Why is Mayor John Tory hiding the costs of his transit projects?


Last month, Jennifer Pagliaro of the Toronto Star reported that the revised costs of the Scarborough Subway Extension will be known by City Planning before the next municipal election. Toronto will not release the updated estimate until much later. They say there is simply no opportunity to do so because council will not resume from its summer break until after the election. Critics, however, have pointed out that council may resume from recess if a meeting is called. Some councillors and former officials have noted that Mayor John Tory does not want the numbers released ahead of the municipal election because it may hurt his campaign for re-election.

Next week, Metrolinx will provide an update to its board about proposed new stations for the province’s GO Regional Express Rail plan. Metrolinx has already published an update of its new-station evaluation on their website. Six of the 12 new stations identified in Metrolinx’s update are also stations in Mr. Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan. The Mayor summarized the findings in a tweet on Monday: “The Metrolinx analysis found the overall benefits of SmartTrack substantially outweigh the cost of building the stations. @Metrolinx estimates these stations will generate $4.58 billion in economic & social benefits – billions more than the $1.19 billion needed to build stations.”

Metrolinx deserves credit for publishing its findings, however, the way the figures are presented is misleading. Given his tweet, Mr. Tory did not seem to mind.

First, the numbers Metrolinx released are not at the station level. A sum of the benefits and construction costs were presented for all six stations. If a new station has no value for money, it’s covered up by one that does. We’re told the East Harbour station, championed by First Gulf, will be the catalyst for a second financial district. Metrolinx likely used First Gulf’s employment estimates to project the ridership those jobs might create. Mr. Tory himself may have insisted. Recall, during the 2014 municipal election, Mr. Tory championed development of those First Gulf-owned lands.

Next, the costs presented are not life-cycle costs. Costs for operations, maintenance, staffing and serving the station with trains were not published.  The only cost Metrolinx provided was the cost to construct the new stations. Lastly, the monetized benefits ($4.58-billion) are presented for a 60-year period, the presumed life-cycle of the project. It is misleading to allocate the benefits from a project life-cycle to a one-time construction cost of a station, especially if the cost does not include serving the new station with trains.

Understanding life-cycle costs is not a transit-specific concept. Every business (and every family) considers the whole cost when budgeting. It’s not enough for a family to buy a dining table and dishes and expect to eat for the rest of their lives: They know that they’ll have to keep buying food that will be consumed at the table.

For other projects, Metrolinx has compared the life-cycle benefits with the life-cycle costs to understand value for money. This is consistent with international best practice.

Metrolinx must release the costs to operate and serve each of the new stations and the life-cycle benefits and life-cycle costs must be released for each station individually. Governments do not have unlimited funds. Projects that are built, must have good value for money, especially when considering the multibillion-dollar repair backlog for schools, subway-signalling systems, sewers and streets. Many things in our city need fixing. Then there is the Relief Line – a subway – which remains unfunded despite being deemed the No. 1 transit priority by generations of transit executives, planners and politicians, past and present.  

Recently, Mr. Tory has become vocal about his support for the the Relief Line. But he still equates its importance with a one-stop subway extension in Scarborough, an ever-morphing SmartTrack and even a tunneled Eglinton West light-rail proposal. All three of these were backed or conceived by Mr. Tory. The fact that he can not talk about the Relief Line without championing his pet projects is telling.

In a city and region starved for transit, it may seem like any new transit is justified. There may be merit in some, or many of Mr. Tory’s transit ideas. But the public deserves to know the details. If politicians sidestep the evidence and make uninformed or special-interest-driven decisions, the broader public pays the price.

We need to know if our elected officials truly have our interests in mind. Metrolinx and City Planning must publish the full costs of all transit plans before this year’s elections, even if people in positions of power prefer otherwise.

Overt political influence over the civil service is unhealthy for democracy. Metrolinx and City Planning must be the apolitical bodies the public expects them to be.


On Wednesday, Canada Lost Two Sons

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Photo from his school's yearbook (CBC).

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Photo from his school’s yearbook (CBC).







This week, thousands of Canadians lined the Highway of Heros in honour of Nathan Cirillo, Canada’s son, and victim of Wednesday’s shooting. With attention focused on Nathan’s life and sacrifice, we might forget that Canada lost a second son this week – Michael Zahef-Bibeau.

Michael, the shooter, was a child of our own.

As a victim of addiction and isolation, Michael experienced a long, slow mental breakdown. He became reliant on drugs and turned to extremist thoughts. In his greatest time of need he lacked support from his family, friends, community, and government. As a last resort, Michael turned to violence.

