Move Ontario 2030?

Today’s Ontario Budget announced that as part of Expenditure Management, spending on Metrolinx projects will be delayed and a program that funded bus replacements will be cancelled.

In the current fiscal environment, the government has revised the scope and timing of some capital investments. To help manage infrastructure spending over the coming years, the government will:

  • Work with Metrolinx to phase construction of transit projects, which would result in approximately $4 billion in appropriation savings and reduced borrowing over the next five years
  • Eliminate the Ontario Bus Replacement Program and include bus replacement costs as eligible expenses under the gas tax funding program, which supports municipal transit. The government acknowledges that municipalities have current commitments under the Ontario Bus Replacement Program, and will work with them to ensure these commitments are met by providing one-time funding of almost $174 million in 2009-10.

This will specifically delay work on all Transit City projects as well as VIVA’s BRT network.  Over the next few months, Metrolinx will have to figure out a new project list.  The 15 and 25 year plans of “The Big Move” are now in tatters.

I can read the events pessimistically in the sense that the hoped-for level of transit funding will never occur.  Certainly major expansion is on the back burner, and there is no announced funding to support operating costs of local transit systems.  Alternately, an optimistic view is that the approach is “not now” because the revenue needed to fund transit growth demands some new form of taxation, and with an election in 2011, nobody at Queen’s Park wants to address the issue.

Sadly, I tend to be a pessimist based on past experience.  Jobs, health care and education are portfolios that touch all parts of Ontario, while transit is Toronto-centric.  Only when the economy is booming, or appears to be as it was only a few years ago, can Queen’s Park afford to announce large-scale spending in a new area.  Now, Queen’s Park has not just capped its commitments, it has retrenched.

According to the Globe and Mail,

The government is asking Metrolinx, its regional transportation agency, to submit a proposal phasing in the projects for a total of $4-billion in savings over five years, starting in 2010-2011. An official said it would take a few months for the government to decide which projects will be delayed.

That $4-billion is almost half of the previously announced $9.6-billion commitment to Metrolinx projects, and quite serious cuts or deferals will be needed to achieve this level of saving.

Almost certainly, the Finch LRT line will be delayed and cut back in scope.  The proposed section from Yonge to Don Mills and Sheppard, added to the project by Queen’s Park, never made sense and is an easy casualty.  However, the western end of the line may also be truncated at Finch West Station (Keele and Finch) if it is built at all.  This would leave open the whole question of how a northern “crosstown” route would be created either on Finch, or via a western extension of the Sheppard Subway to Downsview.  Whatever the choice, there’s no money to build it today.

The Scarborough RT has already been announced as cutting back to Sheppard rather than continuing to Malvern.  The challenge here is that the RT itself is wearing out and may not survive until 2015 when it is supposed to be an integral part of the Pan Am Games transit service.

The Sheppard LRT is already under construction, and this project is likely safe because of its location in the network sharing infrastructure with the SRT.

The Eglinton LRT, most expensive of all Transit City projects, is the easiest to defer while producing large scale budget savings.  No substantive work has been done yet, and even if it stayed on schedule, the airport connection (a holy grail of Pan Am Games supporters) would not be ready for 2015.  No doubt, the technology debates for this route will continue to rage in political, professional and blogging circles.

Other parts of Transit City are much less advanced in planning, and these may simply fall off the table without a strong advocate at the city level.  Jane does not make sense without at least one of Finch or Eglinton that would share a carhouse.  Don Mills would connect with Sheppard, but the combined fleets required for Sheppard, the SRT and Don Mills would probably exceed the capacity at Conlins Road Carhouse.  Scarborough/Malvern only makes sense if there is an aggressive plan to increase population density in the corridor.  In effect, only a Scarborough subnetwork of Transit City may remain.

Subway advocates have little to cheer for in this announcement.  The Transit City funding that some would redirect to subway construction is unlikely to reappear, and very expensive projects such as the Downtown Relief Line and Richmond Hill extension will have to fight hard for capital.

Waterfront West, that poor orphan of the Transit City network, is almost certainly dead at this point, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the Bremner Boulevard streetcar either.

Lurking in the background of this mess is the question of transit financing.  When Metrolinx was created, we heard bold statements about an “investment strategy” that would create transit lines out of thin air with no provincial exposure to debt costs until future decades.  The accounting sounded like a Wall Street Ponzi scheme even then, and it’s clear now that building a huge transit network on the never-never was simply not workable.

