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.

57 thoughts on “Attention 905: Transit Cuts Hurt You Too

  1. Even if funding for Transit City is restored, it is unlikely that the Don Mills or Jane LRTs will ever be built. Doesn’t that effectively kill the network’s usefulness? TC was a network concept — it wasn’t about building separate light rail lines that only run east-west.

    In light of all this, wouldn’t it be better to just cancel the entire project and re-allocate the money to improving regional transit? — ie. GO electrification, the Downtown Relief Subway, etc.

    Steve: You know my feelings about Don Mills, that it should end at Eglinton. That said, a route north from there is still possible, and York Region would like it to go beyond Steeles. As for Jane, only the section south of Eglinton is a real challenge. Short term, it can feed into the Eglinton line and hence to Eg West Station. Further out, it could feed a DRL west if one every gets to Weston.


  2. Steve, When Transit City was announced, I was extremely suspect about the projects ever happening (remember, no federal funding = nothing, in my opinion). When MoveOntario came along I went, “maybe it’s for real … but the feds aren’t there.” After several photo ops and no federal funding, sadly it appears that my suspicions were right. You can all do the posing but if there is no co-operation amongst all three, there is nothing. The first thirty years of my life were spent down in the St.Clair/Dufferin area. The past twenty some were spent living ten minutes away from where the terminal would be for the Yonge subway extension. I know it affects everyone 905 and 416. Whenever there has been a transit strike it affects the roads for of all of us. Same with these announcements … hope for the “Better Way” that shall never be seen again. Keep up the good work!!


  3. Despite what Hazel McCallion says, tolls just aren’t feasible.

    Setting up an electronic toll system like the 407 would cost hundreds of millions of dollars — unless they want to put in toll booths and effectively cripple all traffic. I heard that the overhead of tolling is around 40%, so it would be a while before the City saw a real ROI and could start directing that money towards transportation improvements.


  4. I must politely disagree with City Boy at Heart’s concerns about Federal Funding. Cities are a creation and child of the Province and should be funded accordingly through a combination of local taxes and Provincial Funding. Major projects in the past (400 series highways,Yonge Subway, BD Subway) were not left on tenterhooks pending the Federal Funding announcements. (I must acknowledge that I am a fan of Jeffrey Simpson and agree with and perhaps at time appropriate his ideas. However, this is also my thinking.)

    The issue about whether the Canadian Tax burden has been fairly distributed across the country is a separate issue. It is not solved by the Federal Government providing ad hoc (at whim) funding for projects that are rightly a Provincial Responsibility. Unfortunately, modern government, rather than taking a true interest in the health and prosperity of all Canadians, are more focused on re-election. Hence, ribbon cuttings, repeat announcement and complicated joint funding initiatives that often fall through.

    Ontario needs adequate resources – through fair distribution of Federal transfer payments and tax room as well as adequate internal taxation (see my note above) so that it can commit to, and complete, projects in Provincial jurisdiction.

    Steve: I have come to believe that the whole purpose of announcing tri-partite programs where at least one partner has not yet signed on is to actually kill, or severely hamper, the program on the grounds that the missing partner (and their money) has not come to the table.. Saying you are making a huge commitment to public transit when this presumes a 1/3 federal share is no commitment at all.

    Initially, McGuinty “did the right thing” by funding the first round of projects without the Feds, but now his budget cuts (aka “deferrals”) have the same effect as if the Federal share was never going to be funded.


  5. I think part of the problem is the size of the 905. It is easier for Torontonians to protest a cut made in the 416, because it affects our city directly, but I doubt a voter in Ajax is very concerned that a project in Hamilton is being cut (yet they should). Yes, the list of 905 projects is long, but you are really looking at 1 or 2 transit projects for each of the 905 towns/cities (with some of these projects sounding more like experiments). Since most of these town/cities are very car-centric, these projects are not on the top of the voters list of wants/needs.

    We moved to Mississauga in 1995, and back then they were talking of HOV lanes on Hurontario. It is now 2010 and they are still not built. Yet plenty of roads have been built since. If Hazel really wanted HOV lanes, I think they would already be there.


  6. Michael Greason, you head the nail on the head with your comments. As unpalitable as it might be, we need to pay more taxes, particularly at the provincial level. Why do we pay more to the feds than the province, when it is the latter who has all the heavy commitments: healthcare, education and regional transit?


