Numbers Don’t Lie. SSE Literally Worse than Doing Nothing

When the city staff report on the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) came out two weeks ago, headlines focused on how the price tag had risen to the point of exceeding the $3.56 billion dollar funding envelope for the project.  What should have received more attention is the dramatically falling projected ridership numbers, especially when those numbers are put into context: the SSE will carry fewer people than the Scarborough SRT does today. Worse yet, the SSE offers no comparative advantage over doing nothing at all.

Looking at on-going studies conducted by the City of Toronto (2016; 2017), as well as past ones conducted by the TTC (2006) and UofT (2015), a clear picture of our transit options emerges. For the same cost of the SSE ($3.56B), the city could build the Sheppard East LRT ($1.70B), the Eglington East LRT ($1.13B), the Scarborough SRT Retrofit ($0.43B), and still have $300 million leftover.

The SSE builds 1 new stop while closing 5 and therefore nets minus 4 stops to the system. Whereas the combination of the three projects builds 43 new stations and leaves all current SRT stops in place. The only downside is that the SRT will be temporarily out of service for only 8 months while it is renovated, but it will be usable once gain for at least the next three decades. Additionally, studies show that the LRTs provide 1.5 times as much redevelopment and intensification opportunities throughout Scarborough than SSE does.

The future Eglington East LRT (43,400) and the future Sheppard East LRT (35,800), as well as the current Scarborough SRT (40,010), will each serve more people every day than the SSE (31,000) at a fraction of the cost. This is worth repeating: the SSE will carry fewer people than the Scarborough SRT does today. Mayor Tory is currently asking the city’s taxpayers to spend $3.56 billion dollars to serve 9,000 fewer people than what the current system serves. The SSE route would not even be in the top 10 busiest surface routes in operation, a far cry from the necessary ridership for a subway. Toronto is literally better off doing nothing, riding the SRT until the wheels fall off and then using buses afterwards.

It’s time to change course. Let’s build Scarborough the world-class transit it deserves: a network.


Scarborough Subway:

(2017 City of Study Study)

Eglinton East LRT

(2016 City of Toronto Study)

Sheppard East LRT

(2015 UofT Study)

Scarborough SRT Retrofit

(2006 TTC Study)

Cost: Scarborough Subway: $3.56B

Total: $3.56 Billion

Eglinton East LRT: $1.7B

Sheppard LRT: $1.13B1

Scarborough SRT Retrofit: $430M2

Total: $3.26 Billion

New Stops: Scarborough Subway: 1

Total: 1

Eglinton East LRT: 18

Sheppard LRT: 25

Scarborough SRT Retrofit:  0

Total: 43

Typical Weekday Riders: Scarborough Subway: 31,000

Total: 31,000

Eglinton East LRT: 43,400

Sheppard LRT: 35,800

Scarborough SRT Retrofit: 40,0103

Total: 119,210


$1B in 2010 dollars, adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada CPI Calculator

2 $360mil in 2006, adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada CPI Calculator

3 Assumes no ridership change from present

Blog entry written by Austin Zwick, PhD Candidate in Planning