Ontario Spends on Roads, Reneges on Transit

In between the World Cup, the Stanley Cup (does anyone even care?), strikes, resignations and other scandals, the Ontario Minister of Transportation announced a $3.4-billion, five-year plan to invest in highways.  Remember that as you read what follows.

The TTC and the City of Toronto are in a horrible mess on their capital budget planning.  WHen the 2006-2010 budget was approved, the City was facing a funding shortfall of $319-million over five years, mostly in 2009-2010.  This is troubling, but manageable.  The tooth fairy, not to mention one or two elections, will shake loose funding and the problem would go away.

However, in Ontario’s budget announcement, they neglected to trumpet the fact that major changes were happening in transit capital subsidy programs.  The Ontario Transit Vehicle Program was cancelled and it was replaced with the much smaller Vehicle Funding Program.  Here is the impact of the change:

  • No funding to rebuild buses
  • No funding for ridership growth buses
  • No funding for the premium cost of hybrid buses
  • No funding for streetcar, subway or RT rebuilding or purchase
  • A probable $50-million cap on bus replacement funding under the new program

The combined effect of all of these cuts is to add a further $392-million to the unfunded portion of the TTC’s capital budget.  Now the hole is $711-million.

But wait … there’s more.  The TTC hasn’t been able to include some projects in its budget projections because of political interference, and some projects (such as the impact of fast-growing ridership) are not accounted for.  Specifically, the following items are not in the existing 2006-2010 plans.

  • New LRT cars and carhouse
  • Bus fleet growth to accommodate 3% ridership increase rate
  • Resignalling of the south end of the Yonge subway

These three items add a further $507-million bringing the total to $1.218-billion over five years, about a third of what Ontario will spend on highways during the same period.

Oh yes, you have probably noticed that there is no Spadina subway (or any other new line for that matter).  Hmmm … the cost of the subway is roughly equal to the shortfall for everything else.  Maybe we can do a trade.

Queen’s Park makes some fine statements about smart growth, about encouraging the use of transit, about moving to compact urban forms, but they don’t pay their bills.  Indeed, we are about to get a regional transit authority just at a time when nobody has any money for anything.

The next time Dalton McGuinty talks about his commitments, remember that he likes roads a lot more than transit.

PS:  Maybe York University should go into the toll highway business? 

5 thoughts on “Ontario Spends on Roads, Reneges on Transit

  1. Until there is a full blown oil crisis, it will always be status quo in Ontario.  For transit users and Toronto, when gasoline is $8 per gallon, then transit investment will start to flow.  One must remember that highways were built largely during the 1950s as a response to the Cold War.  The reason was that the country needed highways to move troops quickly and as emergency runways for military aircraft.

    The only way to get transit investment flowing is to align this issue with national defence.  No one argues about increase defence spending especially in today’s unstable geopolitical envrionment.  This will also get more people on board advocating for transit.  It must be said that energy independence must be made a goal for Canada.  How will history judge the McGuinty administration building highways, when no one can afford the gas to power the vehicles on the highway?

    Do I wish for $8 / gallon of gas?  No.  I operate a motor vehicle, bicycle and take the TTC.  However, if it gets a tram line built on Brimley or Bombardier ICTS lines covering the entire Scarborough, it is something I am willing to endure.

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  2. Yuck U has been in the parking lot business for decades, so it probably will see tolls as a detriment to its main business instead of as an additional revenue stream.  Just kidding.  Sort of.

    Interesting that the Liberals are ramping up for an election and they make big promises for car owners.  Coincidence?  I’m guessing that the Liberals see more fundraising potential from car owners in the 905 than from transit advocates in any area code.  Where have you gone, Bill Davis?

    This makes me think that government has no room for visionaries any more.  The people who get into the upper echelons in politics these days seem to be folks who basically say, “I’m just happy to be here and, the Good Lord willing, things will work out.”

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  3. So, the Liberals want to rebuff transit funding while blowing money away on unneeded highway expansion projects that I do not support, like a 404 extension, a “Bradford Bypass”, and many others?  As I, who considers myself an NDP supporter/skeptic of George W. Bush/Canadian/citizen of the world and lives in Dalton McGuinty’s home city of Ottawa, would think, what were they thinking?  Is this really being done for an election PR stunt?

    Here’s my favoured approach I have summarized, in no particular order:

    Cancel highway projects that are unnecessary, like these ones I mentioned above, an eastward 407 extension (and planned links to the 401 around Ajax/Whitby and Oshawa/Clarington), a 410 extension (possibly to Orangeville?), a northward 427 extension (please note that, as appearing to be planned already, they will go through environmentally sensitive areas, including the Oak Ridges greenbelt), the Mid-Peninsula Highway, and other widenings, like of the 401, the QEW, and the 400, for instance.
    Get new, accessible streetcar vehicles.  A good example of a model I found is the Citadis model, used on newly opened tram systems in Dublin (Luas) and in French cities, but also on the legacy systems in Melbourne and Rotterdam.  This is a very high priority, particularly as I agree that improved service is needed on all streetcar lines, St. Clair and Queen included.
    Make the subway and RT system fully accessible while getting reliable subway cars, notwithstanding current plans to replace the Scarborough RT, possibly with light rail.
    Improve buses.  That said, some existing buses should be enhanced while new ones should be ordered, and service on existing routes should be improved, as with streetcars.
    Create a program of GO Transit commuter rail expansion, by improving service on all current lines, as well as adding new stations when possible and making all existing stations accessible.  For instance, improving commuter rail service on the Bradford Line (I’m assuming that it’s extended to Barrie), Stouffville Line, and Richmond Hill Line would be a viable alternative to 400 and 404 expansion and 404 and 427 extensions.
    Add new light rail and streetcar lines, as my alternative to subway expansion, which can go into York Region and Mississauga.

    In conclusion, yes, it’s going to cost a fortune, but if we don’t do anything about it, its cost will be even worse.  If McGuinty and the Liberals are really going to do a good job, they should consider the (certainly grave) consequences of an all-highway policy (particularly if it is one that emphasizes expansion).

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  4. I’m starting to fear that public transit IS doomed in Toronto.  Politically, with half the GTA living outside Toronto proper, there is the expediency of catering to 905ers, who only care about cars (or maybe an extra GO Train or two).

    Yet logistically the huge costs are all in Toronto — not just in expanding but state of good repair work.  No provincial government (even a somewhat lefty Liberal one) will see the benefit in making the big dollars available to Toronto that are necessary to make and keep Toronto a transit-oriented city.

    The missing piece of course is sustained federal funding (at least for the megaprojects a la Spadina) but, at least with the current PM, getting these dollars for transit will be tough.  We need more dedicated funding tools, like 2 NEW cents on the gas tax, maybe a 1% sales tax and other sources to prevent a downward spiral that will hugely impact on quality of life.

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