Toronto’s Chattering Elites and Scarborough’s Transit Victims

Cleveland Rapid Transit subway car

Cleveland Rapid Transit subway car. Licensed under the GFDL; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

While visiting Case Western Reserve University in 1974, I learned about Cleveland’s proposed new high-speed public transit system. I asked a politically incorrect question: “Why aren’t there any Regional Transit Authority (RTA) transit stops being proposed in the poor black areas of East Cleveland, such as Hough?” In 1966 there had been terrible race riots in Hough. My hosts explained the challenge was to get commuters from affluent Shaker Heights and other suburban areas off the roads and into the city’s core. The system had to be functional, attract riders and be financially viable; so that’s how the location of routes and stations was decided. My host’s response was in part code for: ‘racial intolerance is also a factor.’ The Greater Cleveland RTA’s Bus Rapid Transit ‘Health Line’ has now made public transit access in East Cleveland better.

While there have been some changes in US cities’ demographics since then due to gentrification, much has stayed the same. Today, poor, mainly black Americans, live in American cities’ core urban areas, such as Hough and East Cleveland, while the middle class and wealthy live in suburbs, such as Shaker Heights.

Map showing share of persons living in poverty in Cleveland, 2000.

Map showing share of persons living in poverty in Cleveland, 2000.

Working Poor Among Toronto's Immigrant Population 2005

Working Poor Among Toronto’s Immigrant Population, 2005. (Sources: Statistics Canada, Special Tabulations, Cities Centre, University of Toronto, Metcalf Foundation, 2012)

While it’s important to make new high-speed public transit systems functional and financially viable, Cleveland’s political decision-makers’ public transit choices had negative socio-economic and sociocultural implications for the less fortunate living in Hough. Poor inner city residents had a narrow transit choice: bus or private auto. In the city, travel time is a cost for everyone. Like everyone, Hough and East Cleveland residents had to get to work, school, health care appointments or shopping on a regular basis. So, access to high-speed public transit is a social justice issue. In spite of this, it was something Hough and East Cleveland residents did not receive.

Let’s look at public transit decision-making in Toronto, where the socio-economics and demographics are the opposite of Cleveland and US cities. Here, multi-cultural communities and the working poor are located in Scarborough and the other suburbs, while affluent, articulate, well-educated and politically powerful people live in Toronto’s core area communities.

On October 8th, 2013, Toronto City Council voted to replace the Scarborough RT line by extending the Bloor-Danforth subway, rather than adding light rail.

So when a December 11, 2013 Toronto Star article reported that Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow proposed delaying the decision to provide subway service or essentially no new public transit service to Scarborough’s working poor and multicultural neighbourhoods, it got my attention. It’s not coincidental that Ward 22 includes: Forest Hill, one of Canada’s wealthiest communities; many homes worth more than $2 million dollars; and prestigious private schools, such as Upper Canada College and Bishop Strachan. The Ward’s 66,000 residents are also within walking distance of five TTC Subway stops and will soon to have six more underground stops through the new Eglinton Light Rapid Transit (LRT) Crosstown line.

Scarborough has 593,000 residents. It currently has three subway stops. Just reaching two of the subway stops from Scarborough’s outer limits involves a road trip of more than 25 kilometres (Steeles Ave East / Beare Road to Warden Subway station). If Scarborough were a city, it would have a larger population than Halifax, Saskatoon or Victoria. It would be larger than the Kitchener-Waterloo Cambridge Tri-City area, Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island.

What seemed to prompt Councillor Matlow’s comment was a report commissioned by the Neptis Foundation, a Toronto-based nonpartisan think tank on urban and rural planning policy matters. This report analyzed the Toronto transit plan proposed by Metrolinx, the Provincial Agency overseeing transit planning in Southern Ontario. The Neptis report stated that a subway transit extension to Scarborough would not be financially viable or efficient. That also got my attention.

This report was prepared by consultant Michael Schabas, who stated, “We have not considered social benefits (such as safety or equity) or environmental benefits (such as reduced air pollution or increased energy conservation), which often go unpriced in transportation forecasts. While these are important considerations, they are seldom the deciding factors in scheme selection.”

Our planners and socio-economic impact specialists at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) have worked on transit master plans. In evaluating transit options, we know that social equity is rarely assessed. And, social benefits and costs are typically not assessed by transit engineers and economists. But, whether or not they are the deciding factors, social benefits and costs analysis should be part of the decision-making process.

