Mike Sullivan's WCC Deputation to Metrolinx Board Meeting - 28 November 2008

To: The Board of Directors, Metrolinx

We of the Weston Community Coalition note with interest the decision by Metrolinx to include the Air-Rail-Link as a priority project, as part of the Regional Transportation Plan. We are encouraged by the phrase ‘multi-purpose’ applied to this link. However, we would like to make you aware that the project as currently planned does not meet many of the directions of the Regional Transportation Plan. It is single-purpose, diesel and its pricing will be prohibitive.

There is also some confusion as to which agency or ministry this project falls within. The Minister of the Environment recently told the Legislature that it is a Metrolinx Project. GO Transit, reporting to the Minister of Transportation, is currently the co-proponent with the private partner, and the Premier has advised the press that his office is in direct negotiations with the private partner, and that the project will fall within ‘Infrastructure Ontario’s’ mandate.

We are also concerned that the recent change in the Environmental Assessment process is designed to prevent or limit citizen participation in the planning process. The Air-Rail-Link is a perfect example of the effect of citizen participation. Local citizens were able to question decisions before they were implemented, in particular the choice of routing of the project. The government agreed, after the fact, to study alternatives. That has not happened. The EA has languished on the MOE desk for over 2 years. Your maps seem to indicate that the alternative has been determined, though a qualifier does appear at the bottom of the pages. The fear of the town of Weston is that with the new, project-driven EA regulations, the choice of route will be undebatable, and will be made without public consultation.

If our fears are realized, we need to redouble our efforts to make the best of a bad situation. This sleepy, slow, infrequently used rail corridor runs through many pockets of residential neighbourhoods. Some were built before the railroad, and as recently as 2005, the OMB overturned the city of Toronto’s rejection of yet more housing abutting the corridor. In recent years several thousand new homes have been built within meters of the rail lines, some as close as 10 meters. Any significant increases in speed or frequency will cause serious reductions in liveability to those homes. In Weston, a second geographical flaw exists, that being the division of the Central Business District from the main residential districts by the rail corridor. At present 4 roads cross the tracks at grade. An early plan saw them all closing. A later plan saw half closing. Either scenario would be disastrous for the merchants. Finally, the proximity of the houses, some schools, and some places of worship mean that air quality is a serious concern. The only plan ‘on the books’ is for an increase of at least 280, and with GO service improvements, well over 300 diesel engines per day to be running past all these people. It will be an eight-fold increase in pollution. It will be an environmental disaster.

The existing EA process takes into account economic harm to the community, both to the business area, and to the livability of the neighbourhoods. The new regulations only give lip service to those matters. If we aren’t satisfied there’s no appeal. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court regarding a cement factory in Quebec have given some residents hope.

Much has been stated by the proponents that transit improvements generally raise property values and incomes in their vicinity. That’s true for transit which stops in the neighbourhood. That’s not true for transit which merely whizzes by. We understand that the Metrolinx board proposes to do a Benefit Case analysis for each project. No such analysis has been done for this project, and we would welcome one. Other jurisdictions, such as New York City, routinely do this. It has never been done in Canada as far as we can tell. Transit projects tend to be driven by political, rather than economic factors. Sheppard Subway vs Eglinton Subway is a classic example. Decisions to run subways into low density areas north of the city may be another. Your Benefits Case system should weed out any political games. We in Weston believe a Benefits Case analysis of various alternatives may in fact help find a solution.

Your Regional Transportation Plan identifies the corridor as being electric, and both the GO service and the Air Rail link service as having stops between 2 and 5 kilometres apart. It identifies that Hubs should exist, though the actual locations are somewhat vague. It suggests that pedestrian and bicycle pathways should be encouraged. Rail lines by definition cannot have steep grades, and are generally radial lines from the centre of Toronto outward. The provision of a bike path along this corridor would be a tremendous boon to the city.

The current plan is for a diesel service, and for no stops except at the Bloor Subway. Your Plan envisages the Air-Rail-Link as a ‘multi-purpose’ service. Currently the plan is for a single purpose, luxury express service, designed for business travellers. It is intended to capture only a small percentage of the travellers to Pearson, with only 20 passengers per diesel engine when it is fully ramped up after 3 years of operation. It is intended to run for 20 hours each day with 15 minute headways. And our suggestion that a bike path be built along the rail corridor as part of the upgrade fell on deaf ears.

Many have opined that Toronto won’t ever be ‘world class’ without a rail link to the airport. While we agree that a Rail Link is an admirable goal, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the citizens who live nearby. No other ‘world class’ city operates a diesel link to its airport. Most such rail links serve far more than the elite business traveller, by stopping in the communities they pass on the route. Most such links are operated with normal public transit fares, with a small premium for entering the airport grounds. Not the $20 one-way fare being proposed. Most ‘world class’ cities links are run by public sector entities, not by for-profit private sector corporations. And in cities where a stand-alone higher-priced luxury service exists (they are few and far between) there is always another local rail service which existed first.

What we are asking is that Metrolinx, as part of its Regional Transportation Plan, make some specific recommendations regarding the Air-Rail Link, should the choice of route be as indicated on the RTP maps. First, that it be public transit, with public transit level fares. Second that it be electric. Third, that it be operated with stops at appropriate places along the route, including Weston. Fourth that it not interfere with roadways connecting business districts to residential districts, keeping them open in places such as Weston by lowering the rail corridor beneath the roadways. Finally, any infrastructure improvements along rail corridors such as this one should include provisions for bike paths alongside the rail lines. It is our belief that the economic benefits which would accompany useful transit infrastructure improvements, including stops and bikeways, would outweigh the detrimental effects of increased rail traffic, provided that traffic is electric.

Mike Sullivan
Weston Community Coalition