Toronto's Ontario Line rife with inefficiencies

by Neil Sharma27 Sep 2019

While Toronto is getting its long overdue downtown subway relief line—known as the Ontario Line—worrying signs are emerging.

The subway line will use smaller train cars—both narrower and shorter, thus diminishing capacity—which is a headscratcher considering the subway line is merely playing catch-up to existing demand, and will likely fall short again once completed.

Veteran Toronto journalist Stephen Wickens, who hosted a video series on taking politics out of transit planning for the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), has identified issues with the inchoate subway plan, one  of which is the proposed technology.

“It’s using trains that are considerably shorter and narrower and there’s hope they’re going to get some 90 seconds of headway with the trains, but even the report that came out about it indicates these trains will be carrying considerably fewer people than a full subway would,” Wickens told REP. “A subway through the core of downtown Toronto is going to fill up pretty quickly, so there’s no real long-term benefit to trying to go with a slightly cheaper train through the core if demand on this line is so pent up.

“We’ve been pushing people out of the subway for more than 30 years. There’s huge pent-up demand that’s probably not being considered here. It sounds as though they might be able to save a small amount of money by going with smaller trains for this route, but it appears there’s a very strong chance they’re underestimating the demand.”

An additional problem is that real estate development in select areas is exacerbating poorly serviced routes by failing to capitalize on existing train capacity.

“The number of people able or willing to get on trains on the Bloor-Danforth line during morning rush hour is down a lot, so we have to add subway capacity, and in particular, we need to do it east of Yonge St.,” said Wickens. “East of Yonge, everything goes through that Yonge line, which is already overloaded. In some ways, there’s reason to stop development along the subway east of Yonge St., but of course it’s tough to do something like that in the middle of a housing crisis—and the housing crisis is real.”

Wickens noted that it has taken over five decades to get the relief line—or in this case the Ontario Line—into development stages, and the chances of that happening again in a decade’s time are slim to none.

For that reason, Wickens reckons the downtown building boom is a good thing since most workers desire living close to their workplaces, effectively keeping them off of overburdened turnstiles.

“The lack of the relief line, to a significant degree, is one of the biggest drivers for the huge amounts of residential construction downtown,” he said. “It’s close enough to jobs where people can walk or ride their bikes to work. But office and residential development should go to areas outside of the downtown core to capitalize on trains outbound from downtown that are largely empty during rush hour.”

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