New ridership projections unveiled this week  for the Scarborough subway extension are about half of previous estimates, though both Mayor John Tory and Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat continue to strongly support the plan.

The one-stop subway shown alongside Eglinton East LRT and SmartTrack / GO RER, iThe one-stop subway shown alongside Eglinton East LRT and SmartTrack / GO RER, image courtesy of City of Toronto

Estimates produced in July 2013 that were used to justify scrapping the LRT in favour of a subway showed a peak load of 14,000 passengers on the line, but modelled a subway line with three or four stops instead of the single Scarborough town centre stop now envisaged. Those projections also did not include the impact of potential SmartTrack / GO RER improvements on the Stouffville Line. 

SmartTrack mapSmartTrack's "Option C" whose effects on the Scarborough subway have now been modelled source: Metrolinx

As outlined in earlier versions of the transit master plan, there will also now be an extension to the Eglinton LRT. The LRT largely follows the recommendations of the 2009 Transit City plan, albeit with a new terminus at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus. Meanwhile, a further rapid transit line running east on Sheppard is also in Metrolinx's plans, though this project would not be started until the Finch LRT has been completed.

Now, the new estimates of subway usage predict no more than 7,300 passengers an hour during peak time by 2031, while only 4,500 new riders are predicted to switch to public transit. For comparison, the present peak capacity of the Yonge subway line is almost four times higher, and is set to rise further once new signalling is installed.

Mayor Tory told a press conference on Wednesday, "the numbers we’re looking at today make this a project that we should do and we must do, and I continue to be very committed to it," adding that other terminal subway stops have similar riderships. When asked on Twitter whether given the ridership projections it would still be good transit planning to build the $2bn subway extension, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat did not answer directly, writing "[t]he new Scarborough station will have the 3rd highest boardings on the Bloor line."

Projected ridership numbers on line 2 in 2031, image courtesy of Jennifer KeesmaProjected ridership numbers on line 2 in 2031, image courtesy of Jennifer Keesmaat, via Twitter

At least one Scarborough councillor, Ward 43's Paul Ainslie, reportedly said on seeing the figures in the public consultation that they were, "a huge concern for me... we might have to have a conversation at city hall about, you know, what we’re doing with our transit dollars." However, fellow councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38), has consistently championed the subway and said, "Scarborough residents need the same access to a subway system that everybody else already has."

Of course, if the projected SmartTrack improvements do not deliver the increased train frequency that have been modelled—or if the price of using the service proves to be higher than the TTC-level fares that are assumed—it would improve the low ridership projections. Nonetheless, this would probably not return ridership them to the initially-projected levels.

Meanwhile, residents in the path of the currently-favoured McCowan route for the subway have been sent letters by the TTC telling them that in the event the route is approved their properties could be expropriated. Around eight homes and two businesses would be directly affected, and at least two residents have vowed to fight the move.

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As revealed at this week's transit meetings, a McCowan alignment is now also more definitively favoured for the line. The route has been chosen over three other alignments, including following the route of the existing SRT. The McCowan alignment is preferred due to its comparatively limited disruptions, and for the fact the the SRT could remain operational during construction.

Planners suggest that the McCowan alignment for the subway would be preferable

The results of the public consultation on the current plans will be integrated into a report to the Executive Committee in July. More information on future public consultation meetings about transit plans and on how to provide feedback is available at www.toronto.ca/TransitTO. There is also a very active discussion thread on our Forums about Scarborough transit—now in its 11th year—with 511 pages of debate so far, so jump right in!