One half of subway riders say overcrowding on the transit system makes them feel unsafe, and a strong plurality of Toronto voters believe the relief line should be prioritized over the Scarborough subway extension, according to a new poll.
The results, provided to the Star by Forum Research Inc., show that 50 per cent of respondents who rode the subway in the past month said crowding made them feel either very (21 per cent) or somewhat (29 per cent) unsafe.
An even greater portion of subway riders, 62 per cent, said that overcrowding has made them more likely to consider ditching transit for another form of transportation.
Despite the crowding concerns, those who reported being satisfied with TTC service outnumbered those who were not satisfied by nearly two to one. Two-thirds of subway riders said they were satisfied, while 34 per cent said they were not.
Of the five major transit projects being pursued by the city, 41 per cent of respondents said the relief line should be the priority. The subway line is estimated to cost $6.8 billion and would alleviate crowding on the busy Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) subway by linking the eastern end of Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) to stations downtown.
Only 16 per cent said the $3.35-billion, one-stop extension of Line 2 to the Scarborough Town Centre should take precedence. Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack proposal was ranked number one by 10 per cent of respondents, while roughly the same number said the Eglinton East LRT is the most pressing.
Just 4 per cent backed the Waterfront LRT network as the top project. Nearly one-fifth of respondents said they didn’t know.
Predictably, support for the Scarborough subway extension was much higher among residents of the eastern suburb, for whom the project was the most popular option. Forty-four per cent of Scarborough respondents said the controversial project should be the city’s first priority.
The relief line was the top choice for respondents in every area of the city except Scarborough, where it ranked second with 22 per cent support.
“Overall, the majority of users are satisfied with the TTC, but the satisfaction is reduced for those who say they frequently experience overcrowding on the subway,” said Forum president Dr. Lorne Bozinoff in a release.
“Perhaps that’s why the plurality of Torontonians feel that the downtown relief line (DRL) should be the TTC’s number one priority. Support for the DRL equals the support of all of the other four stated options combined.”
Transit users’ concerns about subway crowding come in the aftermath of a nightmare commute during morning rush hour Jan. 30, when a series of service problems caused widespread delays on Line 1. TTC officials have admitted overcrowding on platforms nearly prompted the agency to take the unprecedented step of closing its busiest station, Bloor-Yonge, and evacuating riders.
In the wake of the incident, Mayor Tory has faced questions about whether he is doing enough to advance the relief line. The latest estimates suggest it could open by 2031, five years after the Scarborough subway extension is slated for completion. Tory is a vocal champion of the Scarborough project and has maintained that the city’s pursuit of it as well as initiatives such as SmartTrack have not slowed progress on the relief line.
But former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat has argued work on those other projects is getting in the way because there aren’t enough staff to handle them all.
She’s called on the city to create a dedicated planning team for the relief subway.
Fresh questions about the Scarborough extension arose this week when the Star reported that internal TTC documents indicate the transit agency will have an updated cost estimate for the project by SeptemberEND, before the Oct. 22 municipal election.
City staff say they won’t have the opportunity to present council and the public with a firm estimate until 2019, after the vote.
That has led to calls for the mayor to intervene to ensure the new cost is released before Torontonians go to the polls. It’s widely expected the price tag will rise from the $3.35 billion figure. The mayor has resisted those calls, saying the process is up to city staff.
Forum conducted the poll Feb. 7 and 8 using an interactive voice response telephone survey of 977 randomly selected Toronto voters.
Results based on the total sample are considered accurate plus or minus 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while subsample results are considered less accurate.