The Yonge subway line is full.
There are statistics that demonstrate this, of course: the capacity of the Yonge subway line is 28,000 riders in one direction per hour, and according to the TTC during the peak hour there are more riders than that.
But often when some stats geek in the sports world starts talking about analytics, someone shouts “just watch the games.” In this case, you can skip the math if you just ride the trains.
Say you go out to Bloor subway at 8:30 a.m. You may find, on the platform, that you are in danger of being alternately trampled or shoved off the edge of the platform. When trains arrive, they will be too full to allow anyone to board. Two trains, three trains, four trains, more trains may pass before you are able to get on. And when you do manage to squeeze on, you may soon wish you hadn’t, positioned as you are in aggressively intimate contact with your fellow citizens — cheek-to-cheek, elbow-to-stomach, nose-to-armpit for the rattling, lurching ride to work.
You can repeat the experiment further north — at Eglinton or often even at Sheppard, and still find the trains overcrowded on arrival.
The Yonge subway line is full.
If and when the signal improvements that could add up to 28 per cent more capacity are implemented (they’re on hold and may not work out as planned), all of that new space will likely be absorbed pretty much right away by latent demand now kept away by overcrowding and by the riders being funnelled into the system by new lines soon. The Eglinton Crosstown, for instance, will open in the early 2020s, and funnel riders from across the city onto Line 1. The Bloor extension in Scarborough, which council and the province seem determined to build, is justified on the premise that it will attract thousands of new riders, very many of whom will be looking to transfer to the Yonge line.
Still, a certain kind of politician has seemingly no transit ideas except to try to feed still more riders onto the line.
The city councillors of north Scarborough, forever trying to revive a Sheppard subway extension further east that would feed more riders onto Yonge.
Premier Doug Ford, who loves that Sheppard idea and also suggests to crowds in Pickering that one day the Bloor line might come out to serve them.
And then there are the politicians in Vaughan and Richmond Hill and Markham, clamouring to have the Yonge line itself extended up north into the 905.
Most recently it was Frank Scarpitti of Markham, urging the province forward last week.
Now, this extension may make sense in the future. But that future has to include a completed relief line — so called because it would relieve the congestion on the Yonge line. The most recent versions of a plan for it run from the downtown core along Queen St. to east of the Don River, where it would head north around Pape and continue up to at least the Danforth. The smart versions of the plan continue up to Eglinton, through Don Mills, until it meets the Sheppard subway line.
You build that, and it will be a route into downtown for many of those currently coming from the east who could transfer at Pape instead of Yonge — not just from the Danforth line, but at Eglinton and points north, too.
Then we can talk about extending the existing lines further.
Scarpitti said he didn’t necessarily think the relief line would be necessary. “If they have some issues with the relief line, we don’t want that to stall the Yonge subway,” he told the Star.
See, the thing is, the issue most likely to stall the relief line is that the premier decides a new line into downtown Toronto sounds too elite for his liking and decides to build “905 subways” for the people first.
In the morning, of course, any riders up in the 905 boarding the new extension would be the first ones on, so perhaps they and their political representatives don’t care that once they were seated and the trains rolled south, the cars would be too full to fit Toronto commuters onto them. The TTC has in fact modelled a scenario where the Yonge line is extended before SmartTrack and the relief line are built and it shows almost 9,000 fewer riders transferring onto the Yonge line at Bloor than do today because “these passengers have been driven away by overcrowding.”
You can imagine that would be part of the appeal to certain supporters of Doug Ford — all those elites downtown can’t get on the subway! Let them ride their bikes that they love so much, suckers!
But of course an overwhelming percentage of those trying to transfer at Bloor are coming in across the city from Scarborough and other alleged points of Ford Nation.
The relief line is necessary, as soon as it can be built. It won’t somehow serve downtowners — or won’t primarily do so. Instead it will provide a faster, more comfortable ride into the city for thousands of daily riders from the north and east of the city, and at the same time allow us to consider ways to better serve further-flung riders by making it possible to contemplate extending the lines we have now.
I think this is clear enough if you look at the reports and research and analysis. But if you just ride the trains, it’s obvious. Unfortunately, too few of the politicians holding sway ride our trains. Which is fine, because the trains are full without them.
But that’s why it’s all the more important for Toronto’s politicians to be loud and clear about what our priorities are.
Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire