John Tory's transit plans aren't perfect, but they're a step in the right direction
Don’t let anyone try to say the evidence that led Tory to change his transit plans was unknown until recently.
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After a crazy busy week in which Mayor John Tory endorsed substantial changes to two Toronto transit plans — first for his signature SmartTrack plan and then for the controversial Scarborough subway — I’ve been trying to hold myself to a new mantra: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
It’s a bit trite, I know, but there’s truth to it. There are things I can criticize about both plans. They’re not perfect. But the announced changes make the plans — and Toronto’s transit future — a whole lot better.
As proposed, Tory’s SmartTrack scheme now no longer includes an absurdly expensive rail tunnel under Eglinton Avenue West, while the planned Scarborough subway extension has been made shorter, with just one station at Scarborough Town Centre.
In exchange, the mayor is supporting much-needed light rail extensions on both sides of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which will provide transit links deep into Etobicoke and Scarborough. Both plans are subject to city council approval.
Smart changes, all. Also smart: Tory showing flexibility when presented with data and evidence. Too many politicians don’t do that.
Still, I find it hard to completely let go of the less-than-perfect stuff.
On the plans themselves, there are still too many unanswered questions.
Who will pay for the huge cost of operating SmartTrack if fares are set at the same level as the TTC? Is a single-stop Scarborough subway extension really worth more than $2 billion? Is the large-scale development needed to justify this transit construction going to materialize?
Some of those questions will be answered in the months ahead. I can be optimistic about that.
I can’t be as sunny about the political process that got us here. Don’t let anyone try to say the evidence that led Tory to change his transit plans was unknown until recently.
The flaws that compelled these alterations have been obvious since the beginning. Both plans never had real evidence backing them. But that hardly seemed to matter during 2014’s mayoral campaign, when criticism was dismissed as either partisan, pessimistic or both.
It’s not a great precedent. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for future mayoral candidates not to adopt fanciful transit plans — they can call them things like GeniusLine or BrainTrain — as part of their campaign platforms even if they know those plans can’t be fully delivered. After all, they can always get scaled down — after the votes are counted.
But I’m getting off track and veering toward cynicism, which brings me back to my new mantra. I have my misgivings, but there’s no doubt Toronto’s transit future looks brighter today than it did a week ago. That’s not a perfect outcome, but it is a good one.
Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt