Five things we learned from Michael Schabas’s critique of Toronto’s public-transit plans
Arguing about public transit has become a parlour game in Toronto, where every month seems to bring a new proposal for an expensive piece of people-moving technology. The latest contribution to this seemingly endless debate is a report by railway consultant Michael Schabas, prepared on behalf of the Neptis Foundation. The report is a critique of Metrolinx‘s “Big Move“—a regional transit plan that recommends $50 billion in transit improvements throughout the GTA. Metrolinx has already criticized parts of Schabas’ report for being based on incomplete information, but the 138-page paper raises some worthwhile points, all the same. Here are five things we learned after combing through it.
1. We may already have a downtown relief line
The notion of building a downtown relief line (a new east-end subway line intended to siphon passengers from the overcrowded Bloor-Danforth and Yonge lines) has been a darling of urban planners and subway nerds for years, but Schabas says there’s no need to dig new tunnels. Instead, he says, we could build a new pedestrian link between Main Station and the Danforth GO station, and allow subway passengers to ride GO trains to Union Station for no extra charge. The GO line, which currently requires a second fare, would become like an express subway service, and some financial maneuvering could prevent GO from losing money on the deal. Incidentally, Schabas isn’t the first to suggest something like this.
2. Driverless subways are a thing
Driverless cars are still little more than playthings for Google employees, but Schabas says driverless commuter trains are already in use in cities like Paris, Vancouver, Dubai and New York. The TTC is installing new signals on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line, which will make driverless subways a theoretical possibility, but so far there are no plans to start getting rid of subway operators.
3. LRT isn’t the only alternative to subways
Schabas is critical of the TTC’s plans to build light-rail—or LRT—lines on Eglinton, Sheppard and Finch Avenues. He thinks the the sleek-looking Flexity trams Metrolinx is buying from Bombardier to service the lines won’t be fast enough to lure commuters away from their cars. Schabas argues that the Finch line should be scrapped in favour of buses running in dedicated lanes, and that all the other proposed light-rail lines should modified to use trains similar to the ones that run on Vancouver’s SkyTrain.
4. The Scarborough Subway might be a bad idea
Schabas would also like to scrap Rob Ford’s coveted Scarborough subway extension in favour of a SkyTrain-like service, to be linked up with the Sheppard subway line. “If I build a subway, I have to pay $2 billion to $3 billion, and I get nothing back for it. In fact, it’ll cost more to run,” he writes, adding that the Sheppard subway has “no real benefit.” We assume he’s not taking into account the benefits to the political prospects of the subway’s supporters.
5. Transit theoreticians don’t understand emotions
Schabas says portions of his network of SkyTrain-like rail lines could run on elevated tracks, including one 6.5 kilometre stretch that could be built along Highway 401. He writes: “There cannot be too many objections to the visual impacts of an elevated [train] built above a 14-lane highway.” Has he ever been to Toronto? Objecting to transit projects is practically a way of life here.