Lines for everyone and at last a discussion of paying for it all
By Bruce A Stewart
Leadership is an amazing thing. It emerges from where its needed, not from whomever holds the title, when the times demand it.
Toronto is a city choking on itself. For thirty years, Toronto basically built no new transportation capability that made a difference.
The city is, of course, fully built out. See those roads choked with traffic? Unless you’re into demolishing block after block, they are the size they’re going to be forever more.
Yet the only addition to the transit system in all that time has been the short Sheppard line east of Yonge, which doesn’t go anywhere near far enough to actually fill up and make a difference.
But plans Toronto has had. Every year or two, another master plan for lines here, there and everywhere has emerged. Once — in 1994 — shovels and boring machines actually got into the ground.
A year later, the provincial government changed hands, and those shovels were filling in the hole. Mike Harris proved there was nothing Common Sensical about his Revolution: it was just a “if the NDP did it, we’re undoing it” move.
All of the plans over the years have missed one key element: where is the money coming from to pay for all of this?
A few months back, City Councillor Karen Stintz — who doubles as Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) — saved the city from its mayor.
On arrival in late 2010, Mayor Rob Ford had killed the previous mayor’s “Transit City” plan, which had been painstakingly negotiated through the province to actually provide provincial funding for capital construction.
You see, Ford hates anything running on surface streets. The presence of a streetcar, an LRT or a bus means it’s “war on the car”. So it’s “subways, subways, subways” — or nothing — and not one penny of taxation to pay for any of it.
That’s a recipe for gridlock, which, amazingly, Toronto has — in spades.
What else can you expect when you have three million people living around a city of 2.54 million people and years of never building an alternative to driving everywhere?
So Stintz put a majority together on Council earlier this year to reinstate parts of Transit City — and break ground. Two years were lost, but at least things are slowly getting underway.
Of course the province’s regional transit agency, Metrolinx, has jumped in to “take ownership” of the construction. Never mind that the TTC built every kilometre of all the existing lines: “we’re the experts”. There goes another year or two down the drain.
Now Stintz and another councillor have put a plan on the agenda for Council called the Toronto One-City plan. Seventeen new lines — a mix of subways, light rail, bus rapid transit and use of the railways lines for in-city trains — to be built over thirty years.
Uniquely, it also contains a recommended property tax hike to pay the City’s one-third portion of capital costs. (The traditional one-third from Ontario and one-third from Ottawa are expected, but it’s a start.)
Of course, since this deviates from Metrolinx’ plans, and surprised Queens Park, both the Metrolinx CEO and the Minister of Transportation for Ontario are cool. Ottawa is silent.
And Ford has turned it down flat: “no tax increases”, and none of that LRT or BRT, because people “only want subways”.
Stintz believes Toronto is finally ready for an adult conversation about its future. (If we were dealing with real adults, they’d be discussing paying for all of it to just get on with the job, including the operating costs. But it’s a start.)
You’d better hope she’s right. For better or worse, Toronto is choking to death on itself.
If it does, it takes a good chunk of the Canadian economy with it.