Today the Feds were on hand to announce funding of the Union Station expansion. Shhh. It’s a secret. This contract was awarded at the TTC meeting in April and tendered much earlier. You were not supposed to notice. Ottawa is trying to convince Toronto that they love us.
Earlier today, I was on CBC’s Ontario Today show talking about this announcement and its implications for transit in Toronto and surrounding communities. Here is a precis of my position.
First off, I believe that GO Transit stands to benefit at least as much if not more than the TTC from the restructured mezzanine because this will improve the capacity for flow between the office towers and the railway station. Demand on the TTC is constrained not just by Union Station itself, but by the fact that it’s not the only place people try to board the subway. There is actually heavier demand from King and Queen Stations than at Union.
Next, the Harbourfront streetcar loop will get a somewhat improved connection because the point in the existing link roughly at the bottom of the escalator will be directly on the northbound-to-Yonge platform. What this project does not do is expand the capacity of Union Station Loop. That loop was a joke when it was built (TTC engineers claimed it could handle 7,000 passengers per hour) and badly needs expansion. There are a few schemes for this but the most likely to be built involves moving the platform to the southbound straightaway beside the existing southbound tunnel. This is an essential part of any waterfront east or west line for which there is no funding.
One big problem with current arrangements is the idea that somehow bringing everyone to the table is a good idea — the city pays 1/3, Queen’s Park pays 1/3 and Ottawa pays 1/3. It does not work that way. Under the Martin government, the only projects that qualified for Federal funds were those that addressed the Kyoto accord. If you wanted to buy a $750,000 hybrid bus, that counted, but buying a $500,000 clean diesel bus did not. I am not going to get into the arguments about comparative technologies and emissions here, but the huge advantage once enjoyed by hybrid and fuel cell technologies has been eaten away as diesels are forced to get better at controlling emissions in truck engines. The bus industry has benefitted from that work.
Another problem is that Ottawa’s priorities don’t match Queen’s Park’s which don’t match Toronto’s. Elections will intervene at one level or another often enough to shake things up and we’re back to square one. I liked the good old days when Ottawa gave money to Queen’s Park in block grants and transit funding decisions were at least confined to the provincial and municipal levels. At least we only had to convince two sets of politicians that the spending was worthwhile.
Moreover, with the exception of Mayor Miller’s 100 new buses, we are not actually expanding the fleet or providing more service, only replacing old vehicles with new ones. Frankly, I’m not sure that the premium for hybrid vehicles is worth it. Most “new” buses, regardless of their technology, don’t attract new riders, they just keep the ones we already have from being squeezed onto a declining fleet.
Next, when you buy buses, or streetcars, or subway cars, you have to actually run them and this costs money. Toronto Council has this idiotic idea that transit subsidies should not rise faster than inflation. They need to learn that if the TTC is getting bigger, that’s a cost over and above inflationary increases in everything else. If we, as a City, decide that running better transit system is a good idea, that costs money.
We cannot be a Transit City without paying our bills.
If Stephen Harper wants to support transit, he is going to have to shell out hundreds of millions, no billions more than he has so far. I don’t see any new money yet, and certainly nothing that would give the TTC and other systems like GO Transit long-term security for budget planning.
If Dalton McGuinty wants to support transit, he is going to have to stop pretending that his “new” funding is so wonderful when it still does not reach historic levels under the last Liberal government, David Peterson’s.
If David Miller wants to support transit, he is going to have to read the riot act to his Budget Advisory Committee and stop letting them sandbag every decent proposal for improved transit service that comes out of the TTC. If he won’t, then he should concentrate his election campaign on something else.
Toronto is very badly served by politicians who are good at making announcements, but who won’t pay the bills. As I have discussed elsewhere, we have many studies in progress for new LRT lines and an Official Plan that assumes substantial expansion of transit services. Nobody knows how we are going to pay for this in an already crowded capital budget.
It’s nice that someone from Ottawa remembers we exist and came to town even if it was for a comparatively small project and very old funding. When I start to see Federal money flowing to new projects without a thousand strings attached, then I will believe they’re serious.
Meanwhile, it’s time for Toronto and Ontario to get on with building our transit systems.