  7. Regarding the SRT: the TTC has a long history of rebuilding (and then rebuilding again) its buses and streetcars. If I am not mistaken, many PCCs from the 1950s where still in service in the 1990s, and many fishbowls from the late 1970s are still rumbling down our streets today, having been rebuilt several times.

    Ideally, it would be great to upgrade the SRT now, but given the lack of funding coming from Queen’s Park, what’s wrong with rebuilding the cars? The SRT is an existing line, and I was never too crazy about having to live without it for several years without a viable alternative. The biggest problem with the SRT is the TTC’s inability to increase service due to a lack of extra cars, so purchasing used ones from Vancouver and rebuilding them all for another 15 years of service isn’t too bad an idea.

    The bottom line is that it would probably be better to wait until some other LRT or subway lines are built first, before we mess around with an existing rapid transit line. For example, if one day we have a Sheppard East LRT or a completed Sheppard subway, there would at least be a viable alternative to a closed-down SRT. Today, all we would have are packed buses lumbering down to Kennedy Station, in which case I, like many others, would likely start driving a lot more than I do now.


  8. Laurie says:
    April 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    “Michael Greason, you head the nail on the head with your comments. As unpalitable as it might be, we need to pay more taxes, particularly at the provincial level. Why do we pay more to the feds than the province, when it is the latter who has all the heavy commitments: healthcare, education and regional transit?”

    We pay all that money to the feds so that they can give it to the other provinces, except Alberta and BC. It is called “Equalization Payments” but it really means let’s get the fat cats in Ontario to pay for our needs.


  9. The problem isn’t whether you can rebuild the cars or not, but the cost of the entire project. How much will the Vancouver cars cost, how much will the rebuilding cost, how much work needs to be done on track, signalling, stations, etc. Can’t tell me there isn’t work needed a quarter century after it opened.


  10. “That quip about the 401 is unwarranted. The Detroit-Windsor border crossing is one of the busiest in the world, as is Highway 401 itself. Be grateful that instead of a spider-web of freeways, we only have one major crossroad, and live with the fact that trucks need to get around too.”

    Yes, it was warranted.

    Funding is political, and continuing to fund a hometown project (also see: Sorbara Subway) while taking away funding from other projects is very political, whether you agree with it or not.


  11. Wogster wrote about the Spadina subway extension, “…in that it will be easy for drivers to zip across the 407, use the massive parking lot they will build there and then take the subway into the city.”

    That depends on how one defines “massive”. According to principle (k) of the June 2008 Memorandum of Understanding, there will only be 600 parking spots at the 407 station (and NONE at VCC!). Also, the TTC will charge a minimum of double the TTC or YRT average fare for parking, whichever is lower.

    The real “let’s build it to keep the car drivers happy” is the proposed Yonge extension, with a 1900-space parking lot at the Langstaff/Longbridge station.


  12. I think 600 spaces is probably insufficient, and 1900 at Yonge Street is beyond stupid. I was living on York Mills, 15 years ago, and the chances of getting a seat at York Mills Station on a train, during rush hour, was about 2% then. This was before the Sheppard line and all the condo towers on Sheppard, so it’s probably crush load south of Sheppard now.

    Extending the Yonge line simply moves the point where trains are full further North. This also means we encourage people who live further into the city to drive, because they see 47 trains go by that are already at crush load. The province has all these bright ideas, but ultimately it’s Toronto tax payers who can’t even use the service who end up paying for it.


  13. Sean

    You might want to lean on Shawn Micallef for a bit more information on the need for significant improvement of flow of commerce through, or bypassing, Detroit/Windsor. The efficiency of these crossings has more impact on our province’s financial well-being than you seem to be giving credit for. This is not a Windsor project (except for the reduction of truck-induced smog), this is a provincial project and benefits manufacturing throughout southern Ontario.

    Back on topic: I’m holding out hope on Viva reviving the Yonge Street Rapidway project as/after the YNSE study finishes and is shuffled to the back of the queue; it would also require the City of Toronto to get their act together on upgrading Yonge from Steeles to Finch…


  14. (Arrgh – this should be the correct version to post)

    I am wondering how Shawn Micallef was brought up in here, apart from the fact (it’s no secret) that he’s from Windsor. Obviously, you know who I am because I usually post my name, but I don’t know who you are, PSC, and curious now as you’ve called me out and brought up somebody else by their full name.