The original Metrolinx board, mainly politicians from the GTA governments, became restive about financing not just for their bold plans, but for the local network improvements that would be essential as feeders to the regional network.  For their troubles, they were dumped and replaced by a gaggle of private sector experts whose main public contribution thus far has been to sit meekly at Board meetings and rubber stamp whatever reports are placed in front of them.  If they are making some miraculous contribution to the future of GTA transit, it is invisible.  The Board will head off for its annual retreat next week, and it might well consider how to make itself and its “Big Move” relevant.

The single most important part of any transit plan is the money to build it.  This comes either from existing income streams (unlikely given that they’re all spoken for and the government is in deficit) or from some new levy.  The opponents of new taxes will rail against government waste all they like, but the real truth is that major new programs like this are not affordable unless someone pays for them.

Private sector “partnerships” are nothing more than accounting sleight-of-hand.  Money must still be spent to build lines, and more money must be found to operate them.  At the end of the day, we the riders and taxpayers pay the cost.  One may argue about the relative efficiency of private and public sector project delivery, but even the most optimistic savings on that account won’t come near bridging the gap between project costs and available funding.

Some argue that “transferring risk” to the private sector will make them sharpen their pencils and deliver projects on better schedules and at lower cost.  Sadly, the private sector hates risk and has two basic approaches to it:

  • boost the contingency in their pricing to allow for the risk they must assume, or
  • be prepared to walk away from their contract if the penalties for non-performance wipe out any hoped-for profit (in effect limiting the “risk” to the sunk investment)

One mayoral candidate has raised the issue of road tolls suggesting a $5 fee for using Toronto’s DVP and Gardiner Expressways with the money going to fund a large subway network.  Leaving aside whether I agree with that network, there are larger issues here:

  • Any road toll must exist on the entire expressway network, not just the “Toronto” component.  This brings in the 400-series highways that are under Queen’s Park’s control.
  • Tolling will drive some traffic onto local streets making local gridlock even worse than it is now.
  • If motorists are to bear the cost of transit expansion, why should this only be applied to expressway users?  What about a regional premium in gas tax?
  • Why should the cost only be borne by motorists?  What about a regional sales tax?
  • Will transit operations continued to be funded from local property taxes, or will new transit revenue streams such as sales tax be shared between operating and capital budgets?

The existing Ontario Bus Replacement program is itself “replaced” with “eligibility” to use gas tax revenue.  This sounds good, but in fact the annual gas tax revenue to Toronto (less than $75-million from Queen’s Park) is less than one quarter of the ongoing capital spending for the existing TTC system.  There is no “spare” gas tax money available to replace the roughly $10-million annually the TTC expected to receive from OBRP.

For comic relief, read about MoveOntario 2020 on the Premier’s website.  It is a product of a very different time.

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Steve thanks you for reading this article, even if you don't agree with it.
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72 Responses to Move Ontario 2030?

  1. Brad says:

    There is an alternative to tolls. Tax the parking spots. If you want to drive into the city, pay for it. Then it doesn’t matter how you get there. Charge a $1 per hour tax for all pay spots in the core from 9-5, and $0.50 per hour for all pay spots outside the core. Have a reduced rate on all free spots outside the core (where transit isn’t an option at all and lack of parking would clearly affect business). That would raise the 100′s of millions per year…much easier to implement and administer then tolls.

    Steve: Taxing parking does not address the many people who drive through Toronto, but don’t actually stop here.

  2. Kevin says:

    I sincerely hope some kind of toll structure can be put in place and get Transit City built. If not, we will be kicking ourselves for decades…

  3. Richard says:

    Perhaps Toronto should vigorously request that Ontario convert the Vaughan extension to LRT. If an LRT extension of the subway is good enough for Sheppard, why not also for Vaughan? If LRT on Sheppard is labelled as “rapid transit” (as per some newspaper articles), then the Vaughan extension would also be “rapid transit”. Thus, Ontario and Toronto would still be providing “rapid transit” to Vaughan, AND there would be more money for the SRT replacement and perhaps another line. If they advocated this, the “socialists” at city hall could demonstrate that they too know how to bring value to the taxpayer. Perhaps LRT to Vaughan could be finished quicker than a subway by building a surface ROW along the York busway.

  4. Andrew says:

    > I find it ridiculous to support the expansion or upgrading of anything VIVA beyond Yonge Street. Highway 7 doesn’t have the ridership to justify anything like a busway- 4 000 people per day on the Orange line?

    The problem with VIVA is the underfunding of local YRT transit routes. 30 minute frequencies anyone? If even a few more major corridors (Major Mackenzie, Bathurst, Bayview, 16th/Rutherford, Jane etc.) were to get 15 minute service all day, VIVA ridership would go up significantly.

  5. Sean Marshall says:

    Andrew raises an excellent point about YRT. The service on Viva corridors is very good for suburban transit anywhere in North America (where else in Canada or the US would guaranteed 15 minute service operate in such suburban surroundings?), but the ‘support corridors’ are left with rather poor service. Routes 4 (Rutherford/Elgin Mills/16th), 85 (Major Mackenzie), the two routes that should feed into Yonge, as well as Bathurst (88), Bayview (91), Woodbine (no thru route), McCowan (TTC-contracted 129), Markham Rd (TTC-contracted 102), Weston Rd (TTC 165), Jane (TTC 35), Davis Drive (YRT 55), should at the least live up to the TTC’s new minimum service standards for every route, but they don’t.

    The Viva Phase II corridors left out the one area that could use full-blown BRT, specifically Yonge between Highway 7 and Finch (where two Viva Routes, and 6 YRT routes converge), to stick out for a subway that is now way out there. As I’ve been now working right at Finch and Yonge, I’ve been trying the services out of the regional terminal, and the traffic on Yonge is horrible. Really, Yonge North is a logical subway extension, if we could get the DRL to divert some capacity to make it work, but that’s now even the DRL is little more than a pipe dream again.

  6. Brad says:

    Steve: Taxing parking does not address the many people who drive through Toronto, but don’t actually stop here.

    True, but those that pass through Toronto aren’t as likely to have transit as an option. Almost everyone travelling to the downtown core could easily use some form of transit. Ditto for much of the rest of Toronto. (Even if the option is less then optimal.)

  7. Mark Dowling says:

    Taxing parking addresses the fact that 905ers don’t pay vehicle registration surcharge but does not cause overspill onto local roads. A monthly pass at City Hall Green P is about $240 which is less than some people would probably think.

    Once the demand to park downtown is dealt with, then we can toll the Gardiner/DVP to throttle through traffic from Etobicoke to East Toronto as well as providing HOV lanes for GO Buses as on 404, but before then the issue of toll charges and billing reliability has to be overcome, as there is widespread public scepticism about how ETR’s billing and customer relations operates.

  8. James Bow says:

    “Perhaps Toronto should vigorously request that Ontario convert the Vaughan extension to LRT.”

    All of those who suggest that Toronto city council should become more belligerent in their dealings with the province forget one thing: the province has all the power, and the cities, none. Cities do not exist in Canada under our constitution. Municipal affairs are wholly the responsibility of the province, and our cities are creatures of the province, set up to manage this responsibility.

    The province could, in theory, abolish all municipalities tonight, and run everything from Queen’s Park tomorrow. Only the fundamental stupidity of the move prevents it. But the province has altered Toronto’s boundaries, the size of city council, and the powers of the mayor, all by provincial fiat. They’ve done so before, and they could do it again.

    Like it or not, the province has worked out a deal with the Spadina extension: they’re paying two thirds of the capital cost, and Toronto and York Region are paying the remaining third in portions relative to their share of the length of the line. If Toronto were to back out of its commitment, the recourses the province could have would be extensive, and the power of the city to stop those recourses would be, shall we say, limited.

    If we want change, we need to write to our MPPs and, more importantly, we need to organize against them.

    Steve: Yesterday, I attended a presentation by Amanda Burden, the Planning Commissioner for New York City. While being totally amazed at the scope of what New York has accomplished in the past eight years, and plans for the near future, I couldn’t help thinking about the context in which she and Mayor Bloomberg operate. They have vastly more power than their Toronto counterparts, and they don’t have an “OMB” second guessing every move and acting as a friendly court-of-appeal for the development lobby. The flip side of this is that an administration with an “evil” mayor could gain control and do huge damage to the city almost unchecked. People love strong mayors when they are doing popular things, but not all mayors have the best interests of the city at heart.

  9. PSC says:

    … not to mention, who passes through Toronto not on the 401 or 407?

    I think the parking tax makes the most sense. It would also discourage people from paving their front yards for another pad – which is a major culprit in increasing rainfall runoff to Toronto’s over-capacity storm or combined sewers…

    Steve: The last time I looked, the 407 was not in Toronto. It’s hard to “pass through” the 416 when you never enter it.

  10. PSC says:

    Fair enough, but picking on that point is a bit of a non sequitur.

    I’m thinking about bypassing the 416 rather than necessarily through it, and the point is, if they don’t park at home in the 416 and they don’t park at the destination in the 416, why would they use non-express routes (streets instead of the 401/407 and to a lesser extent DVP/Gardiner) at all? And so why should they be tolled to pay for city transit?

    I’d be ok with Viva being similarly funded out of their service catchment parking being taxed.

