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Metrolinx study finds Tory’s Smart Track could spur auto commuting

Parts of Mayor John Tory's Smart Track plan will slow down transit enough to push a large number of users to drive instead, initial business cases for the regional transit agency Metrolinx has found.

The long-delayed reports undermine the argument for the three transit stations proposed for outside the city core and raise new questions about a plan that has been heavily revised since it helped win Mr. Tory the mayoralty.

The consultant reports show that stations proposed on the GO lines at St. Clair, Lawrence East and Finch East would make the trains less attractive to current users. This would push down net GO ridership over the next 60 years, resulting in more than a billion kilometres of additional driving over the same period. None of these stations – which have an estimated total construction cost of $162.6-million – would attract enough passengers to cover even day-to-day operating costs, the reports conclude.

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The mayor's office did not respond specifically to questions about whether these stations were good transit policy or at odds with his goal of reducing congestion.

"Metrolinx and City Council have voted to move ahead with Smart Track. It is an investment … that will provide much-needed transit for residents," mayoral spokesman Don Peat said in an e-mail.

"City staff have also made it clear that the Smart Track stations in Scarborough along with the subway extension and the Eglinton East LRT form a network that help address local transit and long-distance travel needs in that area."

The other three proposed stations for GO lines within the city – at Liberty Village, Unilever and Gerrard – do much better in the Metrolinx analysis. Liberty Village appears to perform best on paper, attracting about 5,000 daily users by 2031 and preventing about 600-million kilometres of driving over the next 60 years.

The stark difference between the stations that emerged in the analyses could lead to questions at council about the wisdom of proceeding with all six.

"It's almost like if you treat transit like a slogan instead of a network, it doesn't work well," said Councillor Gord Perks. "This is just further evidence that, for the last six years, transit planning has focused on glamour projects instead of an effective network."

A spokeswoman for Metrolinx stressed that the analyses released Thursday were "just one metric" for assessing the projects, and that work would continue. "In every initial business case, emphasis is placed on both a project's benefits and obstacles so those obstacles can be addressed as the project is refined and designed," Anne Marie Aikins said in a statement. "All stations are moving forward to the next stage of our work."

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A potential caveat about the findings is that the analysis was done assuming the current GO fare.

"TTC fare at the new station may increase the ridership (boardings and alightings) at the station; however, the net impact to new revenue may be negative and requires further study," reads the report dedicated to Lawrence East station.

Mr. Tory promised that people would be able to use Smart Track for a TTC fare, something the province has not agreed to. Metrolinx is currently pushing toward some form of fare integration, meaning that it is unclear what the cost to ride any transit in the city may be by the time any of these stations were to be built.

Smart Track was proposed by Mr. Tory during his election campaign. He pitched it as a 22-stop transit service running largely on existing GO rail tracks, taking advantage of provincial plans to electrify these lines and move to more frequent service. The plan has been whittled down repeatedly.

Plans for a heavy rail extension along or under Eglinton were jettisoned in favour of a light rail line on the surface. The number of stations on the GO corridors has shrunk. And the frequency of trains will be what the province decides to put on for its regional express rail plans, with no additional service because of Smart Track.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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