Secret Metrolinx report raises questions about approval of new GO stations
Two new stations — one in Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca’s riding, the other championed by Toronto Mayor John Tory — were approved despite an internal report advising both stops should not be built.
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Metrolinx approved the construction of two new GO stations — one in the provincial transportation minister’s riding, the other championed by Toronto’s mayor — despite an internal report advising both stops should not be built, the Star has learned.
A report commissioned by Metrolinx that has not been made public but was obtained by the Star shows the proposed Kirby and Lawrence East stops performed poorly in a rigorous analysis of potential new GO stations. The report recommended the stops “should not be considered further during the next 10 years.”
In June 2016, five days after the report was submitted to Metrolinx’s station planning department, the transit agency’s board approved both new stops.
Kirby is in the Vaughan riding represented by Liberal Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, whose department oversees Metrolinx. Lawrence East in Scarborough is one of six new stations labelled as part of SmartTrack, Mayor John Tory’s signature transit plan.
Of the seven stations that the report recommended should not be built, Kirby and Lawrence East were the only two Metrolinx approved.
Kirby station is expected to cost $125.7 million to construct and operate over the next 60 years, while Lawrence East station is expected to cost $45.8 million over the same period.
There is no evidence that Del Duca or Tory did anything improper to secure the stations’ approval. In response to the Star’s questions, both asserted that the stations were supported by sound planning rationale and would benefit the public.
“For far too long in this region, we have missed the opportunity to plan and build transit infrastructure before communities have grown. Building after the fact is always more expensive and more disruptive, and it only adds to the gridlock challenge that is choking our neighbourhoods and damaging our quality of life,” said Del Duca in a statement.
Don Peat, the mayor’s spokesperson, wrote in an email: “Metrolinx and city council have voted to move ahead with SmartTrack. It is an investment in the future that will provide much-needed transit for residents.”
The report obtained by the Star is a summary of initial business case analyses of potential new stations considered as part of the regional express rail (RER) program, the provincial government’s $13.5-billion project to dramatically increase GO rail service in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Tory’s SmartTrack plan piggybacks on RER, but city council has agreed to pay the construction and operating costs of the portions associated with the mayor’s plan.
The summary report was prepared by AECOM, an engineering consultant firm hired by Metrolinx.
In March, nine months after the board decision, Metrolinx published the individual business cases for each station on its website. However, those reports did not prioritize the stations or include explicit recommendations about which ones to proceed with. The summary report obtained by the Star did so.
The document shows that AECOM ranked the proposed new stops into three categories: best performing, contingent, and low performing.
The best-performing stations satisfied transit planning goals and should be built in the near term, the summary said.
The contingent stations “create a lower level of overall benefit,” the consultants found, and would “require significant joint effort with the municipalities, landowners and developers” to create conditions for them to be successful.
The low-performing stations “should not be considered further during the next 10 years based on their projected poor performance, lack of fit at the regional or network level” or because the more frequent stops would unduly slow train service, according to the report.
Five stations, including SmartTrack-branded stops at Liberty Village and Gerrard on the Kitchener and Stouffville lines respectively, were in the best-performing category.
Five more, including three SmartTrack-branded stops at Don Yard, Finch East and St. Clair West, were considered contingent.
The board approved all 10 stations in the best-performing and contingent categories.
Seven stations including Lawrence East, which would be on GO’s Stouffville line, and Kirby, on the Barrie line, were categorized as low performing and not worth pursuing for at least the next decade. A detailed rating in the report shows that Kirby ranked last out of seven proposed new stations on the Barrie line. Metrolinx rejected two stations that were ranked above it, but approved Kirby.
The proposed Kirby station is located in an area of Vaughan known as Block 27, which is largely bordered by farmland and natural space and which the city has designated a “new community area” targeted for development. The initial business case found that while there was the potential to work with developers to “maximize transit-oriented development” around the station, the stop wouldn’t attract many new riders.
Because adding a station to the line would increase travel time for “upstream” passengers, any new transit riders from the new stop would be offset by those who would opt to drive instead, leading to 688.1 million kilometres of additional car travel on the region’s roads over the next six decades.
The societal cost of the associated congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic collisions would total $374.4 million, the business case found.
AECOM’s summary of the business case determined that the projected density in the area fell short of Metrolinx standards for express rail service.
The proposed station “does not generate any benefits related to vehicle kilometres travelled, vehicle operating cost savings, decongestion on the road network, safety impacts or environmental impacts,” the summary said.
Lawrence East would replace a stop on the Scarborough RT, which is being decommissioned to build a one-stop extension of the TTC’s Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) subway. The proposed station performed better in AECOM’s ranking than Kirby, but the summary report determined the density in the surrounding area was also too low to justify express rail.
According to the business case, the increased travel times generated by the station would result in a net loss of about 500 daily GO riders. That would result in 181.7 million additional kilometres travelled by cars over the next six decades and associated costs to society of $367.4 million.
Metrolinx declined to answer specific questions the Star put to the agency, including why the summary report wasn’t made public, what role the minister and mayor played in getting the two stations approved, or how the public can have confidence that the agency is spending taxpayers’ money on evidence-based transit decisions given that advice in the summary report wasn’t followed.
In an email, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said both Kirby and Lawrence East were put forward by their respective municipalities and were among 120 potential new stations considered. She said after analysis, both made the short list of 17 sites.
“Metrolinx works with a broad range of stakeholders including municipal planners to ensure that our work across the region aligns with the long-term vision of the communities we serve,” she wrote in an email.
In response to the Star’s questions, Del Duca emailed a statement in which he said the city of Vaughan anticipates the area around Kirby station will accommodate 35,000 new residents over the next 15 years, which he suggested was enough to warrant the new stop. (The business case determined density at the site would be lower.)
He said the analysis of new stations is “a process that is expected to evolve over time” and the new stops at Kirby and Lawrence East will undergo further study before they’re built.
As to what role he played in getting the station in his riding approved, he said that approval of all the new GO stations “was a collaborative process that included my input and the input of our municipal partners.”
Ontario’s electoral map is being redrawn before the 2018 election, and Del Duca plans to run in the new riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge. Kirby station would be in the new adjacent riding of King-Vaughan.
Mayor Tory’s office said Metrolinx studies are not the only information on which the city bases its transit decisions, and the city’s own analysis shows Lawrence East would attract strong ridership.
“SmartTrack stations in Scarborough along with the subway extension and the Eglinton East LRT form a network that helps address local transit and long-distance travel needs in that area,” wrote Peat, Tory’s spokesperson.
The mayor’s office argued that the Metrolinx analysis failed to adequately account for local development potential or the possibility of strong bus connections to the station. Peat also said the Metrolinx study didn’t consider the effect of allowing people to board at Lawrence East using a TTC fare, which is cheaper than current GO prices.
Tory has promised that people will be able to board at SmartTrack stations using a TTC fare, but Metrolinx, which is expected to operate the service, hasn’t committed to any fare levels.
Michael Harris, transportation critic for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, said it’s “clear that there was a political element” to Metrolinx’s approval of Kirby station.
“Here’s another example of the minister ignoring the experts’ advice on this particular station but proceeding (with) it for the ability to increase his odds at winning re-election … Like Liberals do, they put their interest first, using your money,” Harris said.