Queen’s Park has announced that it will build the four previously funded Transit City lines (Sheppard East, Finch West, Eglinton and the SRT rebuild/extension) as well as the VIVA busway, but over a longer time than planned.
Tess Kalinowski writes about this in today’s Star.
The construction start dates will be adjusted:
- Sheppard and VIVA are already underway and will continue.
- Eglinton will not start until 2012 rather than the originally planned 2010
- Finch West will not start until 2013 rather than 2010
- The SRT will continue operating until after the Pan Am Games in 2015 at which point it will close for reconstruction. Second-hand Mark I ICTS cars will be purchased from Vancouver to supplement the existing fleet in the interim.
Also rumoured is a Metrolinx announcement regarding purchase of cars for these lines from Bombardier.
All of the details will come out at the Metrolinx Board meeting on May 19, 2010.
The City of Toronto has proposed that it would finance the projects starting on the original schedule as this would be cheaper than other capital expenses it would have to undertake (a larger bus fleet and a new garage) to handle system growth pending opening of the Transit City lines. One might argue that they should just “get by” if this would only be a short-term pressure, but if Queen’s Park’s new promise falls through (there might be a different party in power by the time in came to actually pay up), the TTC would be seriously behind in providing capacity.
Rob Prichard of Metrolinx argues that the financial goal is to minimize provincial debt, and starting the projects early would add to the debt regardless of who pays the interest costs in the short term. This is really the nub of the debate. Queen’s Park seeks to minimize its book debt, and must deal with accounting standards that no longer allow governments to hide debt through leases or third-party financing. Oddly enough, this also affects some privatization schemes because, ultimately, the government is still on the hook to pay for the lines.
There are much larger questions in play here.
Metrolinx “Big Move” plan includes over 50 projects, and we have no idea of how Queen’s Park will pay for them, much less operate the network once it is built. If the first five projects are stretched over the next decade, when will work begin on the others? Will any new revenues (tolls, taxes, the Tooth Fairy) be used to fund additional projects, or will they backfill the original five?
Metrolinx’ mandate for a financial plan was explicitly set up to keep funding issues off the radar until after the 2011 provincial election, but that idea (a triumph of politics over good planning) fell apart when the 2010 budget cut funding for transit.
On top of this, there is no word on a provincial role in funding operating costs of local transit systems. In a best-case scenario, this might show up in the 2011 budget as a pre-election goodie, but Toronto and the TTC will go into their own budget cycle (which is largely complete by the time Queen’s Park announces its own plans) facing a TTC operating subsidy of about half a billion dollars. Mayoral candidates have a lot to be worried about, and they won’t solve the problem by counting the pencils.