As consultants, we arrive at conclusions based on what we are asked to study. Tossing out social benefits analysis as deciding factors created a significant gap in the Neptis Foundation study and its subsequent analysis.

Socio-economic research produces data that can be an important consideration for transit, all urban and rural planning and policy decision-making. This analysis can illuminate the issues through facts, particularly when social justice issues are involved, in places like Hough, Cleveland and Toronto’s outer suburbs.

So our firm asks: If the Neptis Foundation had commissioned Michael Schabas to look at the social costs and benefits of transit modes (bus, bus rapid transit, LRT or subway) and routes in Scarborough, would it have reached different conclusions? Schabas knew about these issues but was not asked or decided not to study them.

In the Toronto Star article, Councillor Matlow says he wants to delay the Scarborough transit decision because: “We don’t have all the answers.”

When interviewed, he said: “If I’m asked whether I can support increasing the city’s debt by $1 billion and raising property taxes to pay for a project that was based on politics rather than evidence, I can’t in good conscience support that, and I have a responsibility to fight it to the end of the earth. And that’s what I’m doing.”

Councillor Matlow cites the Neptis report as “evidence.” I think the evidence is incomplete and tightly adheres to narrow terms of reference. I’d like to know, why didn’t the Neptis Foundation ask its consultant to look at social costs and benefits? Would a socio-economic impact assessment (SEIA) study comparing LRT versus subway provide different evaluation results? Would Councillor Matlow look differently at providing: subway transit versus light rail, versus putting off discussing any new transit for Scarborough’s working poor, multicultural community until after the 2015 election, if he had evidence about social benefits and costs?

HSAL has not done a SEIA on Toronto’s current transit dilemma. If we had, our basic premise would be: having access to excellent transit provides socio-economic advantages to residents along the route. It significantly reduces their trip to work or school; gives them wider access to the city’s beneficial amenities, such as healthcare, cultural organizations and shopping options. A transit stop can also increase property values and attract new housing developments. This growth generates development charges and boosts discretionary funds, which local councillors can apply to local community improvement projects.

We would ask: Would excellent public transit via building a subway, enhance Scarborough residents’ socio-economic circumstances? Would a LRT or a subway best achieve excellence? How should Neptis have scoped its study to provide a complete analysis?

Looking at the social costs and benefits of a Scarborough transit decision would require a formal SEIA. At its core, such an analysis considers four questions:

    • Who wins?
    • Who loses?
    • Who pays?
    • Who benefits?

It involves social science research that should withstand a rigorous peer review. The methodology is based on values or an evidence-based, systematic methodology. I prefer the latter systematic methodology, which involves six steps:

1) Scoping
2) Profiling
3) Projecting
4) Assessing
5) Evaluating
6) Recommending

In “scoping” the SEIA, we can ask: What might the Neptis Foundation have asked its consultant to study? What if they expanded the study to look at the socio-economic impact of the choice of transit mode (subway, light rapid transit, bus), as well as its routes on Scarborough’s working poor and vulnerable children?

Scarborough’s Ward 44 is at the City’s eastern edge. It includes Danzig Street, where Toronto’s worst mass shooting occurred on July 15, 2012. Perhaps the socio-economic circumstances of Danzig Street families could indicate what can happen when higher order public transit is absent and how excellent public transit could provide social benefits.

We might consider that:

  • It takes working poor parents and students on Danzig Street up to 40 minutes just to reach the nearest subway stop by bus (also involving a transfer to another bus). In comparison, children in Ward 22 can walk or take a bus ride of less than five minutes to get to a subway stop.
  • To reach the city core, Ward 44’s Danzig Street residents travel 33 kilometres by road. The trip is well over an hour by bus. Ward 22 residents need only travel five kilometres by subway.
  • Ward 44’s working poor don’t ride bikes to work. A one-way bike trip to the core (or Councillor Matlow’s Office) would take the better part of a morning. In winter, it is almost impossible. And Scarborough’s working poor don’t telecommute.
  • Danzig Street students walk to Sir Robert L. Borden Business and Technical Institute, a priority school that provides an educational alternative for those who have an aptitude for hands-on learning or experience academic challenges, or take a short bus ride to West Hill Collegiate. Many expect to start full-time work after high school. Some will make it to college. Ward 22 children can walk to some of the best private schools in North America or North Toronto Collegiate, an excellent public high school. They can expect to go to university and most will.
  • Scarborough has no museums, concert halls or independent art galleries. For Scarborough residents and students, academic and cultural enrichment means travelling downtown to core area facilities, via a long trip by bus and then subway or private auto. Scarborough has two excellent symphony orchestras but there are no concert halls for them to play in. (The Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra plays at the Salvation Army Citadel and the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra plays at the Chinese Cultural Centre.) Ward 22’s children can easily access many cultural facilities, institutions and enrichment opportunities by walking to a transit stop or taking a short drive.

