Late on Thursday January 14th, 2016 an article was released about John Tory's SmartTrack.
It is interesting to read an article about a transit plan that was to transform Toronto and how it was changing. My first overall reaction: the decision to build the Eglinton Crosstown Phase 2 was the right one. I have been a supporter throughout the 2014 election and spoke against SmartTrack along Eglinton. Heavy rail on Eglinton was never a feasible proposal, nor did it make financial sense. The limited stops within Etobicoke hurt local transit needs since buses would still have to run on Eglinton. Terminating at the Mississauga Business Centre rather than Toronto Pearson Airport also left a significant gap in connecting Toronto to one of the largest multi-transportation hub Canada would have. I am optimistic that the public consultations I attended carried some weight from resident input (which found phase 2 better sense for community).
Below is an updated map of SmartTrack included in the Globe & Mail article.
There are great analysis by transit experts on the new plan in terms of cost, effectiveness and viability. I do not need to regurgitate how the toned down SmartTrack does make more sense in areas previously identified as problematic.
I will focus on the ramifications of changing a major election platform after being elected. A lesson I learned about elections, what you propose during an election has little merit once elected. This can be seen by the support to eliminate the Land Transfer Tax (which was neither reduced or eliminated) by many candidates, many who were (re)elected. A councillor may simply say they don't have the power to enact a policy because of other regions or councillor ideologies. It absolves many councillors from actually being accountable for their platforms which can be recycled for the next election cycle.
There is a stark difference however between a councillor platform and a mayoral platform simply based on overall power in council. John Tory brought SmartTrack to the electorate and it seemed at first a reasonable and different approach to transit. Although never perfect, a departure of "SUBWAYS, SUBWAYS, SUBWAYS" and the narrow thinking of one type of transit option was interesting to many who didn't pay attention to Toronto politics. A flashy website on a 'back of a napkin' idea that became differentiation between him and other candidates being supported by other municipalities. SmartTrack was a focal point that likely helped Tory propel to his election win. It also would be a huge policy implementation to judge his term upon.
Reality comes fast and hard to politicians once elected. The concept of SmartTrack after John Tory became mayor needed to proceed to proposal, project and completion within his seven year target. Lack of solid information on the viability, routing and finally costing needed to be determined. Council approved financial allocation for reports and public consultation. It may have been within the reporting that the feasibility was determined to be unattainable.
Where does this leave Toronto and John Tory? Should he have continued his marque transit project that should have been completed by his second term (if reelected)? Toronto has seen this before with the yo-yo effect on the Scarborough Subway debacle. Politicians making decisions based on electability rather than sound policy, SmartTrack could have been a multi-billion dollar boondoggle.
Tory opponents were quick to use the alterations to his original plan as validation to attack. The nation of "I TOLD YOU SO'S" who didn't support his campaign or any/all of his actions as mayor. Ideology plays a huge role on both sides, which in itself hurts the political landscape of sound policy creation. The inability to compromise for the betterment of Toronto is not a new problem, nor will it be solved next elect too. Tory's loss on a complete SmartTrack is not a boastful accomplishment for opponents, it is a realignment to solid transportation planning.
There were also others like myself who understood that the feasibility would have eventually become clear to Tory. Lines on a map, stations identified in neighbourhoods without solid infrastructure planning do not embody transit planning. The realization of a return to a fully EA'd phase 2, that connects Scarborough to Pearson, including intercity connection of Mississauga's BRT is reassuring Toronto Council might actually get it right.
The 'spin' begins.
Well all can expect a eye-rolling response by Rob Ford on the redefined SmartTrack. He'll talk about how he single-handedly brought in the Scarborough Subway (while delaying the LRT which would have been completed by now) and his nonsense about transit planning. Tory however can absolve himself and SmartTrack by acknowledging upon consultation and public input, the changes were necessary and realistic. Removing emotion from transit planning and relying on experts and appropriate costed transit lines are easily justified. People will understand SmartTrack as "once $8Bil now $2-3Bil".
The next few months will be interesting. Will those who support Tory continue to support this augmented SmartTrack? Will council opponents put aside their ideological differences to support transit aligned with their point of views? Will this analyzation and alteration of SmartTrack lead to other changes to other major transit initiatives? Can Scarborough Subway/LRT debate be resurrected? Will the highly needed Relief Line begin to be costed and built?
The alteration to SmartTrack wasn't a defeat to John Tory, it was a victory for good transit planning for Toronto.