Like Michael, there are hundreds of people in Canada that are emotionally distressed and mentally cornered. We may be tempted to pass extraordinary measures to ‘secure’ ourselves from future events like this, but we should be wary. If history can provide any insight, it is that ‘safeguards’ such as these never achieve lasting peace. They placate with a false, temporary sense of security.

Instead, let us reach out to our marginalized and isolated. Let us remind them that they are loved, and let’s give them the tools they need to succeed.

At the end of the day, we Canadians judge ourselves in two ways:

  1. How we treat our marginalized and our voiceless minorities
  2. How we overcome our struggles

Let’s show ourselves and the world that positivity and humanity can, and will  prevail.


Fusing the TTC and GO into One System

Fantasy Map: Toronto’s transit network assuming the electrification of GO corridors and better integration between GO and the TTC.

Fantasy Map: Toronto’s transit network assuming the electrification of GO corridors and better integration between GO and the TTC.

Imagine a network of speedy electric trains servicing every neighbourhood in the Golden Horseshoe.

Traveling from Port Credit to the Danforth? Simple.
Venturing from Unionville to Roncesvalles? Easy.

What if I told you that this dreamy network is affordable to build because it harnesses the city’s existing rail infrastructure?
Amazing, eh?

The Vision
Jonathan English, of the blog Transit Futures, is trying to promote this vision with a revolutionary concept called CityRail, which consists of two parts. First, it calls for the electrification of GO’s existing rail lines. Currently, GO relies on large diesel engines to tug a long line of cars, one direction, every hour. An electrified network with upgraded signaling would allow for smaller, self-propelled trains to navigate the system- providing for a more predictable and frequent service. Second, it calls for more integration between the new routes and existing transit services, allowing passengers to travel freely and seamlessly across the region. Yes, this vision will require time and capital, but it’s a better investment of our current resources, then many of the initiatives we are wasting them on now.

Using English’s initiative as a point of departure, I created a fantasy map of how Toronto’s rapid transit system could look. For the purpose of the map, I’ve called the prospective system “Metrorail,” partially to encourage the co-operation between Metrolinx and CityRail, but mostly to avoid any copyright infringements from either side.

The Map
The Metrorail System Map above displays subways, LRTs, and the surface rail lines suggested by CityRail. The look and feel incorporates an appropriate mix of the New York City subway’s Helvetica typeface with the London Underground’s route and station symbology to create a uniquely Torontonian map. Though I am a fan of the TTC’s custom typeface, I decided not to use it in this endeavor. It is better reserved for station names on subway platforms, not for wayfinding signage or route maps. Too much of an iconic font can be a bad thing; I’m sure you’ll agree with me when you see the TTC’s newly designed system map.

It is common practice for transit companies to take liberties in preserving scale and proportion in visual representations of their networks. To avoid a very large and mostly bare portrayal, the Metrorail System Map does the same, to achieve a balanced effect. By contrast, Toronto’s present subway map stretches horizontally and compresses vertically, overly distorting the proportions of the city. Sydney’s rail system-which also happens to be electric-does a much better job at presenting its sprawling transit network. Their Newcastle and Central Coast line stretches 150km, connecting Newcastle to Sydney’s Central Station. This is not unlike the western leg of Line 8 on the Metrorail System Map that connects Kitchener to Union Station, a distance of about 100km.

I deviated slightly from CityRail’s plans. I named stations after districts rather than streets, in part to foster a sense of neighbourhood identity as well as ownership of the transit service. I extended Line 7 to include Galt (Cambridge) and Uxbridge, and also extended Line 6 through the Niagara Peninsula to Buffalo Center… yes, Center. Establishing a reliable transit service between Buffalo and Toronto would mean Buffalo can play a bigger role in the Golden Horseshoe’s Economy.

Given the plenitude of proposals, I found it difficult to decide which additional transit expansion ideas should transfer onto the map. The most controversial line I included is the extension of Line 2 (the Bloor-Danforth subway) through Scarborough. Secondly, I expanded Line 1 from Finch Station to Richmond Hill Centre, a priority of the Ontario government. Finally, I made the assumption that Toronto’s Island Airport will remain, and expand, justifying a stop on the Queens Quay LRT line. Would you like to be able to walk to the airport and catch a flight to the west coast?

By making this map I hope to stimulate conversation about a more practical, more holistic, and more cost-effective regional transit system.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to join the conversation! Here’s an ice breaker: What’s your biggest pain point in getting around your city? Enter your comments below.


