Costs of Scarborough subway extension, Eglinton West LRT far outweigh benefits, Metrolinx study finds

The costs associated with the Scarborough subway extension and the Eglinton West LRT significantly outweigh their benefits, new business cases released by Metrolinx show.

In the case of the Scarborough subway extension, while it would generate $2.8 billion in economic benefits, the business case says, the estimated cost is almost three times that — up to $6 billion. 

According to Metrolinx's guidelines, projects need a ratio of greater or equal to one to be economically viable, but the cost-benefit ratio for the Scarborough subway extension would be 0.66.

Metrolinx president and CEO Phil Verster said data from the business cases will be used to ensure Metrolinx make decisions that maximize benefits and control costs throughout the full course of a project. 

"Our approach in preparing business cases is to err on the side of caution, so this business case represents a purposefully modest baseline we will aim to improve over time," Verster wrote in an email to CBC News.

Metrolinx

The Scarborough subway extension, a continuation of the existing TTC Bloor-Danforth Line 2 from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Avenue East and McCowan Road, has long been a controversial project.

Although it's had a great deal of support in Scarborough itself and has been backed by the province, critics have long argued it's far too costly and not the best use of tax dollars.  

Toronto city council under then-mayor Rob Ford voted to cancel a much less expensive LRT project to replace the aging Scarborough RT in 2013 and build the three-stop subway extension instead. Under Mayor John Tory, council voted to reduce the number of stops to one. 

But the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford pushed for a return to the three-stop plan and council voted to move in that direction last year.

The project includes three stations at Lawrence and McCowan, Scarborough Centre (McCowan north of Ellesmere Road), and Sheppard and McCowan. It also includes larger bus terminals at Sheppard and McCowan and at Scarborough Centre, with the latter terminal serving multiple carriers — TTC, GO, and Durham Region Transit. 

Despite these negative findings, the Metrolinx report recommends advancing design and procurement of the extension.

The Eglinton Crosstown West extension corridor connects the Eglinton Crosstown's Mount Dennis terminal with Pearson International Airport via Mississauga Transitway's Renforth Station. 

According to the business case, extending Toronto's Eglinton Crosstown LRT to the Mississauga Transitway and Pearson will bring the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area closer to "completing its expansive, frequent rapid transit network that is necessary to meet, shift and help shape more sustainable travel demand in the future." 

Don Peat, executive director of communications and strategic issues management for Mayor John Tory, said it's clear the public wants more transit now and the government is focused on making sure that's delivered to residents as soon as possible. 

"The provincial government's almost $30 billion transit expansion in Toronto — which includes the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Subway Extension, and Eglinton West LRT — is coupled with the City of Toronto's investment of more than $6 billion into our existing transit system for new subways, new subway signal systems, new buses, new streetcars, and station upgrades," he told CBC News in an email. 

Metrolinx

Benefits do not balance out the capital

The economic evaluation indicates that the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension investment would generate travel time savings for existing and new transit riders, and reduce automobile usage along the corridor.

But the business case says "these benefits do not balance out the capital, operating and maintenance costs associated with the investment, resulting in a negative net present value and benefit-cost ratio that is positive but less than 1.0 for all of the options."

It said this indicates that there is an economic benefit associated with the implementation of the Eglinton Crosstown West extension, but the benefits do not outweigh the cost.

Seemingly in spite of the findings in both business cases, Verster said he's delighted that Metrolinx is taking another important step forward to get transit built in Toronto. 

"We know that higher-order transit like Eglinton West and Scarborough Subway extensions is transformative in so many ways, providing long-lasting benefits that extend well beyond the daily commute," Verster said.

"The business cases make it clear that these projects will provide significant relief to the busy commutes we all experience each day by expanding transit capacity and cutting travel times," he said. 

"They will ease congestion on roadways, and connect to other major transit systems throughout the network at a number of important transfer points—that is critical to ensuring people get to where they need to go."

The Metrolinx president added that these important projects will also support the creation of transit-oriented communities where people can live, work and play, contributing significantly to the housing supply in the region. 

Scarborough subway not a worthwhile project, Matlow says

But a long-time critic of the Scarborough subway extension, Coun. Josh Matlow, doesn't share Verster's enthusiasm. He said Metrolinx is admitting it's not a worthwhile project.

"It's clear that the seven stop LRT, which would cost far less and provide so much more service and could be built quicker should be constructed now," Matlow said. 

"In an area as large as Scarborough with hundreds of thousands of people, to spend over $6 billion for three stops is just absurd," Matlow told CBC Toronto.

Paul Borkwood/CBC News

Matlow said the report also conclusively dispels the long-standing myth that the Scarborough extension will generate 14,000 riders per hour during the morning rush — just on the verge of justifying a subway.

"This false figure was used by Scarborough subway proponents to win a crucial city council vote in 2013, said the councillor for Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul's.

"The report estimates ridership between Scarborough Town Centre and Kennedy station at 12,300 passengers during the morning peak period, which is well within the capacity of an LRT — 16,000 passengers per hour capacity," he added.

"Scarborough residents are finally being told the truth — that an LRT transit network will serve more people for far less money — and should be built before the SRT falls apart."