    Steve: The real issue here is that we are building a regional network, and we can’t simply try to keep taxes local to where we build the services. Toronto benefits from having more 905 commuters on transit whether they come through the 416 or not because this increases the general level of transit use and the constituency for more transit spending everywhere. We need regional revenue to fund regional transit.

  11. Jean-Guy says:

    I think we should go the route Paris does with its Metro building program. Apparently they charge a small tax on those that benefit from being in proximity to its Metro lines. I don’t know what amount, but I’m guessing a 2% tax on all businesses/residents within a km of the subway line would provide enough for a new subway station every year. Any one of the big banks, with $2billion in profits would provide $40million each in revenue each year for transit expansion. My ‘deux’ cents anyways…

  12. PSC says:

    The real issue here is that we are building a regional network, and we can’t simply try to keep taxes local to where we build the services. Toronto benefits from having more 905 commuters on transit whether they come through the 416 or not because this increases the general level of transit use and the constituency for more transit spending everywhere. We need regional revenue to fund regional transit.

    Agreed, and that’s why I mentioned Viva (although I can see that the way I wrote it implied more segregation in funding than I intended). I had meant to indicate that the idea is scaleable.

    My point is simply that the suggestion made about charging for parking rather than tolling the roads is an alternative to capturing the same users’ fees. People travelling from Trenton to London shouldn’t necessarily have to pay, in the course of their travels, for GTHA transit.

    However, if you start inside the transit zone (including Durham, York, Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton) and intend to end in the GTHA transit zone, taxing the parking spaces you use is a proxy for charging a toll for any highways and streets used (or, alternatively, a congestion charge in the core).

    A blended tax rate (base charge plus percentage of fees collected) could also scale with market value of the parking spot, so that more tax is collected for downtown TO than it would be for parking in Markham (although you’d still charge for Markham parking).

    I would include home parking as well.

  13. Mark Dowling says:

    PSC – you know that in Toronto there is already a tax on parking pads? Between the tax and the VRT the city of Toronto gets $200/year from the fact that I own a car.

    I just want to see condo owners and downtown office blocks and school staff parking in Toronto pay too.

  14. PSC says:

    Mark, I agree. And I think VRT could be profitably (;) ) applied to the 905 too… (and I live north of Steeles)

    Perhaps it’s more a matter of accounting to break out the property taxes into portions to show that “this little bit goes to transit” and assign it to the driveway/garage.

    That might also have the unintended consequence of stopping people from building new garages that are in reality additions to their house.

  15. Gordon says:

    I have been looking at the various projects to get a feel for their costs and I find a discrepancy. The Sheppard East line (including the underground Don Mills approach) is estimated at $67.8m per km for 14km, whereas the Scarboro conversion is estimated to be $116m per km for 12km. The Scarboro cost is over 80% of the Eglinton cost ($139m/km) even though half of Eglinton is tunneled.

    Why is the Scarboro conversion so expensive since it is a reuse of an existing roadbed, a modification to existing stations, and a surface extension?

    Steve: The SRT conversion includes a large reconstruction project at Kennedy Station and restructuring of the tunnel at Ellesmere in addition to other modifications along the line. All of the extension stations will be grade-separated and this increases their cost substantially. Also the running structure must deal with Highland Creek where for some distance the line will be elevated rather than at grade.

    Eglinton includes a lot of surface construction which is comparatively cheap, and this pulls down its average cost. Similarly on Sheppard, once you get out of the tunnel at the 404, it’s fairly easy going. The cost of the new carhouse at Conlins Road is probably entirely in the Sheppard budget, and the original need for a new SRT carhouse has been eliminated from that project.

    In fairness to people looking at project costs, the TTC should break out elements so that we can see the unit costs of surface construction, underground construction, elevated, stations and carhouses. This would allow a much better direct comparison between routes and show how decisions about alignments affect the total cost. This is not well understood and can only be guessed at even by people like me who follow the issue closely.

  16. Jonathon says:

    When it comes to YRT, there is a fine line between good service and waste. Try running a bus every 15 minutes up and down suburban Bathurst Street until some ungodly hour, and I would bet money that no more than 1-2 people would be on each bus.

    Steve: This is a good example of the limitations of transit where the population is dispersed and a lot of travel within the region is not to destinations conveniently accessed on bus routes. My gut feeling is that until there is a core network of frequent routes on which to build, any widespread implementation of good offpeak service cannot work.

  17. Misha says:

    Isn’t there construction work on Enterprise Blvd for the York Region VIVA Busway?

    I went there last February and there was construction, so are parts of it funded or the York Region Transit funds part of the unfunded section?

