Toronto Transit City, OneCity and the Future – Part 2

Check out Part 1 of Ian Clark’s look at the recent transit history of Toronto HERE.

By: Ian Clark

Yesterday we left-off with the postponement of funding for many of the transit expansion projects proposed under the Transit City plan.  Of course, as with many plans generally, Transit City faced other obstacles beyond those associated with finance.

The Transit City plan was not well illustrated to suburban voters, many of whom did not understand its details or had no concept of how it worked, and was easily manipulated by either ignorant or wise politicians (sometimes both) seeking to capitalize on this uncertainty. Current Mayor Rob Ford rode this uncertainty and ignorance to the Mayor’s Chair, capitalizing on suburban fears.  On his first day in office he cancelled Transit City and presented his Transportation City Plan.  This plan had no funding (see a trend here?) except that which was previously committed to the Transit City Plan by the Province.

Transit City: A dying dream?

To summarize, the Transportation City Plan called for only a portion of the transit approved under the Transit City Plan and the extension of the Sheppard Subway line to be paid for by a donation from Mr. Private Sector (I am not saying that private entities have no role in building and/or operating transit, but to think private interests are willing to build and/or operate transit infrastructure at a financial loss or out of the graciousness of their heart is ridiculous).  This plan, a reactionary clusterfuck to a well thought-out Transit City Plan was developed without public consultation or bureaucratic and academic insight. Essentially, this was a plan to do nothing from a Mayor who had never seen the value in transit while he was a Councillor.  The plan had few merits outside of some operational benefits, and was widely interpreted as a critical misallocation of resources that would condemn the TTC to financial distress.

City Council eventually mobilized against Mayor Ford’s vision.  TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Councillor John Parker, conservative councillors, saw the light of this failed vision and sought a return to the previous Transit City Plan.  Strangely, Council’s right advocated the financially ruinous Mayor Ford plan, while Council’s left and centre (and Parker and Stintz) sought financial prudence and a better bang-for-your buck plan. Ford’s plan was defeated and rightfully thrown out to pasture. By denying Ford’s transit ideas, City Council acknowledged that Transit City should once again be the way forward for the City to achieve its transit goals.  Light rail transit (LRT) rights-of-way would be constructed along primary routes, and would be funded with the same dollars committed years earlier by the Province.

Today, much of the funding for Transit City is still postponed, and Metrolinx has yet to determine how to fund a sizable portion of the Big Move plan.  This brings us back to the OneCity plan put forward in June.  The map of the plan is essentially meaningless – besides a couple new ideas, it essentially redraws the lines that transportation planners and engineers have been drawing for decades. Where OneCity was unique was in its funding strategy.  YES! Out of all the plans that I have introduced above, this was the only one to realistically tackle the issue of how to even begin to pay for all this good stuff over the long term.  The City would tax the reassessed value of properties in the City and add to the existing property tax – eventually costing the average property tax payer $180 per year.  It is not a great idea, but this was the first time we ever showed-up at the store with our wallets to buy something.  Eureka to the realization that we actually have to pay somebody real money to build the plans of our dreams.

Or could the LRT be a reality?

But wait! In the lead up to City Council voting on the OneCity plan, the funding strategy was removed at the request of City councillors.  A property tax increase above and beyond annual inflationary increases would not be accepted.  So Council was left to vote on another plan that showed all of our transit dreams (the ones we have all seen before), but no way to pay for them – why vote? The plan was defeated, and the City and Province have yet to dive into paying for the transit the region so desperately needs.

A common trend seems to emerge: we like planning for transit, but do not like paying for transit. Our politicians (as well as large parts of the population) are not willing to make the investment needed in transit at this time.  Maybe the Province will ride in on a white horse to save us from our own trepidation when Metrolinx releases a funding strategy for the Big Move in 2013. Or, maybe a new government at Queens Park rejects the idea of funding transit altogether, rather directing their infrastructure dollars to building freeways, coal power plants, and oil lamps, or any other relic of our past. Maybe there is a backlash to the Metrolinx funding proposal and transit riders are stoned in the streets.

Although OneCity perished at the foot of City Council, it acknowledged that transit does not come free.  The region’s population will eventually have to bite the bullet and pay for the transit infrastructure the region needs to compete and thrive, and OneCity may represent the first time apprehensive politicians brought this concept to the public. The plan failed in the end, but brought us one step closer to building a sustainable and more livable region. OneCity ended up missing the train, but it at least got us to the station. Maybe we’ll catch the next one.

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