Toronto Contemplates Transit Funding / Reviews Transit Plans (Updated)

Updated October 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Toronto’s Executive Committee considered a report on transit funding mechanisms today.  In the following report, I have included only the most interesting or important of comments to give the flavour of the debate.

The proceedings were rather odd in that a presentation, cued up for City Staff, was never heard, but a “private citizen” managed to give a half-hour long deputation thanks to many friendly questions from Committee members.  That “citizen” was Dr. Gordon Chong, former head of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited, an all-but-bankrupt subsidiary of the TTC used to conduct a study of the Sheppard East subway extension for Mayor Ford.

Chong liberally drew on his transit experience including years as head of the Greater Toronto Services Board, a provincial agency predating Metrolinx.  Throughout his deputation, the highly misleading map of four cities’ subway system was projected to emphasize how little Toronto has done.  (That map purports to show how little Toronto has in comparison with London, New York and Madrid while ignoring the fact that these were much larger cities, much sooner.)

A “glaring omission” from the collection of transit plans in the staff report, Chong said, was his own Sheppard report and the information produced by KPMG about tax increment financing (TIF).  Chong clearly implied that the report was biased, but missed the fact that the Council motion directed the inclusion of “approved” plans for review, something Chong’s most emphatically was not.  As for TIF, it is mentioned, but rejected as a funding mechanism as staff argue that such revenue is needed for general support of city services and should not be earmarked just for transit capital projects.

Councillor Michael Thompson pursued the scheme of a Scarborough subway with a BD extension that would loop back along Sheppard to close the loop at Don Mills Station.  Chong replied that if Toronto could deal with the “money issue”, then there is no reason we can’t have the best in transit.  Thompson observed that a casino might bring in $75-100m annually and could fund transit projects.  The oddity here is that both treat any new money as a bonanza to be used for the best possible transit (where they want it) when fiscal conservatives might be expected to argue for careful husbanding of whatever loot might come their way.  There is also the small problem that the municipal share of projected revenue for a Toronto casino is probably an order of magnitude lower than the Councillor’s claim.

Various Councillors mused about a regional agency to dispense transit dollars and decide which projects should be built.  An underlying assumption was that, of course, the network of suburban Toronto subways would rank high on the list, and nobody seemed to contemplate that a 905-dominated agency might have other more pressing needs or think that the investment in all those subways was of dubious value.

Chong had only veiled contempt for the “expert panel” who reviewed his report and recommended, instead, for the LRT option on Sheppard.  He strongly supports subway construction presuming the money is available, supported by the best possible feeder bus network.  Councillor Norm Kelly asked whether the LRT plan was “an aberration”, and Chong replied that all previous TTC Chief General Managers had supported subways.  Although he invoked the name of David Gunn, he neglected to mention that Gunn boycotted the opening ceremonies of the Sheppard line.

Next the Committee turned to questions of staff. Continue reading