Two media reports caught my eye on the subject of TTC funding. It’s amazing how much people can avoid making real commitments to transit, and how much they hide behind “financial accountability”.
In today’s column by Royson James in the Star, we find John Tory, leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park, saying:
Before getting new powers the city should do a “full line-by-line program review and value-for-money audit” to squeeze out every bit of inefficiency. Then, a new governance structure must be in place to force accountability.
Only after the audit, new governance, and a long-term fiscal deal drafted by the province do you pass the City of Toronto Act, Tory said. By then, the city would not need new taxing powers to ding business. As well, Tory argued, the Toronto region needs long-term plans for economic development, transportation, waste management and neighbourhood revitalization. “One subway, a faraway plan for an integrated transit pass and a relatively toothless regional transportation authority do not constitute a long-range transportation plan for the Toronto region,” he said.
Rather than actually giving us any new revenue with which to tackle the huge backlog of infrastructure projects, Tory would have us engage an army of accountants to count pennies and make sure we were not wasting them on frivolities.
Even assuming there’s a lot of gold in them-thar hills, the amount of money we are likely to find is a pittance beside our actual needs. Moreover, it’s the soft services, the ones where we cannot establish a dollar value on the benefits, that seem to hurt the most when we conduct these audits.
But having a study lets us put off the inevitable, the need for major new funding sources to repair our crumbling city and build transit networks.
Tory went on to say:
The city region needs plans to replace the Scarborough RT, extend the Bloor subway westward and the Yonge subway north, improve GO service and build more roads.
Hmmm … I don’t remember seeing Bloor or Yonge subway extensions on anyone’s plans. Has John Tory talked to York University recently? Is he pre-announcing new Tory transit initiatives?
Meanwhile on the Government side of the house, we have Minister of Transportation Donna Cansfield quoted by Jeff Gray in today’s Dr. Gridlock in the Globe. Talking about the $400-million that has vanished from the TTC’s expected funding, Dr. Gridlock reports:
… she is committed to working with the TTC on its capital plans, but added, with a hint of exasperation in her voice, that the Liberals have already provided $1.5-billion over three years to the TTC alone: “At some point you have to be accountable for the money you have received.”
This is laughable coming from someone who used to chair the Toronto school board and knows just how Queen’s Park likes to paint municipal agencies as spendthrifts. At one stroke, Cansfield implies that we have somehow wasted all that money, or are hiding it under a rock, and that future spending clearly should be at a lower level.
The problems with transit go back into the 1990s when we began to systematically underfund transit operations and growth. Now we have a backlog on the capital account to catch up with, and an operating budget that cannot fund the level of service we had in 1990. It’s rather like a steel mill spending all its money on dividends and deferring maintenance only to find that they’re no longer competitive and can’t afford to modernize.
When someone can explain to me why the Sheppard Subway was the most important transit project of the 1990s, and why its cousin, the Spadina extension sits atop the pile today, then we can have a serious chat about “value for money”.
Cansfield and the whole crew at Queen’s Park, on both sides of the aisle, need to stop pretending this history of disinvestment in transit didn’t happen. Significantly more spending, both on capital and operations, are essential to meet the expectations we place on transit systems. Otherwise, all the talk of smart growth, smart cards and transit cities is just hot air.