    I stand by the argument that all funding is political – as it pits the needs of one stakeholder over another, each with very valid economics – Toronto’s congestion (and jobs here and in Thunder Bay and perhaps LRT projects in the pipeline elsewhere) vs. serving the needs of truckers and the heavy industrial sector. I’m not even sure if the bridge will be built, or if Matty Maroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, will somehow win and build the dual span of the Ambassador.

    A cynic would point out that Duncan is from Windsor, and finance ministers are adept at bringing home “the pork” (Sorbara’s subway, Flaharty’s university, Eves’ 69 widening). Local political factors (the NDP has traditionally been strong in Windsor) could very well have factored into the decision to cut TC funding.

    I’m somewhat surprised that this quip got this far.


  15. Anybody that argues that a new bridge across the Detroit River is needed hasn’t looked at the traffic figures over the past decade. Traffic has been steadily declining. Since the balancing out of what can be called the “casino effect,” the bridge traffic has whittled substantially. Bluewater, Detroit Tunnel, and the Ambassador Bridge have all seen their traffic volumes drop by up to about half, literally, over the past decade. With oil prices on the rise, and a possible renewal of rail freight on the horizon (Warren Buffett doesn’t buy Burlington North Santa Fe because it’s cute), it’s hard to see how there could be any surge in demand for traffic at the Detroit crossings when there’s plenty of room to spare currently.

    Moreover, any lineups happening (and generally there isn’t anything more than 10 minutes unless there’s an accident) are not due to a lack of infrastructure, it’s a lack of Customs Canada officials to man the booths at the plaza of the Ambassador Bridge, as around half the booths are empty at any given time. The Ambassador Bridge sums up the debate with the Federal Government/Customs Canada nicely;

    Feds/Customs: “We need more capacity!”
    Ambassador Bridge: “Yeah,” (points to booths) “man your booths!”

    It’s $5-BILLION to build a new bridge in a new location, and it also blows away several hundred homes, and that’s just on the Canadian side of the new bridge. Yet there isn’t a realistic demand projection to justify a new bridge. Even if there was, the Ambassador Bridge plan makes much more sense economically and environmentally, as well as from an integrated transportation system perspective.

    For an incredibly small fraction of that cost, an Intelligent Transportation System east of the 401/402 Junction could work to direct traffic to the least congested crossing between Detroit Tunnel, Ambassador Bridge, and Bluewater Bridge. The trip via Sarnia is negligibly longer than the trip via Detroit, assuming you start east of London and are heading to or west of Detroit.

    It’s also worth noting that the Detroit River Gateway on the US side is already built and has 3 Interstates converging on the Ambassador Bridge. A new bridge would not work with the Gateway. There are plans for addressing the complications associated with Huron-Church as well.

    This is a great case where the private sector couldn’t be happier to pay the costs for added capacity in transportation infrastructure, because in this case the private sector has to make an investment in State of Good Repair anyway for their existing private sector transportation infrastructure (and that involves twinning). If so much energy is put into trying to offload transportation infrastructure off the government books, why is the perfect opportunity to do so being squandered in favour of a public bridge that would presumably compete with and decimate the private sector business with their existing bridge?


  16. To the premise of this post, and not to get diverted by the other discussion:

    Steve, you said

    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

    The basic problem, as I see it, is that public transit for 905 doesn’t go from anyplace to anyplace. Yet. It was only 8 years ago that I can recall seeing Markham buses (yellow/brown), Richmond Hill buses (green/orange), Vaughan buses (blues)… All local, all focused on, basically, Finch/Downsview stations. The current rationalization has done a lot of good, but we still live in our cars out in the ‘burbs, and it’s a mindset shift that’s required for us to start to value public transit.

    I was disappointed when the Yonge rapidway was shelved in favour of a subway, because it was pure politics that drove that decision. Having a fast connection down Yonge by bus would have suited me just fine.

    The rapidway would have gone a long way toward building the public transit option as a viable one for central 905 riders, in my opinion. This, I think, is the “if you build it” approach that is necessary to woo the drivers.

    The other major component needed for the 905 to get on the bus is fare integration (by which I don’t mean we get to ride the TTC for free, just that we shouldn’t have to go through turnstiles twice). I haven’t given much thought to how the technical details of how this would work, but so long as we get dropped off at one place and have to fumble with a second set of fares/passes, we get the message that we are crossing a border, and that we are outsiders using someone else’s system. This is truth, but it’s also a perception that harms the efforts to get us to see your side of the story. It’s easier to find commonalities when the dividing lines are blurred, hidden or removed.


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