Facts behind Metrolinx’s new Kirby GO station
Internal reports suggested that the station shouldn’t be built, but agency approved it anyway
A series of Star stories has raised questions about how Metrolinx, an armslength agency of the provincial government, approved a new GO Transit station in the transportation minister’s riding last year, despite internal reports that suggested it shouldn’t be built.
We take a closer look at the Kirby GO station: What is the Kirby project?
Located in an area largely surrounded by natural spaces and farmland in the city of Vaughan, Kirby would cost an estimated $100 million to build.
The site is roughly 10 kilometres north of the Toronto border on GO’s Barrie line, in Liberal Minister Steven Del Duca’s riding of Vaughan. Why is Metrolinx building new GO stations?
As part of a $13.5-billion expansion of the GO Transit network, known as regional express rail (RER), Metrolinx plans to quadruple the number of GO trips in the region by 2025.
Metrolinx is adding new stations as part of this major expansion. The number and location of the stops is crucial to the success of RER; each new station gives a community greater access to transit, but also increases travel times by forcing trains to stop more often. Longer trips could discourage some people from using GO. What did the analysis of Kirby find?
An initial business case study Metrolinx commissioned concluded that building Kirby would have negative effects on the region; it could increase car traffic, reduce the number of people taking transit and create more greenhouse gas.
Residential development is slated for the area next to the station, and, by 2031, the projected density could meet the low end of the range to justify a regional rail station, the business case found. But opportunities to add more homes and businesses around the site are limited because the surrounding lands are either outside the city’s urban boundary, occupied by low-density housing, used for agriculture, or lie in the protected Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt.
By 2031, roughly 5,100 trips would be made to and from the stop every day. But most of those would not be new riders. More than half would be people who already use the Maple and King City GO stations, which are both about 3.5 kilometres away.
Meanwhile, the time delay caused by Kirby would induce roughly 3 per cent of “upstream” riders on the Barrie line to take their cars instead, leading to an overall net loss of 188 riders per day.
“The potential benefits generated by a new station are insufficient to offset the potential negative impact on upstream riders,” concluded a June 2016 draft of the business case.
“Overall, the (business case) found that a Kirby Station does not meet many of Metrolinx objectives for a new station.”
A June 2016 summary report of business cases for all the shortlisted RER stops ranked Kirby last out of seven potential new stations on the Barrie line, and determined it “should not be considered further during the next 10 years.” How was Kirby approved?
On June 15, 2016, the Metrolinx board met in private and endorsed 10 new GO stops. Informed of the station analyses, they decided not to go ahead with Kirby.
The next day, Del Duca’s ministry sent Metrolinx draft press releases that showed the minister intended to publicly announce that stations the board hadn’t approved were going ahead. They included Kirby and Lawrence East, a Scarborough station that is part of Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan.
Metrolinx officials were shocked by the press releases, and initially pushed back against the ministry. However, days later, then-CEO of Metrolinx Bruce McCauig sent staff a “proposed revision” to Metrolinx’s recommendations to the board. They now recommended Kirby and Lawrence East should be built.
The board met in public on June 28 and approved the new list of 12 stations, including Kirby and Lawrence East. What was the public told about how Kirby was approved?
Very little. Metrolinx didn’t publicly ac- knowledge the private meeting at which the board decided not to proceed with Kirby. Results of the analysis of all the proposed new RER stations, which cost the public about $1 million, were delayed or never released at all.
Metrolinx didn’t publish business cases for any of the potential new stations until almost nine months after the vote. The agency never released the summary report that recommended Kirby not be considered for another decade. Details of how the stations were approved were uncovered last month through a freedom of information request filed by the Star. What have Metrolinx and Minister Del Duca said about Kirby?
Both Metrolinx and Del Duca say that the business cases are meant to be just one factor in the approval process, which also includes consultation with local communities and collaboration between the ministry and Metrolinx.
Del Duca has said he provided “input” on Metrolinx’s decision, and suggested that while reports found Kirby wouldn’t attract sufficient riders, the station is still justified now because he believes it will eventually have enough demand. Metrolinx officials and the minister have declined to answer questions about whether Del Duca’s ministry improperly interfered with the approval process by pressuring the board into changing its decision. What’s next?
Metrolinx board chair Rob Prichard has ordered a “thorough and comprehensive” review to determine whether Kirby and Lawrence East should be built. Both Prichard and Del Duca have said Metrolinx won’t proceed with the stations unless the additional analysis finds they’re justified.
On Thursday, Metrolinx said that, from now on, it will publish business-case studies for projects before they go to a vote, and will post the minutes of closeddoor board meetings. An opposition MPP and a transit advocacy group have asked the provincial auditor general to investigate whether Kirby and Lawrence East are a good use of public funds.
Metrolinx plans to enter into contracts for new RER stations next spring.