The debate over Scarborough’s transit future isn’t over yet.
Coun. Josh Matlow raised the still-controversial Scarborough subway extension at last week’s budget debate at City Hall, calling it an expensive mistake.
“If we move ahead and start spending this money and sinking it down this hole … it’ll be a billion-dollar boondoggle that we will not recover from,” he said.
Matlow tried and failed to hold back funds that had been set aside in the budget for the subway, as well as prevent the 0.5 per cent property tax increase that would be used to fund the project.
The subway extension is meant as a replacement for the aging Scarborough RT. The subway proposal itself replaced an earlier council-approved plan that called for a seven-stop light rail transit (LRT) system, which would have been completely funded by the province.
Council later dropped the LRT when it approved the three-stop subway extension, with an estimated cost of $3 billion, of which $1 billion is to be paid for by Toronto taxpayers.
“All of these costs would have been assumed by the province if we had gone the LRT route,” Matlow said. “Now it comes to us and we don’t even know the numbers.”
Speaker Frances Nunziata ruled Matlow’s motion out of order, which led to a vote. Nunziata’s ruling was upheld, if just barely, 23–22. Council went on to approve the budget Jan. 30.
“Recognize that we have very real and significant budget pressures this year,” Matlow said.
Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford is on board with the subway plan.
“The SRT is at the end of it’s life, it needs to be replaced,” Byford said. “I support the subway because the numbers are on the cusp of subway ridership.”
The projected numbers for the Scarborough extension would be greater than those currently seen on the Sheppard line, sparking the original switch from an LRT to a subway.
Other plans for TTC expansion include a downtown relief line, aimed at easing pressure on the Yonge line.
For many TTC commuters, however, these plans are not enough. The TTC Riders, a grassroots advocacy group for TTC users, held protests during the city’s budget talks and continue to petition in favour of more funding for TTC expansion.
Marco Covi, a spokesperson for the group, said he worries council isn’t focusing on the real problem.
“What [TTC riders] need is better service and more capacity,” Covi said. “It’s going to take a long time for those capital projects, for us to see them and benefit from the results.”