Who Will Pay for New Streetcars?

A great deal of bilge was pumped out by Ottawa and Queen’s Park over the past few days about the TTC’s proposed order of new streetcars from Bombardier.

In today’s Globe & Mail, John Barber did a particularly nice job of eviscerating George Smitherman, the Minister of Infrastructure, for his apparent total ignorance of the TTC’s funding needs and requests.

It’s no secret that the TTC is looking for new streetcars.  The original bid process had to be halted when no vendor came up with a technically and commercially compliant proposal, and more recently the whole process of getting a second set of bids has been well covered in the media.

Many of us will remember walking through Bombardier’s mockup display at Dundas Square which happens to be in Smitherman’s riding.  Maybe he was out of town at the time and missed it.

Smitherman claims that the City can’t make up its mind what its priorities are.  Strange that in a letter to Dalton McGuinty, copied to Smitherman, dated December 16, 2008, Mayor Miller wrote of upcoming meetings of Finance and First Ministers:

Toronto’s first priority for infrastructure is to build Transit City, the 21st century modern public transit network that our city needs.  The Government of Ontario has demonstrated foresight and leadership in its support for Transit City.  Toronto City Council has unanimously agreed to request the Government of Canada to provide:

  • $368 million toward the streetcar fleet’s replacement and expansion; and
  • the federal $6 billion share of Ontario’s $17.5 billion Move Ontario 2020 commitment for the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan.

The streetcar fleet replacement also shows up in the list of funding requests under the stimulus program by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Other related letters to both Queen’s Park and Ottawa can be found on the City’s website.

Meanwhile, Smitherman’s comment that the TTC shouldn’t be awarding a contract without knowing funding is in place shows that he is badly out of touch.  First off, the TTC has not signed the contract, and its execution is dependent on funding being in place.

Second, there is a long history of agencies such as Metrolinx (a provincial body) announcing plans for which they have no funding, and for which even discussion of proper funding won’t happen for years into the future.  There are two subway extensions (Spadina/Vaughan and Richmond Hill) of which the first was not fully funded until long after the project was announced, and the second still does not have full commitments.

That’s how projects like this work.

The streetcar purchase will run over a 10-year period, and funding it can hardly be called a short-term stimulus.  Funding would likely come from some other program, but the funding should come.  Toronto is asking, in effect, for $40-million a year from Ottawa and from Queen’s Park to re-equip the core of central Toronto’s transit system and to anchor the expansion of LRT in our city.