The Toronto Transit Commission currently operates the largest public transit system in Canada. For the time being it is the most comprehensive rapid transit system in the country. The Toronto system saw the majority of its growth in the late seventies through the early nineties(Transit Toronto 2008). The Subway is run by the Toronto Transit Commission and is one of Canada’s oldest rapid transit systems. The first train left the platform in 1954 when the Young Line opened along a former streetcar route that ran south down Younge Street from Eglinton Avenue to Front Street before making a turn into a station that was then called Bay Street but later renamed Union due to its proximity to the city’s main railway terminus Union Station.
The TTC system has seen a number of expansions throughout its history, with the bulk of additions in both track kilometers and stations occurring in the 1963-1973 period (Transit Toronto 2008). The data compiled by Kenworthy and Laube(1999) traces ridership on the TTC system from just before this period, when the network was in its infancy to the early 1990s along with other municipal data for the metro area.
In the ten years between 1961 and 1971 passenger boardings per person on the TTC dropped from 153.9 boardings per person to 132.3 per person. However per person boardings made a significant increase in the following decade, jumping back up to 291.7 for the 1981 interval and rising further to 350 in 1991. There are a number of factors that could explain both the decreases and the increases in ridership levels that are external to the workings of the transit system itself. One explanation for the drop in public transportation use during this time period is the concurrent increase in levels of personal vehicle ownership as illustrated in figure 1.
Another major factor is that the increase in overall population was primarily in the suburban areas, which tend to be poorly by public transit, while the population in the central in municipal area, which is better served by transit saw only slight increases proportionally. While not immediately apparent by looking at figure 2, one can infer that this was the case as the overall metropolitan population increased while the population of the central municipality of Toronto saw only modest gains. The distribution of population density in figure 3 also speaks to this pattern. Population density in the inner area was at its highest in the earlier part of the reporting period before dropping in the eighties and posting a small gain in 1991. Density in the outer areas made a slow progression upwards, but is still quite low in absolute terms. Density in the central business district (CBD) dropped in the intervening years before making a drastic comeback in 1991 as the trend of population movement back into urban core areas began.
Employment patterns in figure 4 also give what could be considered the clearest picture of what happened to public transit use. While the number of jobs in the CBD, central area, and inner city remained relatively constant and proportional to each other, the number of jobs in the outer areas went from being the second lowest to the highest overall in the span of the four reporting periods. As the majority of the outer area is poorly served by public transit, workers had little choice but to switch to personal vehicular transportation in order to get to work.
In the years since the Kenworthy and Laube’s study, the Toronto Transit Commission, the city, and the province have come under fire for turning the Toronto transit system into a “Tragic example of political bumbling”(Dunbar. 1992 p A16). Until the mid nineties the TTC received subsidies from both the city and from the provincial government for its operations. However in 1995 when the Harris Conservatives came into power they removed provincial support for the TTC, reversed the construction that had been started on the Eglinton line, and the transit operator was forced to significantly cut back on operations in 1996 order to stay afloat. Since this time the city has had to funnel a significant amount of money into the system in order to keep it afloat and it has been in financial difficulties ever since. It should be noted that the TTC is the largest transit operator in North America that doesn’t receive stable provincial/state funding. The TTC and the city have also come under fire for the decision to build “a subway to nowhere.” On November 22nd 2002 the Sheppard Younge line opened as the first addition to the TTC subway network since 1980. The billion dollar line has long been held up as an example of bad planning and why subways are not cost effective. Projections had called for the line to service 48,000 in daily rider ship, but it opened with only 34,700 in its first year and is only now approaching 43,260. Of course this isn’t entirely the fault of the transit planners who designed the line. If you decide to build an incomplete system, you can’t really blame the transit planners when it doesn’t work properly. The original plan was for the line to run out to Scarborough but it was cut down to five stations that essentially went to nowhere as is illustrated in Figure 5.
This may change however as over 2,500 condo units have been built along the corridor since the line was opened and the the photo taken. Concord Park Place, one of the projects currently under construction and located on the Canadian Tire warehouse site (seen in the middle of figure 5), is expected to eventually hold 10,000 residents (Tossell, 2007). The Sheppard line is a perfect example of why it is important to make sure that the zoning is in place along the route ahead of time, as too little of the neighbourhood was zoned for the density needed to support a subway line. Without a clear plan in place the Ontario Municipal Board has allowed double the development that was intended along the Sheppard Ave corridor, but at the same time the line also faces the issue of not enough development within the catchment area. Along the subway line you have massive condo towers, but a block north it is all single family detached. In addition to this, due to the problems created by over development along a street that was not widened sufficiently enough to handle the increase in car traffic, but is also too wide to be pleasant pedestrian environment. The the local neighbourhood associations have had enough and are fighting to prevent any further intensification from happening.
When the decision was made to fill in the Eglinton line and continue construction on the Sheppard line most people decried it as Mayor Mel Lastman’s decision to serve the interests of the North York area that he came from, and labelled it a billion dollar boondoggle. However, with the recent announcement of the Transit City projects which will extend the Sheppard line either as an above ground LRT or as a subway option, one begins to wonder if the mayor and the TTC knew what they were doing all along. Back in 2000 the Senior General Manager of the TTC, Rick Ducharme stated “We all know we built half a subway and sanity will prevail and we will go there [to Scarborough], It won’t be paid for by the city, though.” The Transit City announcements bring truth to these statements. “You start tying in the elements, closing loops, and you have a real integrated system,” says Mr. Ducharme. “Toronto is about 20 years behind [New York and London]. All the decisions and the bean counting that’s been going on the last 10 years, while it’s helped taxes and all that, it hasn’t done anything for infrastructure. If we don’t make plans today, we’re not going to be here in the future,” he says.
If the Transit City plans go ahead, then the Toronto Transit Commission may not lose its place at the top for Canadian transit systems, however in the past there have been a number of plans and projects put forward, approved, and ultimately buried. Hopefully the Transit City plan won’t be one of them.
Dunbar, John, (January 9th 1992) Tragic Example of Political Bumbling, [MET Edition]. Toronto Star, p. A.16. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies database. (Document ID: 453196861).
Kenworthy, Jeffery R., and Felix B. Laube. (1999) An International Sourcebook of Automobile Dependence in Cities, 1960-1990. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.
Moloney, Paul, (2006, November 28). Tower plan alarms critics; City intensifying transit corridor, but some residents near Sheppard line disagree :[MET Edition]. Toronto Star,p. B1. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies database. (Document ID: 1169277811).
Raymaker, Derek, (27 July). Political theatre obscures Sheppard Line’s value. The Globe and Mail,G.7. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies database. (Document ID: 1310855691).
Tossell, Ivor, (2007, November 24). Still a subway to nowhere?; Construction booms, but opinions remain sharply divided as the often-derided Sheppard line turns 5 :[ONT Edition]. Toronto Star,p. CO1. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from Canadian Newsstand Major Dailies database. (Document ID: 1387661391).
Transit Toronto. (2008). Some call it the ‘subway to nowhere.’ Mel Lastman knows better. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://transit.toronto.on.ca/archives/data/200008121331.shtml
Transit Toronto. (2008). A Very, Very Brief History of Transit in Toronto, Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://transit.toronto.on.ca/spare/0012.shtml
Transit City Projects. City of Toronto (2008). Proposed Sheppard Avenue East Light Rail Transit (LRT) Class Environmental Assessment Study . Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://www.toronto.ca/involved/projects/sheppard_east_lrt/index.htm