Transit grades

Doug Ford's subways don't make the grade

Murtaza Haider, an associate professor at Ryerson's Ted Rogers School of Management, specializing in transportation management, took a close look at Doug Ford's transit plan.

Candidate does not fare well with his subway plan

Doug Ford says he has 'a proven plan' to build subways in Toronto. (CBC)

Murtaza Haider, an associate professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management, specializing in transportation management, took a close look at Doug Ford's transit plan.

The big idea for Ford's transit plan is essentially the same as his brother Rob Ford's plan, said Haider. The plan focuses exclusively on building a network of new subway lines across Toronto, both in areas where there is currently demand and in areas where demand to support subway lines does not exist.

Financially, Haider said the biggest issue is that the costs for subways have been systematically low-balled. Ford says he'll build 32 kilometres of new subway lines for $8 to $9 billion. According to Haider, that seriously understates the cost of building new subway lines by several orders of magnitude.

Murtaza Haider is an associate professor at Ryerson's Ted Rogers School of Management, specializing in transportation management. (Ryerson University)
Montreal built five kilometres of building new subways recently, and the cost was four times what the project was approved for, said Haider.

Another issue with the Ford plan is its timeline. These projects take a long time — as in 10 to 20 years — to build new subway lines. The next mayoral tenure will end long before any subway plan will be complete. So the Ford plan promises there may be relief but not until after several terms in office.

Tax increment financing, which John Tory's SmartTrack relies on as well, works in specific circumstances, said Haider.

The way it works is that the city designates a particular area as a tax increment finance district, or TIF district, and then relies on future tax revenues to support the bonds that the city issues to build new infrastructure.

In Chicago, TIF worked where projects were built in slum-like environments. Property values were depressed where the city was building new developments using TIF, so there was room to grow those property values. But in New York City, where they tried to support new subway construction with TIF financing, the revenues generated were 40 per cent less than forecast.

In addition, the cost of building the new subway went up by $300 million, an amount not accounted for by the TIF revenues, said Haider. He added it's naive to believe TIF is a "silver bullet" and there would be no property tax increases.

There are several issues with the Ford proposal for eight kilometres of new subways to replace the RT in Scarborough. Ford believes the city can build 8.2 kilometres of subway lines for $1.4 billion. Haider says it will be at least two or three times more.

Grading:  "I would give first an incomplete because it's not a plan, it's just some basic ideas thrown on paper," said Haider. "But if I have to grade it, I would give it a B-minus."

Eric Miller is a University of Toronto professor and transit expert.

He said Ford is offering nothing new relative to the failed policies of his brother from the past four years. 

Subways along Finch and Sheppard Avenues and burying the eastern portion of the Eglinton Crosstown are individually and collectively a colossal waste of money, both to build and in terms of the on-going operating subsidies that they will entail. The current and future travel demand in these corridors simply does not justify anything near the capacity (and associated cost) of subways, Miller said.

According to Miller, these travel needs can be effectively served in a high-quality manner by much less expensive solutions.

"These ideas were soundly and rightfully rejected by city council in 2012, and, in my view, they have no chance of being adopted in the future. As far as I am aware there are zero professional reports that support Mr. Ford's proposals, and his capital cost estimates are so low as to lack any credibility whatsoever," Miller said.

"I would characterize Mr. Ford's transit platform as an 'anti-transit anti-plan'," Miller said. "It is 'anti-transit' since it consists of ideas that are not implementable, and so they impede rather than advance improving transit services in the city, thereby hurting the very people they ostensibly help. And it is an 'anti-plan' since it is not based on any supporting technical analysis."

Grading: Miller gives Ford an F.

Paul Bedford is a former city planner and former director of Metrolinx.

He said building 32 kilometres of subway‎ in Toronto simply cannot be justified given the very low densities in the areas to be served and small ridership produced. He argued it would cost more than the estimated $9 billion to build and would require a massive ongoing operating subsidy each year.

"The Sheppard subway is a classic example," said Bedford. "It cost $3 billion to build and only carries 50 to 55,000 riders a day. The King streetcar alone carries over 60,000 riders a day. ‎We need to learn from this and not repeat these mistakes all over the city."

He said the transit system needs to be more than subways. "We do need a combination of massive increases in bus and streetcar service, new LRT lines, bus rapid transit and regional express rail."

Grading: "I would give Doug Ford's transit plan an incomplete or an F because it does not represent a real plan and is totally unrealistic," said Bedford.

Get the grades for the other candidates:  Olivia Chow's is here, and John Tory's is here.