Light rail transit touted as best for Toronto

Tess Kalinowski
November 15, 2016
Toronto Star

Light rail transit isn’t only cheaper than subways, it’s also better for the environment, argues a new report by the Toronto Environmental Alliance and a coalition calling itself TTCriders.

With a pro-subway mayor-elect preparing to take the reins at City Hall, the two groups want to move the discussion of transit expansion away from the financial cost to the environmental benefits.

“But the good news is that the best option for the environment is also the best option for the pocketbook,” said Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) executive director Franz Hartmann.

The report, which recommends the new city council move ahead on the Transit City light rail plan, notes that subways cost about three times as much as light rail to build.

Although subways carry more people and could, therefore, potentially take more cars off the road, their benefits are only maximized in densely populated areas.

The Transit City plan, which Mayor-elect Rob Ford has said he wants to replace with subways, is designed to serve the suburbs where that kind of density doesn't exist, said Hartmann.

“If we wait for that density we're going to be waiting 20 years,” a luxury that the environment simply can't afford, he said.

According to the report, called Clearing the Air on the TTC, subways rate slightly better than light rail in terms of fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But light rail vehicles, travelling on dedicated lanes, would outstrip that benefit by taking many more cars off the road simply because the city could afford to build so much more light rail.

“Because LRT systems are cheaper and faster to build, more can be built, reaching more people and therefore getting more cars off the road sooner,” say TEA and the TTCriders, a coalition of students, anti-poverty activists and organized labour groups.

The report shows that diesel buses emit about three to four times the greenhouse gases as light rail and subways. During the election campaign, Ford said he wanted to replace some of the existing downtown streetcar routes with hybrid buses.

The environmental report, released Monday, makes a distinction between the downtown streetcars that operate in mixed traffic and the Transit City light rail vehicles that will operate on their own lanes with signal priority and fewer stops.

Hartmann said his group hasn’t yet met with Ford and his transition team but hopes to connect with them in the coming days.

“If the mayor-elect thinks subways make more sense from an emissions perspective let’s see the evidence,” he said.

The report recommends that all TTC service changes be evaluated by the emissions of the vehicles involved and the number of cars service expansions or reductions would take on or off the road.

Without the TTC, Torontonians would take another 261 million car trips and burn about 140 million more litres of gas a year, based on 2009’s 471 million transit riders, says the report. Traffic would increase 60 per cent on city roads.

Some returning and outgoing city councillors are concerned that Ford is preparing to cut some of the city’s green initiatives.

The incoming mayor’s transition team is said to be examining programs to add more hybrid and electric vehicles to the city’s fleet and green building initiatives for homeowners and landlords.

GHG emissions for various types of transit vehicles

Vehicle type GHG emissions (tonnes) per 1 million passenger kilometres travelled

Diesel Bus 116.6

Light Rail Vehicle 39

Subway 29

GHG emissions for LRVs and subways per dollar invested

Light Rail Vehicle 39

Subway 87

Source: Clearing the Air on the TTC: Recommendations to Increase the Environmental Benefits of the TTC by the Toronto Environmental Alliance and TTCriders

As originally published: