What Is Ontario’s Transit Future?

Memo to Dalton McGuinty, Dwight Duncan and Kathleen Wynne:

Queen’s Park makes much of its forward-looking plans for transit, of its commitment to improving travel in the GTA, of its recognition that without more and better transportation, the GTA faces economic strangulation.  Many of the press releases and flattering photos remain available on the Premier’s website.

Now your budget tells the GTA that transit must wait, and begs the questions “how long” and “for what”.  You owe the people who supported your transit vision answers.

Do you still believe in transit?  Do you mean only to defer Metrolinx projects beyond the current financial crunch to smoothe the growth in provincial debt, or has “The Big Move” gone the way of so many other grand schemes for transit networks?  Will you ever return to funding local transit system operations, or are these at the mercy of priorities and financial pressures of municipal governments?

When you announced MoveOntario 2020, you trumpeted the importance of transit to the economic engine that is the GTA.  What has changed?  Do you think a few years’ delay won’t hurt too much?  What happens if years turn into decades?

Is a real commitment to transit too rich for your taste?  Do you worry that transit agencies at all levels lowball their project estimates and overspend at every opportunity?  Do you feel transit cannot compentently be delivered at either the municipal or provincial level?

How do you explain wasteful spending on a subway to Vaughan?  How do you explain discrepancies between the scale of infrastructure spending and demand projections in the Georgetown corridor and the actual claims of your own agency about likely future service?  How do you explain a farecard project whose cost projections have tripled and which shows no sign of implementation?

Will you engage GTA residents with an open discussion of the future of their transportation systems, or will you hide behind a secretive agency, unwilling to face hard decisions about transit funding?

Anyone can take the easy route.  Blame the economy for the current crisis, and seize the opportunity to rethink commitments.  Let the ham-fisted incompetence of one local project, St. Clair, tar the credibility of transit plans generally.  Say this is just a chance to take a breather in the race to better transit, that we’re not quitting the field.

What do you say to the growing population of the GTA, population that will swell whether you fund more transit construction or not?  What do you say to those who knew traffic congestion would always be with us, but thought its growth would be muted as much travel diverted from cars to transit lines?  How many photo ops with twirling windmills will you need to offset delays or cancellations in transit projects?

Ontario talks about its planned attack on the deficit, about its goals for better education systems and health care, but it is silent on the transit portfolio.  Where is the multi-year plan?  What has happened even to the “top 15” projects, let alone “The Big Move”?

You owe us an explanation, and you owe it to us now.

59 thoughts on “What Is Ontario’s Transit Future?

  1. Am I crazy, or did David Miller have a contingency plan for this exact situation? Didn’t he state that without provincial funding, TC would still go forward, but at a much slower pace?

    Steve: That was one idea, but it was before (a) some of the costs for TC rose thanks to scope creep and inflation, and (b) the city decided to underwrite 2/3 of the cost of the new TTC streetcar fleet. Personally, I think that earlier projections for many transit projects that included a 1/3 federal share might have been good tactics if we could get Ottawa to the table (when times were good), but doomed many plans because of affordability problems at the municipal and provincial levels. MoveOntario shares this problem with Transit City in that both plans assumed a 1/3 federal share.


  2. Michael Vanner says: Lending huge sums to automakers to save a few jobs rather than spending money on infrastructure to make Ontario more efficient and productive, an issue that all of Canada faces.”

    Hey folks,…. ever wonder where the Ontario Liberal government came up with this $4 Billion number to “phase out” GTA area transit projects?

    “Premier Dalton McGuinty is dismissing Opposition criticism about the value of Ontario’s $4.3-billion bailout for General Motors and Chrysler – calling it a humane and financially responsible move.” [Link to article]

    We better hope GM and Chrysler can pay back that “loan” so we can see our $4 Billion of “phased out” public transit projects again. At least now we know where the Ontario Liberal government place public transit infrastructure vs auto sector.

    Geee,… I wonder what would happen if we “phase out” our Ontario income tax when we fill in our tax forms,…


  3. While I do agree with your whole argument, I strongly disagree with your statement about wasting money on a subway line to Vaughan. I thought that if anyone would understand the importance of this line, not only for the near future i.e. York Unversity students) but for the broader future (i.e. Vaughan metropolitan centre and connections to Brampton ZUm/VIVA/ GO transit), it would be you.

    I think we can all agree that most of the transit expansion we need should have been built yesterday. I don’t know why you insist on attacking the Spadina extension past Steeles, when we all know that in 20 years nobody in parliament would have had the guts or the will to extend the Spadina line from your proposed terminal of Steeles to what would then be a very dense city centre. I enjoy and agree with many of your arguments and posts, and I love that you bring up arguments and add to the overall transit forum throughout the GTA, but sometimes I feel like you have an overly Toronto-centric way of looking at transit expansion.

    Steve: My view of the Vaughan extension is that, indeed, it is very Toronto-centric and that is the specific problem I have with the line. York Region talks about establishing a BRT network that would, in the future, be upgraded to LRT, but never seems to get beyond the BRT stage. Subway extensions serve predominantly north-south travel and will moreover be heavily weighted to downtown travel, with a lesser component to York U. A goodly chunk of the support for the line comes from those who would develop even more residential housing close to a rapid transit connection to downtown. Anything that happens locally is a bonus, but its traffic will not, in the main, originate on the subway.

    If the viewpoint had been to start building a York Region LRT network off of the ends of the subway lines, with good east-west and north-south connections, then you would have a network that really supported new development as well as travel within the Region. As long as the planning principle is “just one more station” on the subway, you never reach the point where a transition to a local network can begin, but you soak up lots of money building and operating a subway at way below its capacity.

    Unfortunately, LRT has been tarred so badly through a combination of misinformation, by the St. Clair project, by those who attack it as a “Miller” plan, and by the general reluctance to engage in the debate about surface construction and loss of road space, that it’s a dirty word in everyone’s ears.

    York U and Vaughan Centre could have been nodes in a larger rail network, but this won’t happen with current plans.


  4. The problem with saying that in 20 years there will be demand, is that that is true anywhere. You could draw a line on a map, and build a subway there, and within 30 years it would be built up to some unreasonable density. That is not good urban planning. When Vaughan Metro Centre or whatever they call it actually has some signs of impending density, then we can talk about LRT or subway, but not now when so many other places actually have the ridership, and density already.


  5. Steve says

    The tripling is for the Toronto component of Presto originally estimated at about $150-million, and now rising to the $475m range. Nobody at any level of government has explained how this will be paid for. There will be a few trial Presto installations in Toronto this year, but not a full rollout

    I agree with you that the increase in forecast implementation cost is a matter of concern. However, I am unaware of where the $475m figuer comes from – have the TTC published anything explaining it?

    Steve: This figure is taken from the TTC budget books for 2010.

    The TTC operates about 1600 buses, 250 streetcars and 69 subway/SRT stations. Assuming 2 readers per bus, 4 per streetcar, and 20 per station that makes 5,580 readers or over $80,000 per reader, which quite frankly seems absurb. Even if half the capital cost is in the back-end equipment, then the cost per reader seems way out of proportion with anything sensible.

    Steve: You must also add all the stations (subway and surface) for Transit City routes which do not have their own provision for fare collection equipment in their base estimates. There is a separate capital budget allowance for this.

    With regard to the roll-out, I feel you are being rather Toronto-centric (although I know this weblog is Toronto-focused, you do normally take broader view of things). By this time next year, Presto will be fully rolled out in Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville, Mississagua, Brampton, York Region, Durham Region and on all of GO’s buses and trains. (My understanding was that all the other transit systems have had to pay the installation costs themselves, although in fairness, they probably require significantly less work per resident than Toronto.)

    Steve: The problem is that Toronto is being forced into implementing Presto, but nobody has explained how we should pay for it in the midst of an already-constrained budget. If Metrolinx thinks they can do it for significantly less than the TTC’s projections, then it is on their shoulders to prove that the TTC is wrong.

    A related and important issue about the backend systems is the degree of sophistication they possess, or not, to implement a variety of fare structures. Because nobody wants to talk about integrated fares and increased subsidies, we never know whether, in the future, we might have big discussions about fares only to discover that “the computer can’t do it”. Such are the problems of carrying on a major project without public information.


  6. So we all agree this is bad. Toronto has been neglected by the Province and the Feds for too long.

    How do we start fighting this?


  7. If you had only 4 Billion of the 9 Billion which transit projects would you choose to get built?

    Has construction started on York Region Busway?

    Steve: The front page of the Metrolinx site claims that VIVA construction started in December.

    I don’t want to get into cutting $4b if we cannot also look at the entire package of projects in The Big Move (and MoveOntario). Transit City is taking it hard because those projects happen to be first up, but there’s no guarantee that 5 years from now, something else won’t crowd them out again.

    The basic point is that The Big Move is a $50b program over 25 years. This implies $2b annually, plus inflation, plus additional operating costs. Cutting spending now shows that Queen’s Park is simply not willing to address the new revenues needed to actually fund a project on this scale.


  8. Maybe it is time for a new political party to form, along the lines of the Bloc Quebecois, it’s time for Toronto to form it’s own party – The Toronto Party.

    With 23 of 107 provincial seats within its boundary, Toronto comprises of 21% of the MLAs sent to Queens Park.

    In the last election, the bulk of those seats went to the Liberals, with a handful to the NDP. If most or all of those 23 seats went to the Toronto Party, neither Liberals or PCs would likely be able to form a majority government, with the Toronto Party holding the balance of power, where the interests of Toronto must be taken into consideration for every political decision.

    It’s time for the rest of Ontario to listen to the needs of Toronto instead of milking the city for all its worth!

    A new political bloc or independence for Toronto now!

    Steve: Sadly there is already a “Toronto Party”, a fringe bunch of neo-cons.


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