successful with redevelopment. Overall, only the Sheppard Subway and SRT extension options exceed the threshold of 100 workers/residents per hectare that is necessary for successful rapid transit.”119(emphasis added)

The future terminus of the Spadina Subway: Vaughan Metropolitan Centre

Neither of these projects was put on the short list of possible projects to be given further consideration, yet those two were the ones that received funding for construction. This was also in spite of the capacity issues and costly improvements that would need to be made to accommodate further ridership on the Yonge line. The Spadina line is expected to have an operational loss of $14 million per year when it opens.140

So why are we funding rapid transit expansion to the suburbs where ridership does not justify it, but ignoring a far denser downtown where benefits from the subway would be seen immediately rather than simply projected?

Toronto Mayor David Miller has said “If the core doesn’t work, the region doesn’t work.”74, and there is evidence to back up this claim. Rypkema (2003) claims that the strength of a city’s downtown is key to both economic and environmental policies128. Ihlanfeldt (1995) found that businesses are more productive if located in the downtown core, as a result of lower operating costs found in agglomerate economies, as well as determining that downtown businesses are able to pay their employees higher salaries86.

In spite of this, showing support to Toronto does not appear to be popular within the province or the rest of Canada. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said of financial support for the TTC "[...] They'll have to find their own way to deal with those kinds of challenges as we have to find our own way to deal with our challenges,"108 implying that a strong transit system for Toronto is not of relevance to the Province of Ontario, and thus not one of their challenges.

MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Bill Murdoch recently proposed that Toronto become its own province, believing that “every law we pass at Queen’s Park has a Toronto mentality.”102

Federal Transport Minister John Baird said regarding Toronto’s application for streetcar funding "They should f--- off.".62

These are just examples within the past year which show that at the very least, there is an obvious us vs. them attitude from the rest of the province and country in regards to Toronto. Funding subways that cross out of Toronto and into another municipality are likely to be seen as more favourable to the electorate than something built entirely within the City of Toronto. In fact, one of the TTC’s evaluative criteria for subway construction is “Interregional Benefits”, a fancy way of saying how much a subway would benefit regions outside of Toronto119.

An important barrier to overcome is therefore obtaining political support from both the province and federal government who may be unwilling to support any ideas that are seen as too “Toronto-centric.” There are two important ways to do this.

The first is the necessity of citizens to make this an important issue. Even though it may be difficult for politicians to support Toronto, it may be even more difficult for them to ignore the collective will of the largest city in Canada. If this becomes a major issue that the citizens deem important to them when provincial and federal elections come around, funding has a much greater chance of becoming available.

Secondly, the region as a whole must be convinced of the value of the Downtown Relief Line outside of the City of Toronto. Even though it does not leave the city itself, anyone entering the city will benefit from a faster commute, especially those from the north and the east. Where the line itself is placed is not what should be relevant, but rather the net effect on the travel times of the residents of the region.

Gaining Support from Drivers

Obtaining the support of drivers is such an important part of getting the line constructed that it was worth writing its own section to increase prominence and convince drivers of the value of the line. For more information on why drivers should support the subway line, please see that section.

In 2000, in Salt Lake City, a referendum was held on a tax for construction of a light rail line, which was expected to be rejected, much like when a similar vote occurred in 1992168. In the 2000 referendum, a different strategy was used, appealing to drivers who were to continue driving, rather than trying to convince people to switch to transit. The message “Even if you don’t ride it, you use it.” was used to stress the congestion relief that would occur as a result of light rail construction. Funding the line made sense because other people would use it, taking more cars off the road and making your drive faster.  

The results of the referendum show the importance of this strategy of convincing non-users. Not every driver is willing to make the switch to transit, nor does it always make sense for everyone’s commute. But appealing to them from a standpoint of getting more vehicles off the road is an effective strategy that needs to be maximized in order to achieve full support for construction of the subway.

Image Sources

From top to bottom:

  • The Gardiner Expressway, Toronto. Personal photograph by author. 2010.
  • Subway to Wal-Mart. Personal photograph by author. 2010.
© 2010 Phil Orr & Andrew Perry