Attention 905: Transit Cuts Hurt You Too

Yesterday evening, a full crowd at Toronto Council Chamber chanted the words “Save Transit City”, the mantra-de-jour of the Public Transit Coalition.  This was a rousing meeting, a rally to spur people to get out and develop support in their communities, and it ended with a surprise visit from David Miller to send everyone out in high spirits.

Some media and political reaction was quite predictable and treated this as an event to be ignored by all right-thinking folks and especially by Queen’s Park.  MPP Glen Murray was there to put a goverment spin on the situation by claiming that all of the projects are still going ahead, and we’re only having a short delay while the treasury recovers from recent unpleasant circumstances.

Would that it were so easy.  Already, word is leaking out of Metrolinx that some Transit City routes are on the chopping block.  Not deferred.  Cancelled.  The Scarborough RT will never reach Malvern because it won’t be rebuilt, merely re-equipped with aging second-hand cars from Vancouver.  Eglinton may never reach the airport.  Jane?  Don Mills?  In your dreams.

This may play well to 905 voters and to the press who pander to an us-vs-them viewpoint of relations with the City and especially with the Miller regime.  However, it’s time for the folks “out there” to wake up and see what funding deferrals mean for them.

The Metrolinx Big Move contains roughly $50-billion worth of projects spread over a 25-year period.  I doubt that this estimate (leaving aside inflation, changes in interest rates, or capacity limits of the construction industry) is any more valid than the oft-criticized estimates for TTC projects.  Somehow we are to believe that Metrolinx has a much more accurate crystal ball than the TTC, but I have my doubts.  They certainly do not have a track record to prove it.

Queen’s Park hoped that Ottawa would come in for 1/3, but that clearly isn’t happening with a Harper government, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Iggy, if he ever gets to the corner office, to be any more helpful.  We’re not the only city wanting federal handouts.

That means Ontario has to find $2-billion a year in new money, and likely another $1-billion to handle future operating costs once the lines are up and running.  So far, they had announced $11-billion and change, but that would not cover anywhere near all of the 50-plus projects in The Big Move.

Remember that The Big Move has 15 Top Priority projects (see page 60 in The Big Move):

  • Express rail on the GO Lakeshore corridor (frequent, electrified all-day service)
  • Rapid transit from Eastgate Mall to McMaster University in Hamilton
  • Rapid transit on Dundas Street in Halton and Peel
  • 403 Transitway from Mississauga City Centre to Renforth
  • Hurontario rapid transit from Port Credit to Brampton
  • Brampton’s Queen Street Acceleride
  • Rail link from Union Station to Pearson Airport
  • VIVA Highway 7 and Yonge Street projects
  • Spadina Subway to Vaughan Corporate Centre
  • Yonge Subway capacity improvements and Richmond Hill extension
  • Eglinton rapid transit from Pearson to Scarborough Centre
  • Finch/Sheppard rapid transit from Pearson to Meadowvale
  • Upgrade and extention of the Scarborough RT
  • Rapid transit on Highway 2 in Durham
  • Improvements of existing GO services and extension to Bowmanville

A few of these projects are funded and in progress, but many are not.  How will their timetables be affected by pushing back the “Top 5” projects?  How long will people in the 905 have to wait for their transit services?

Debates about funding sources seem to focus on commutes into Toronto, but many of the “Top 15” projects have nothing to do with downtown-oriented travel.

Queen’s Park and Metrolinx were also big on “alternative procurement” involving private sector capital, construction and possibly operations.  Strangely, the delay in the early projects is all put down to provincial spending constraints, and there’s no word of the bucketloads of capital supposedly available elsewhere.

Queen’s Park has a lot of explaining to do, and they need to set out a clear roadmap for transit development.

Meanwhile, out in the 905, voters need to wake up.  Queen and Bay may be a long way from where they live, and a Toronto rally may seem of little consequence.  That bus, that LRT, that subway you were hoping to see soon is still a long way off and it’s not headed your way.