York University’s failed attempt at accessible design

Yesterday, my partner and I found ourselves at York University, waiting for a connecting bus during our return trip to Guelph . Since neither one of us attend York, we decided to explore the campus. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed twice on this journey. The first time, by York Lanes – what Ontario university has an entire mall on campus? The second thing that captured our interest was William McElcheran’s sculpture, Encounter, located in the courtyard next to the Student Centre. Encounter shows a very uncomfortable, and quite satirical interaction between two businessmen. The men seem to be narrowly avoiding collision as they approach each other. Additionally, they awkwardly acknowledge each others’ presence with a half-hearted wave. The animated sculpture is placed in a tree-covered enclave and distanced from the surrounding walkways, exaggerating the closeness and thus uncomfortableness of the men’s interaction. I’ll leave further observations to my fellow blogger at Performing Things.

Anyway, this post isn’t about pleasantries. This post is about York’s failed attempt at accessible design. York already has a rotten reputation among the city’s academic community, but what I saw yesterday was simply appalling. Here is the proof.


This accessible table was found in the common area, next to the theatre and serviced by a single Starbucks outlet. This was not the only accessible table of its kind- there were many more around campus too. You’ll notice that this table can only be used by those who wheel their own chairs around. The other chairs in this space are fixed to other tables, meaning if the non-wheelchaired want to sit with their wheelchaired friends, the non-wheelchaired couldn’t simply drag over a chair. No wonder these tables aren’t being used. The choice and application of accessible furniture at the university is a quintessentially York-style mistake to make.The wheelchaired have been battling social stigma all along, and by lack of thought, York is perpetuating the problem. Instead, York has two options. They could remove one or two of the chairs from a couple of the fully-chaired tables. Or, they could remove all the fixed-seating and allow all the students to remove the chairs between tables as they please. Either option would encourage social interaction and integration- providing for truly accessible design.

I’m sorry to say that I’m not entirely surprised by York’s accessible design standards. It is a university plagued by thoughtless architecture and defined by a bamboozled administration. York has failed its students, faculty and staff living with physical disabilities. Further, this mistake illustrates York University’s disconnectedness from the needs of its diverse student body. I plead to the students of York to demand more from your institution, otherwise, York will stomp on… business as usual…


Diversity our Strength

Why have I decided to blog about Toronto? Well, Toronto is the most exciting city in the world right now. Okay, I may have a slight bias- I was born and raised here. But seriously, Toronto’s social and ethnic diversity is unmatched the world over- I think that is something worth celebrating. Take a look at the table below; it shows the ethnic identities claimed by the residents of Toronto. The data was compiled by Statistics Canada in the 2006 census.


Ethnic Identity

Share of Pop.


Ethnic Identity

Share of Pop.

















Sri Lankan


















British Isles (general)


















































In addition to this table, there are dozens of ethnic groups with significant communities, yet they represent less than 1% of Toronto’s population. This list includes Afghans, Arabs, Barbadians, Bengalis, Brazilians, Bulgarians, Colombians, Croats, Ecuadorians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Grenadians, Haitians, Macedonians, Mexicans, Romanians, Salvadorans, Serbs, Somalis, Tibetans, Trinidadians, Vincentians and Venezuelans. The data testifies to Toronto’s true diversity.

As amazing as these findings are, I wasn’t entirely surprised. Statistics Canada probably would have found their results to be similar if they surveyed my high school. This is the Toronto that I grew up with. A Toronto whose identity is intertwined with multiculturalism and diversity.

I’ve largely used ethnicity to prove the point of the city’s diversity simply because it’s the easiest to perceive. I must point out that, peoples of all ages, languages, religions genders and orientations are welcome here. Toronto has the largest Pride and Caribana (Caribbean Carnival) celebration in North America. The city also has some of the finest mosques, hindu and buddhist temples, synagogues and churches in the country. As a result of not being dominated by a single ethnic or social group- the Toronto experience is a shared experience where everyone is an equal player- where cultural differences are not just respected, but also celebrated. Still don’t believe me? Check this out…

Toronto’s social and ethnic diversity leaves its impressions on every aspect of city life- so much so that it has become enshrined in the city’s motto, ‘Diversity our Strength’. As Toronto grows, diversity is playing a defining role in transforming the city’s identity and its built environment. I will use this blog as a journey through Toronto’s social and built environments, highlighting areas where we live up to our virtues of diversity and equality, and underscoring areas where we must improve. Toronto may be the most socially and ethnically diverse city on the planet, but we’re not perfect- there is room to do better.

Feel free to join the conversations, and visit again soon!