    Steve: Some work is already underway, but the VIVA project involves more than the section where they actually managed to get a shovel in the ground. Given York Region’s unwillingness to pay more than they absolutely have to for transit, I doubt they would be prepared to go ahead with the project on their own.

  18. Sherman says:

    Do you think that with no part of the actual SELRT right-of-way built yet, the Province might try to wiggle its way off the project?

    Steve: No. This line is falling apart and needs to be rebuilt regardless of any larger plans. If it is rebuilt as ICTS, it will never be extended because the cost of that technology is too high. This may be seen as one of the Pan Am projects.

    The TTC is humming and hawing about whether they could keep the SRT running. It’s amazing that a political climate that believes nothing the TTC says and trashes their “expertise” would choose to believe that the SRT would actually still be capable of operation in 2015. We could wind up spending a ton of money on short term fixes, money that would be better spent on replacing the line. However, the TTC will probably low-ball estimates of the cost of such fixes just as they have underplayed the ongoing cost of repair projects on the line ever since it opened.

  19. Kristian says:

    So now that the rules of the economic game have completely changed in the Province, can we go back to building TTC-guage track?

  20. PSC says:

    Jonathan said:

    When it comes to YRT, there is a fine line between good service and waste. Try running a bus every 15 minutes up and down suburban Bathurst Street until some ungodly hour, and I would bet money that no more than 1-2 people would be on each bus.

    Bathurst is only now being finished for development (google maps shows last summer’s extent of buildout) on the Vaughan side, and I can see that in the next few years potential ridership will reach its maximum potential. What that is, exactly, I don’t know… And it’d be about a 20 minute walk to Yonge Viva anyway.

    But even during rush hour, once the area is fully occupied, I’d bet running shorter than 15 m headways would be a waste.

    Bathurst is also slated to be widened up to Teston/Elgin Mills from Highway 407. It will remain a car-oriented strip for the forseeable future.

  21. Paul Langley says:

    It seems to me that tolling the 400 series highways province wide would be counter productive in the long run. Taxing the expressways will force more burdens on the industrial base of this province that depend on “just in time” commerce via truck to survive. Gutting this province’s industry to expand transit is in the long term a questionable idea at best, but i’m sure CP and CN would love it in the medium term with the increased MI-ON traffic.

    Taxing the DVP and Gardiner makes more sense, at least during peak times, as they are a major cause of the overall traffic over-capacity into and out of the downtown core. Before i moved into the city i was one of those poor non-carpool souls, but i have no sympathy for any of them anymore. Tax the DVP south of Lawrance and the DVP exits into the downtown. Even $1 a day per car would net tens of millions a year… even if it’s only on weekdays… and I don’t think it would cause undo hardship on the commuters using those routes, especially if the closest routes to them had traffic light timings and speed limits changed to slow traffic… I know it sounds like idling alot of traffic, but people will avoid those routes faily quickly if they know it will take 2-3 times longer to get to work/home. Tens of millions a year would allow the TTC to slowly build out LRT and BRT to the burbs and allow density to follow along allowing more trips/day and making the expansions that much more revenue generating. Subways could replace the LRT/BRT routes slowly as well once th ridership was there to support it, unlike the Sheppard fiasco with it’s Field of Dreams mentality… of the upcoming Vaughn extension.

    It’s time for Toronto to wake up and get with the 21st century… Government bailouts for transit aren’t going to happen anymore, we have to fight for out own money for transit.

  22. WildAce says:

    Not sure if this is the correct place to ask, but why does the 85 have so many branches listed on the TTC site, yet on their map it’s just 85, 85A, 85B?

    Would you be able to explain what the D, F, G, H, J, etc. are? It seems like they are variations of the above 3 branches but it’s confusing. If you could list their terminus points at each end and when they “specifically” run in terms of peak/midday/evening & day of the week that would be much appreciated.

    Also, with this delay in funding is it safe to say that the Don Mills LRT should not be built until it can at least reach 16th Avenue funding-wise? I see no point in building it until Steeles and then turning it back there.

    Steve: The branches listed in the TTC’s service summary are:

    85 Yonge to Meadowvale
    85A Don Mills Stn to Rouge Hill GO Stn
    85B Sheppard Station to Zoo
    85C Don Mills Stn to Meadowvale
    85D Don Mills Stn to Rouge Hill GO Stn via Zoo
    85F Don Mills Stn to Zoo
    85G Sheppard Station to Rough Hill GO Stn
    85J Sheppard Station to Don Mills Stn

    The Don Mills LRT is not funded yet, and given the interest in York Region in having this line run north of Steeles, funding the whole thing at once makes sense. That said, the real question is at the south end where, as we have discussed here at some length, a DRL may take over the function of the proposed LRT line.

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