Poll finds support for buried LRT

With subway and light rail fans evenly split, underground LRT could be the compromise Torontonians are longing for.

TESS KALINOWSKI Transportation Reporter
Toronto Star
January 20, 2011

Underground light rail could be the compromise between Torontonians like Mayor Rob Ford, who support building more subways, and those who back the TTC’s Transit City light rail plan.

An independent poll of 550 Torontonians found the city is almost evenly divided among those who support the two forms of transit.

Forty-four per cent prefer subways to light rail, compared with 40 per cent who support building less-expensive LRT.

But when asked to choose between keeping the light rail lines and building them underground or stopping the light rail and building subways instead, an overwhelming majority supported light rail.

Only 15 per cent said they would prefer the light rail plan be stopped altogether in favour of building subways. But 32 per cent supported keeping the original light rail plan.

The poll, by Leger Marketing, was conducted online on Jan. 12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 per cent.

“There’s a general concern that light rail transit is going to affect congestion,… if we can improve congestion by putting (it) underground, that’s going to make people happier about it,” said Leger executive vice-president Dave Scholz.

Among those who support moving light rail underground or building subways instead of LRT, 43 per cent of respondents said they chose those options to avoid traffic disruption.

Sixty-three per cent of underground transit supporters cited road congestion as the reason.

The poll also suggested that Ford needn’t be bound by his subway election platform. Only 26 per cent of those surveyed said “we should build subways because it’s what Rob Ford promised in the election, and he has a mandate, even if it means stopping the projects now underway.”

But 89 per cent said that “smart transit planning is done for the long term and should not be changed every time a new government is elected.”

While the compromise of underground LRT might help Metrolinx and the TTC plan for a system that would satisfy the new mayor’s determination to reserve road space for cars, it probably wouldn’t save much money.

Above-ground LRT costs about a third of subways per kilometer, but most of the difference is the expense of tunneling. If the light rail moved underground, it would be more expensive.

The Toronto Environmental Alliance says the poll proves that Torontonians would still support the cheaper option of light rail if they understood that it would reduce traffic congestion instead of contributing to gridlock.

“If people had a better understanding of the proposed LRT network they would realize it’ll reduce traffic congestion, not increase it,” said TEA executive director Franz Hartmann. “There will be as many lanes of road, and a bigger network means people keep their cars at home, which reduces traffic.”