In summary, would it be politically incorrect to ask Toronto councillors making these choices and the core area’s chattering elites influencing them to become more informed about the socio-economic implications of transit and other decisions? Shouldn’t the social benefits and costs of various transit modes matter? I think they should and do.

Dave LowerRes Oct 2013David Hardy is a Principal of Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL).  He is a Registered Professional Planner. Dave has participated in more than 125 socio-economic impact assessments.

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About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit
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14 Responses to Toronto’s Chattering Elites and Scarborough’s Transit Victims

  1. John Unruh says:

    Brilliant. I am a long-time supporter of environmental justice and believe deeply in the value of alternative transportation. As a member of the infrastructure industry it often pains me to see how political decision-making processes can actually work toward disenfranchising our fellow citizens. It is our duty to keep our politicians aware and cognizant of the very real affects their decisions may have and give them the means to do so. Bravo!

  2. Adam says:

    This is somewhat disingenuous since the option of LRT would have a larger service area than the proposed subway extension with its terminus in Scarborough Town Centre. Cancelling the subway would also result in faster service roll-out due to the shorter construction timetable involved with the LRT as opposed to the subway extension, which hasn’t even had its first environmental assessment.

    It is truly unfortunate that the original Scarborough-Malvern LRT was cancelled because it would have had a vastly larger service area, running along Eglinton, northeast via Kingston, then taking Morningside into the Malvern neighbourhood.

    • Thank you for your comments Adam. I hope you will agree with me that whether or not the LRT or Subway will serve Scarborough’s working poor multi-cultural communities needs some analysis. And, that data is missing. Also, whether it is better to have a “fast roll out” or the “right roll out” also needs to be part of the decision. Recent data has shown that poverty in Scarborough has moved eastward and has become much worse over the last few years. I would like to put the option of the Scarborough Malvern LRT side by side with other proposed modes and routes and see which options preform better from a socio-economic perspective (as well as on the basis of other factors).

  3. Hardy, I think you raise some excellent points in understanding the psychology of the folks who are in Toronto’s inner suburbs with respect to transit; and with it, their fervent support of the Mayor and his transportation plan. Certainly this is the only lens that makes sense of just how strong their faith is in the man they believe will bring them the transit they deserve. I’ve been using the term “transportation inequality” privately for a little while to describe this phenomenon.

    However, Toronto’s situation is much more complicated than that. The LRT line which is being proposed is far from an inferior option: it would operate in a completely grade-separated right-of-way for most of its length, following the track of the current line which it intends to replace. In fact, it would extend past the line’s current terminus, connecting to Centennial College (which would not be directly served by the subway proposal). So Matlow’s proposal is not as insensitive to the people of Scarborough as you have made it seem. In fact, back when the subway/LRT debate was being had, a poll indicated that the LRT was favoured by Scarborough transit riders. It was the richer car drivers who preferred the subway (presumably because our mayor was falsely proclaiming that the LRT would “take space away from cars”).

    Additionally, the travel times you cite assume that the rider relies heavily on bus and subway, neglecting the role of express train service provided by GO Transit. The train is a premium service, but surely another method of tackling this problem of transit inequality would involve finding a way to make GO more affordable.

    Other possible solutions to this problem include addressing housing affordability – bring more people to transit rather than bringing more transit to people (although that doesn’t preclude building more transit!).

    I am very intrigues by your thoughts on SEIA’s for projects, and I think that my city’s planning process could be improved through their judicious inclusion. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

    • Hi Peter, Thank you for your response. Indeed, LRT may be the better option. However, as you suggest, some critical socio-economic studies are missing that would help inform this decision. How the more affluent and not transit dependent vs how the working poor multicultural communities (+ students) view transit and use transit doesn’t get a lot of analysis through a social costs and benefits lens. Such studies can be very helpful when asking members of the public for their comments during public consultation processes. Whether we can bring more people to transit through increasing density is an important conversation. I’m working on a blog on how Toronto’s Official Plan serves and doesn’t serve Scarborough’s working poor multi-cultural communities and I would appreciate your comments when it is released.

  4. kettal says:

    Hardy: your major mistake was that you somehow concluded that the LRT option is inferior.

    True, it is viewed as inferior, mainly due to politicking of mayor Ford; and true, the residents aren’t likely to lose this perception.

    But in the reality of things, Matlow’s plan is NOT about neglecting Scarbrough, it is about giving them the LRT option, which in many ways is SUPERIOR than the subway.

    • Hi Kettal, thank you for your comments. The main point I raised in the blog, and to which I gave considerable emphasis, was that the analysis of socio-economic impacts and benefits is missing from the discussion. And, I’d add that as the Province is using energy policy as an instrument of social policy, it might not be wrong headed to think that transit policy could also be analysed in the same light. You may be right that LRT is the better choice. But, in my world, we do studies and produce data that will inform the decision. I know that the acid politics at City Hall are giving an edge to the discussion that is unfortunate. I believe that Matlow’s plan also involved delaying the Scarborough transit funding decision until after the next election. Might we both read into this, “until after Mayor Ford is out?” If so, this could be an example of ‘justice delayed – justice denied’ for Scarborough’s working poor multi-cultural communities. I’d hope that the chattering elites of the core area of the City and the politicians they support realize that Scarborough’s most vulnerable are receiving collateral damage.

  5. Jeremy says:

    I think this article omits or distorts a number of facts about this issue. It omits the very large difference in distance to the city core between Ward 22 and Ward 44. And in so doing it distorts the disparity in transit options between the Wards. Also, it’s just plain wrong about the bus trip to the closest subway. I used to live a couple minutes bus trip from the Danzig area and the bus trip from where I got on (on the same route that goes by Danzig) to Kennedy subway station was ~20 to 25 minutes and there is no transfer to another bus (Route 116). This is a very easy fact to check on Google Maps so I don’t understand how the author could have gotten it wrong (unless of course they did it deliberately).

    Further this article fails to mention that the proposed Scarborough LRT or Bloor-Danforth subway extension is no where near Ward 44 and will do very little to improve transit in that ward. However, by choosing the Ward furthest from the city core it allows the author to present the largest disparity with Ward 22 even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the issue. If the author was really interested in making a fair comparison then they would have used one of the Wards that the LRT/extension actually would go through and perhaps he would have mentioned that the LRT is longer, has more stations and goes through more priority neighbourhoods than the subway extension would go through. Adding that to the article might have forced the author to mention that the LRT would have put many more residents of Scarborough within walking distance of a station providing higher order transit, including a stop right at Centennial College. I had the great fortune to study at Centennial College not long ago and many of the students had a difficult time commuting to the school and the LRT would have been a great help to them while the subway extension would do little for them. Many of the students were the young, low income, recent immigrants that are all to often marginalize by our society and that this article “says” it wants to help but the fact that they would be better served by an LRT is never mentioned in the article. Why is that?

    Finally, the article has a very important implicit assumption that is completely wrong. The article assumes that subways are always “excellent public transit” but this is not the case. Subways are very good at moving a lot of people a fair distance away (like getting commuters into the city core) but they are bad at local travel (like going to a store or job in your community that’s too far to walk). This is because generally there are fewer subway stops which are further apart and most of the journey is underground. This means that fewer people have easy walking access to a subway station than do with LRT or bus on the same route. Also, because the rider can’t see the area they’re travelling in when on the subway they are less likely to know or involved in the communities along the route than if they were travelling by street-level transit options. I take the Bloor-Danforth subway every day to get downtown and if I had never driven along the Danforth then I would have no idea about the communities along the subway route and very little reason to get off the subway and look.

    The Scarborough LRT would have been excellent public transit, that would provide easier access to higher order transit to more residents of Scarborough than an subway extension and the ripple effect, the opportunity cost, of build the subway will further deprive the resident of Scarborough of accessing better transit. Spending at least an extra Billion dollars on a subway that will not provide better transit than LRT means there is at least a Billion dollars that can’t be spent on bring excellent public transit to areas of Scarborough that aren’t helped by this LRT/Subway extension. Like Ward 44, which again gets no benefit from the current project but would surely benefit from an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown east past Kennedy station along Eglinton and then along Kingston to the West Hill area (and perhaps the Scarborough campus of U of T). Of course that will never happen because all the politician will cry that we can’t afford it after spending wasting over a billion dollars on the subway extension. Which will leave the majority of Scarborough in exactly the same situation it’s in right now, regardless of whether the LRT or subway extension is built.

