Transit City can be saved, transit activist says

The light rail transit plan scrapped by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not beyond saving, says a transit activist behind a website called Save Transit City.

The light rail transit plan scrapped by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is not beyond saving, says a local transit activist.

Joe Drew, a web developer behind the Save Transit City website, appeared on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show on Thursday and told host Matt Galloway he’s pushing for the light rail plan to be brought back to life.

"The suburbs of Toronto, especially the inner suburbs, Etobicoke and the area around Sheppard East, they really do need some sort of rapid transit," he said.

Conceived under Ford’s predecessor David Miller, the Transit City plan called for a series of provincially funded surface light rail lines across the city. Ford, who promised during the election campaign to build subways, cancelled Transit City after being elected in November 2010.

In place of Transit City, Ford intends to build two east-west subway lines: one running beneath Eglinton Avenue and a second along Sheppard.

The province has agreed to pay to put Eglinton underground while it’s unclear how the Sheppard line will be funded. In a year-end interview, Ford said Sheppard will be built with a combination of funds from the federal government and the private sector.

Drew, one of the organizers behind Save Transit City, said because subways cost more than surface rail, Ford’s plan will mean more areas of the city won’t get the transit service they need.

"Subways are wonderful, everybody wants subways, but they are really expensive," said Drew. "They take a lot of population density to justify.

"Light rail was paid for, it didn’t cost Toronto anything. The province was ready and had all the money for it. That’s why we’re trying to resurrect the light rail plan."

Galloway pointed out that Ford ran on a pro-subway platform and asked whether that wasn’t an implicit endorsement by voters of subways over surface rail.

"The important part is that the mayor didn’t tell people what they would get," said Drew.

"Transit City and light rail was never about streetcars, it was about making something bigger and better. We’re talking about smallish trains running down the middle of the road where traffic wouldn’t be disrupted at all."

Compromise is possible, Drew says

Drew also said reviving light rail doesn’t necessarily mean reviving the entire Transit City plan and said a compromise could be reached.

"Some people say the name Transit City itself has been poisoned," said Drew. "We can build something that addresses the concerns of councillors, the concerns of the current mayor, and gets people the transit the way that they desperately need."

"We are starting to talk to councillors and we want people to talk to their councillors."