Out of Service: The dashed transit plans of Toronto’s past four mayors

Out of Service: The dashed transit plans of Toronto’s past four mayors

Proposing an ambitious transit overhaul seems to be a prerequisite to run for mayor. But campaign promises almost never turn into realities

Toronto’s past four mayors—Mel Lastman, David Miller, Rob Ford and John Tory‚made big promises about transit and the TTC.

Transit planning in the city can live or die on a political whim. Mayoral candidates who pitch their most ambitious visions during the election tend to think about votes, not feasibility. Once they’re in power, their grand transit plans often become much diminished and much, much more expensive. Sometimes, they’re an outright fiasco. Here’s what Toronto’s past four mayors promised—and what they actually delivered.

Read more: Who broke the TTC? Inside Toronto’s public transit disaster

Mel Lastman Toronto mayors public transit planning TTC Toronto Transit Commission

Mel Lastman

1998 to 2004

The plan: Sheppard Subway
First proposed: 1985
Expected completion date: 1993 (first phase); 2009 (second phase)
Actual completion date: A scaled-back phase one was completed in 2002; phase two never materialized
Proposed budget: $1.2 billion
Actual budget: $930 million
What he promised: Lastman championed a subway line along Sheppard East when he was mayor of North York. It was nearly cancelled when then-premier Mike Harris stopped funding Toronto transit, but Lastman’s bulldog lobbying saved the line. The city projected over 15 million riders per year.
What actually happened: Only 11 million riders showed up, earning Sheppard its unfortunate nickname, “the line to nowhere.” But give Lastman some credit: he oversaw the delivery of a subway line, which is more than most Toronto mayors can say.

David Miller Toronto mayors public transit planning TTC Toronto Transit Commission

David Miller

2004 to 2010

The plan: Transit City
First proposed: 2007
Expected completion date: 2022
Actual completion date: Cancelled
Proposed budget: $6 billion
Actual budget: Unknown, but the cost of the Eglinton Crosstown, one of the last surviving parts of Miller’s plan, was last logged at nearly $13 billion.
What he promised: Miller proposed 120 kilometres of light rail across seven routes, including Eglinton, Don Mills and Finch. Transit City also included plans to upgrade the Scarborough RT and add new express bus lines. It would have made an appreciable difference for transit users.
What actually happened: The Harper Conservatives balked at funding the project. Then the province deferred a $4-billion investment. On Rob Ford’s first day in office, he canned the project. The only two
Transit City lines to survive, the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West LRT, are both much delayed.

Rob Ford Toronto mayors public transit planning TTC Toronto Transit Commission

Rob Ford

2010 to 2014

The plan: “Subways, subways, subways”
First proposed: 2014
Expected completion date: Not specified
Actual completion date: Cancelled
Expected budget: $9 billion
Actual budget: Cancelled
What he promised: While running for re-election in 2014, Ford called a press conference, pulled out a novelty-sized transit fantasy map and, with the point of a finger, declared, “There’s no reason why we
can’t put subways here.” He pledged to build 32 kilometres of new subway tunnels under Queen, Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch, and vaguely hinted at more subway extensions to follow.
What actually happened: Ford dropped out of the election because of an abdominal tumour. But Ontario Premier Doug Ford is forging ahead with one of his late brother’s fantasies: a downtown relief line, which is expected to cost up to $19 billion and open by 2031.

John Tory Toronto mayors public transit planning TTC Toronto Transit Commission

John Tory

2014 to 2023

The plan: SmartTrack
First proposed: 2014
Expected completion date in 2014: 2021
Revised completion date in 2023: 2027 for the first station
Expected budget in 2014: $8 billion
Expected budget in 2023: $1.7 billion for a significantly scaled-back version
What he promised: While Ford tried to sway voters with shiny new subways, Tory wanted to use the tracks that Toronto already had. He proposed running frequent commuter trains along GO rail corridors, creating a new 22-station line that would start at Pearson, dip down to Union and then wind through Scarborough up to Unionville.
What actually happened: Further study revealed that some sections of Tory’s proposed line would be impossible to build, and provincial transit plans rendered other stretches redundant. The line was eventually scaled back to just five new stations, on which construction has barely commenced. It has already cost the city nearly a billion dollars.