    • Hi Jeremy, Thank you for the respectful comment on the blog. On the matter of distorting facts, when you look at social justice issues associated with any policy issue, it is fair to look at how the policy affects the most vulnerable in our society. Even after priority neighbourhoods were identified in Scarborough, the residents of Ward 44 and eastern, outer Scarborough neighbourhoods slid deeper into poverty. On whether the trip from Ward 44 to the Kennedy Station is 20 to 25 or 40 minutes I’ll back down. I took the 86a Kingston bus for 12 years from north east Scarborough. Lots of Ward 44 residents choose this route over the 54 Lawrence bus. On a nice summer morning the trip is shorter and during a winter morning rush hour peak it is longer. My point is, the kids from Bishop Strachan in Ward 22 can walk to the St. Clair West TTC Station in 10 minutes.

      The fact that the proposed LRT or Bloor Danforth Subway extension is no where near Ward 44 is exactly my point. If we were adding socio-economic criteria to how we evaluate: 1) transit mode and 2) transit routes, I expect we might shift either the LRT further east or further extend the Eglinton Crosstown route to pick up areas where there are pockets of poverty (which I believe we both agree about). I haven’t seen such an analysis and the Neptis Study referred to by Councillor Matlow is flawed because if deliberately left out social cost and benefit analysis. When we refer to “excellent” I can understand that you might draw the conclusion that this means subway. And, it might. However, we haven’t see any socio-economic impact studies that would tell us whether LRT or Subway is the excellent choice.

      I also want to thank you for your observations about Centennial College students. Perhaps an LRT would have served them better as you suggest. Did anyone do the study? Did these considerations find their way into the debate? I was quite clear in the blog, Hardy Stevenson did not do this analysis.

      Scarborough residents need to be part of the discussion and be presented by the information and the choices you suggest through a public consultation process that involves all of Toronto’s residents. I’m concerned when the debate about what’s best for Scarborough’s most vulnerable residents is being pushed by the Councillor for Forest Hill and Toronto’s affluent, educated chattering elites.

  6. George says:

    Excellent article.

    This transit issue is providing a great polished lens into the otherwise invisible expression and extension of privilege undergirding our decision makers.

    It occurs to me that there are many forms of theft. In particular, the ability for administrations to steal from the collective future through communal indebtedness for non-communal benefit. This occurs typically in third world countries where the resident ‘lord’ use the resources of the nation to secure loans which are then relocated in all or in part for their subgroup’s peculiar benefit. The country as a whole, their children and their grandchildren then become blessed’ with the obligation of repaying this largess…or suffering the consequences of default.

    Toronto, and democracy in general, seems to be in need of a better process of electing leaders. To wit, perhaps if we pay citizens to vote, then their guaranteed participation might encourage political courting and greater broad base accountability. Then, if we also fund political candidates (who satisfy some threshold criteria), we might mitigate the ability of money to directly become the rule making authority it presently seem to hold.

    With a more accountable and representative administration/leadership, perhaps the obligations they would impose on us and our children would more likely be beneficial to us all. And in particular, ensure that all our children get enrichment.

    It is not to say that our present politicians are bad people, just that they seem to be parochial, a condition that is inherently destructive in maximizing the dividends of a world class city.

  7. Justin says:

    The Scarborough LRT is a grade separated line that would have provided direct access to Malvern Town Centre. The Scarborough Subway is proposed to run up McCowan Ave, which is a quiet residential street with single dwelling homes.
    The LRT plan would have covered a larger area of Scarborough compared to the subway plan.
    What I am getting from this article is that subways are for the downtown elite, and the poor black scarborough folk deserve subway stations, even if those subway stations will not serve their neighbourhoods, and we’re going to have to pay a lot in property taxes to build it.
    I would love to see an analysis on the impact on property tax increases and services to pay for this subway line.

    • Thanks for your comment Justin. Please don’t read too much into the race comment. That’s what I saw was happening in Cleveland and what got seared into my thinking was the need to ask who is benefiting and who is paying when public policy decisions are being considered. Scarborough is a wonderful multi-cultural community but unfortunately, pockets of poverty have gotten worst since the priority neighbourhoods were identified. What we would like to see is the socio-economic impact analysis of transit options. Perhaps LRT would be best or perhaps it is subways. Whether it is up McCowan Road or along the current LRT route is something that needs some analysis. We would also like to see the full analysis of other routes as well, such as perhaps multiple routes or moving the routes further east where poverty is growing. Property values would be one of the indicator of socio-economic effects, keeping in mind that most of the poor are not property owners. There seems to be an increase in property values along Sheppard and Eglinton due to new transit. Again, we haven’t done the study.

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