The sorry state of Toronto's public transportation
Public transportation in Toronto comprises a subway and ferry system, paratransit, commuter rail, streetcars, buses, and an airport rail link. While residents and visitors are offered diverse modes of transportation, Toronto’s network is plagued with problems such as practicality, affordability, and coverage.
The first bus routes linked St. Lawrence Market and Yorkville, and the public transit network began to expand outwards. As a result of this, transport links are mainly concentrated in the city centre and around wealthy neighbourhoods. This is especially true for the subway system, which comprises Line 2 (Bloor – Danforth), Line 1 (Yonge – University), and Lines 3 and 4.
There are parts of the city that are not covered, and commuters rely on bus services. Given the fact that Toronto is a fast growing city, this results in subway and bus overcrowding, with many buses being jam-packed. Service delays and long commute times also show that the transport system is in a sorry state. To top this, the service is expensive, unreliable, and plagued by structural issues.
Low-Income Immigrants in Underserved Areas
Population growth is mostly attributed to immigration, with immigrants mainly coming from Sri Lanka, Philippines, Pakistan, China, and India. About 25 percent of immigrants who came to Canada chose to settle in Toronto between 2001 and 2006. The city’s inner suburbs are mainly inhabited by low-income workers, many of whom are immigrants. They rely on public transport and punctual services to go to work. More immigrants (36 percent) rely on public transportation than non-immigrants (21 percent). The problem is that many low-income workers live in underserved areas which are known as transit deserts. Many studies confirm the fact that visible minorities and low-income immigrants live in neighbourhoods that are away from subway lines. This affects their employment prospects, and many underserved areas are also plagued with problems such as poverty and high crime rates.
Reforming the Public Transportation System
For many, underinvestment is the main culprit for the lack of coverage and sorry state of public transportation in Toronto. Underinvestment can be explained by the fact that transportation is a public service that competes with healthcare and other services for funding. A major problem is the fact that public transit is under-subsidized. The current per rider subsidy is 79 cents, down from 93 cents in 2010, which is low compared to subsidies for other networks in major cities in Canada and the U.S.
Investing in network expansion is essential in order to keep up with population growth. This includes investment in design, planning, and construction of subway lines. The transportation strategy should also focus on immigrant populations and their needs. It is also important to study the factors that contribute to population growth and concentration in different areas, including employment prospects, income, and preference for urban living. Millennials, for example, show preference for urban areas and use public transit to help contribute to environmental protection, explore new places, and meet with others.
It is important to invest in the expansion of the public transit system and improved quality of services. Reducing overcrowding and wait times is essential and can be achieved by subway expansion and the addition of more buses. Ensuring a reliable and predictable service is also a way to improve customer service and make commuting more enjoyable.
The new subway line is known as Line 5 Eglinton and is currently under construction. It is owned by Metrolinx and will include a total of 25 stops, with future extensions to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus and the Toronto Pearson International Airport. For many, the project is killing small businesses along the construction line and is delayed and over budget.
The contract for the design and construction of the line was concluded with Crosslinx Transit Solutions, including building stations and tunnels. The consortium consists of businesses such as ABC Infrastructure Canada, Aecon, SNC-Lavalin, Bank of Nova Scotia, and IBI Group.
The new line has been called the most expensive infrastructure project in the country, and the main reason for this is the fact that the line will mainly run underground. The decision to move stops underground involves building expensive stations and tunnels instead of expanding light rail which is a cheaper option. The original plan was to build a line that has just one tunnel between Laird Drive and Keele Street, and the project was valued at $2.2 billion. Moving stops underground increased the cost to $8.2 billion. There are many examples of light rail that feature a combination of lines on the surface and underground sections, including subway lines in Edmonton, Seattle, San Diego, and San Francisco. Such lines, however, have underground sections in hilly and busy, high-density areas and run on the surface in other sections. What is more, estimates show that extending the line to the Pearson Airport will cost about $3 billion, and construction works will be completed with delay if the line runs underground.
Line 5 Eglinton was scheduled to open in 2020 but this is unlikely to happen. Bombardier is already late in delivering the vehicles that are ordered for Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown. The vehicles for the two lines are expected to be delivered by summer 2021 and according to Anne Marie Aikins, spokeswoman for Metrolinx, delays are due to manufacturing and quality problems. In 2016, the company was already late by almost 2 years on the construction of vehicles that are subject to testing. The vehicles were expected to be delivered in 2015, and it is only now that most streetcars have finally been delivered. All 204 vehicles are expected to be in service by the end of 2019. Delays, however, resulted in waste of financial resources, having to run old streetcars that are expensive to maintain and repair. The new vehicles are now in service on St. Clair Avenue, Queens Quay, King Street, and Spadina Avenue, and buses are out to service other stops along the route. The other streetcars will be running on Carlton Street, Kingston Road, Bathurst Street, and Dundas Street.
Construction Hurts Small Businesses
Small businesses along the new line already lost customers due to construction works and road shutdowns. Businesses operating between Allen Road and Dufferin Street and between Keele and Bathurst Street are the ones that were hard hit. The construction line is killing many businesses due to lack of visibility and accessibility. Owners might receive financial assistance in the form of property assessment freezes and tax incentives but construction has already affected the financial health of communities and local businesses. Not only this but construction and congestion cause ambulance delays which is a serious problem and source of concern. While the goal is to improve infrastructure and the cityscape, growth has costs, and many small businesses were forced to shut down.