Wednesday 17 August 2011

Pasternak Foolishly Supports Ford's Sheppard Folly

Most sensible people can agree that in the face of overwhelming evidence, it’s OK- perhaps even admirable- to change your mind. When the critics are proved right and you’re forced to alter your plans or argument, it’s time to look at the value of the original idea rather than doubling down and trying to plow through.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the Sheppard subway extension is not the right idea. Current TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster opposes the idea, transit expert and former TTC Chief General Manager David Gunn has called it ‘a joke’ and even Ford ally and current TTC Chair Karen Stintz has expressed reservations about the plan and the idea for Webster’s ouster.

The Toronto Environmental Alliance- not a pro-Ford source mind you- provides this handy map to quantify the impact of cancelling Transit City in favour of the underground Eglinton LRT and Sheppard subway extension:

Not only would Transit City serve more people overall (subways don’t serve ten times as many people as Ford claims), it would also connect more communities. Importantly, this would also mean the property values of these neighbourhoods  and overall business activity would increase, thus improving the city’s tax base. Transit City may not have been perfect, but it would serve more people for a better value.

In contrast, Sheppard lacks the density to support a subway extension. According to the Pembina Institute, subways require a density of 115-140 people per hectare to make them economically feasible. Sheppard currently has 68, slightly more than half of the minimum needed (LRTs require a density of 70 per hectare). Granted, this is expected to grow to 102 by 2031, but that’s still not meeting the requirement 20 years from now. It would mean 20 years of massive ongoing subsidies to a subway line that would bleed money from the rest of the system. Ridership on Sheppard is projected by Gunn as being 5,000 riders per hour and he claims 20,000 are needed as a starting base (other numbers suggest 10,000). Those missing 15,000 fares per hour would have to be subsidized by poorer service and overcrowding elsewhere.

Team Ford is a big fan of the free hand of the market giving the thumbs up or down to the value of ideas and products. So far, the Sheppard line has been a big thumbs-down. Ford went cap-in-hand to see Premier Dalton McGuinty today to ask for $650M allocated for the Eglinton LRT (a reserve for cost overruns) to be shifted to Sheppard. Of course, this is partially due to difficulties in attracting private partners for Sheppard. The idea here is to indicate to other partners such as the Federal government and private industry that the start-up capital is there to make it happen. After all, no one wants to take the first risk, particularly if they think it’s a bad idea and don’t have a safety net. So far, the market has responded, and it’s a deafening no to the Sheppard extension.

But that hasn’t stopped Team Ford. The Sheppard extension- which has had no public consultation (in contrast to campaign rhetoric)  and no council vote yet (despite what seemed to be a promise to Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne)- remains a priority. It is a foolish and wrong-headed priority, support for which normally wishy-washy uber-mushy councillor Josh Matlow has called ‘intellectually dishonest’

While it’s unsurprising that this hasn’t stopped Rob and Doug, a tweet from James Pasternak today stood out for its nonsense:

Pasternak is seen as a thoughtful conservative, as seen in his critique of the city’s buyout packages. But this statement is pathetic politicking and pandering of the first degree.

Pasternak prioritizes his own ward, which is to be expected and can be understood to an extent. But to do so in a way that completely ignores the volume of the distressed downtown Yonge-University-Spadina line (720,000 daily weekday passengers) and claims that the Sheppard Line, (47,000 daily weekday passengers) being connected is somehow more vital? That’s not thoughtful at all.

In fact, it’s stupid. It's exactly this kind of talk from reasonable councillors that shouldn't be tolerated and should be called out. There’s all sorts of other more vital priorities that could be done in more cost-effective ways. Additionally, as August Murphy-King points out, Transit City would have taken care of the Downsview to Yonge St. link too.

Pasternak won his ward with only 19% of the vote, largely on the name recognition of being a local school trustee. He could carve out a respectable role as a thoughtful and reasonable conservative on council, willing to consider and discuss the merits of various plans based on real numbers and expert advice. But in this moment, Pasternak has chosen the Fordian route.  His thought and consideration here- like Ford’s idea for the Sheppard extension- is dense.


  1. So, bottom line: he wants taxpayers all over the city to subsidize a wildly expensive and uneconomical project that will bleed money left and right and serve only a handful of people in his ward. Fiscal probity be damned.

    Funny, isn't that the argument Fordites make when they want to take the machete to programs that improve the quality of life downtown?

  2. @Orwell Absolutely. It's another fine example of what Ivor Tossell termed Fordian 'hypocracy'.

    Pasternak really should know better. He was on the audit committee when he was a trustee on the TDSB, so he should be able to look at the numbers objectively. He's also a genuinely smart guy with three university degrees and has taught continuing education courses at Western and U of T.

    But that just makes the hypocrisy all the worse.