Sheppard transit report recommends LRT

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is bristling about a report released Friday that recommends light-rail transit over subways for Sheppard Avenue.
The panel recommends light rail transit on Shepppard Avenue.

Toronto city council is being advised — by the expert panel it appointed — that light rail, not subways, are the way to go on Sheppard Avenue.

The report released Friday has already been dismissed by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.  He called the panel "biased."

"We all know that, we know what they're going to say," said Ford Thursday. "I listen to the residents, the taxpayers, the people who pay our wages, they're the boss."

But the panel's report pulls no punches when it comes to the transit options for one the city's major east-west corridors.

"Having completed our detailed evaluation of options, the panel concluded that Light Rail Transit (LRT) is the recommended mode of transit for Sheppard Avenue East," the group said in a letter to council contained in the final report.

"With the exception of (Mayor Rob Ford's appointee) Gordon Chong, a strong consensus exists among the panel members that the LRT is superior to the subway options presented, across the range of assessment criteria under consideration."

Committee says LRT option far superior

At a midday news conference Eric Miller, director of the Cities Centre at the University of Toronto, said based on the criteria the committee studied the LRT option was far superior.

Miller said the LRT "came out of this analysis, in this situation, as the best thing to do in the corridor at this time."

"It wasn't a question of choosing ... a second-best alternative because we can't afford the first-best. [The] LRT comes out as the best alternative as well as the most cost effective one within the funding situation."

According to the report the cost factor is significant. The LRT would cost about $1 billion, while a subway with far fewer stops could top $3.5 billion.

The city could go alone on the subway option, the panel says, by adding a percentage point to property taxes and devoting that money exclusively to subway construction.

No increased taxes, Ford says

But Ford shot down that proposal during a meeting with reporters on Friday.  "No, I’m not increasing taxes," he said.

Asked about a referendum into a subway tax, Ford said he was open to the concept but that he doubted citizens would be in favour of a tax.

Ford wants to build two or three stations as a start.

"I don't think [the] Yonge or Bloor [lines] were built all at once," he said.

Chong said the city should consider its 50-year future. He fears LRTs would have to be ripped up in a few decades anyway.

He wants council to delay its decision for six to 12 months while it deals with the private sector to see if it's "blowing smoke" about helping to fund subways.

Miller downplayed the political implications of the report, saying the panel did not view the Sheppard decision as a political or ideological question.

"It's a question of what is the best thing to do with the money available — and with subsequent money — in this corridor as a first step towards building a better transit network." 

The report will go to full city council next week.