Updated October 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm:
The Toronto Star reports that Tim Hudak has pledged to redirect all of the money earmarked for a Toronto LRT network to subway construction if he is elected Premier. This is a truly bizarre stance for someone who claims to be trying to save Ontario money when we consider that almost none of the pledged $8-billion plus has actually been spent or committed, and this is all net new money, new borrowing Ontario will have to undertake.
Hudak was playing to his audience of Ford-friendly councillors who do not have control of Council on the transit file, but who seem to be attempting an end run around Council by having Queen’s Park support his position unilaterally. Anyone who thinks they will get a full-blown Eglinton subway, and a Sheppard line (STC to Downsview) and a BD extension to the Scarborough Town Centre for these funds is dreaming. Sadly, however, Toronto has a bad habit of wanting more than it can afford especially when someone else will foot the bill.
If I try to put myself in a conservative mindset (and that’s with a small “c”), I would be asking how much of that $8b actually needs to be spent at all, or spent on transit rather than some other portfolio. That would be a common sense thing to do, the kind of approach we might expect from Mike Harris. Alas, “common sense” also includes buying off local politicians by keeping their pet subway projects alive.
But no, Tim Hudak wants to spend $8b he doesn’t have on overbuilding a partial subway network apparently because he thinks this will play well to Ford’s base. He might want to think about the uproar over paltry hundreds of millions wasted on shifting power plants out of Liberal ridings and consider whether the lure of the megaprojects has clouded his vision.
Of course, all this depends on “affordability” which is tied to the end of the provincial deficit, and so Hudak will likely never have to borrow that $8b whatever he might spend it on. All he will achieve is even more delay in building any transit for Toronto.
Thanks to the Liberals’ tinkering with project schedules and love for P3 implementation, little work will actually be tendered by the time the government falls sometime in 2013. Cancelling the Finch and Sheppard LRT lines will be child’s play, and the SRT upgrade will probably morph into an unbuilt subway while the SRT lies at death’s door.
Toronto Council needs to wake up and remind Mr. Hudak that the Mayor does not speak for the City. Does Hudak even care, or is he just giving his pal a chance to say “screw you” to his opponents?
Original Post from October 13, 2012:
The Ontario PCs have unveiled a white paper under the rubric Paths to Prosperity. This includes a scheme to improve transportation in the GTA which, charitably speaking, is thin on details. Much press coverage recently focused on one component — the merger of the rail sections of the TTC (subway and future LRT) into Metrolinx. Where we might expect much more from a major political party, there is much less.
Starting on Page 12, the White Paper argues that we must “Break Traffic Gridlock” and claims:
Inadequate public transit and inefficient roads make it difficult for people and goods to move across the region. This forces many people who might otherwise take transit to stay in their cars and drive to work, creating daily traffic nightmares on our roads.
How did this situation arise?
Right now, there are too many governments wasting too much time fighting over what should be done and who should be in charge.
In other words, the only reason people don’t use transit is that we’re too busy talking to actually build anything.
The premise leads to a call for a single agency responsible for major transit (rail and some bus routes) and road infrastructure, and that agency will be Metrolinx. Never mind that in the last election campaign, Hudak described Metrolinx as an example of waste and bureaucracy that he would get rid of if elected. He wasn’t, and Metrolinx is still with us now the centrepiece of the Tories’ transit proposal.
Too many governments fighting? The last time I looked, the only battles were between Queen’s Park’s puppet, Metrolinx, who couldn’t decide whether they’re in bed with Rob Ford or not, Toronto City Council and its transit agency, the TTC. There’s no mention of that nice Mr. Harris who walked away from transit as a provincial priority, a decision we’re still paying for almost two decades later.
On CBC’s Metro Morning, Hudak rhymed off a list of agencies including Metrolinx and GO as separate entities. Earth to Tories — GO is part of Metrolinx and has been for a few years.
Everything will be fixed by merging all responsibility into one agency, a provincial one of course, and I doubt there would be any local input. Hudak’s view is that a single agency will get things done, and of course that means subways, not LRT. The decision would be his, and clearly Metrolinx would be an extension of the Premier’s Office more or less as it is today. Strangely, Hudak says “let’s have that debate” on issues like revenue tools, but wants to be transit czar for Toronto.
From the Globe we know that Hudak’s transit consultant in Toronto is Rob Ford, and that the Tories didn’t bother talking to TTC Chair Karen Stintz. She quickly fired off a response to the proposal observing that Hudak only wanted to take the more profitable parts of the TTC — the subway plus future LRT. Under a Tory regime, these would probably morph into subways or dwindle to busways and hence remain Toronto’s problem. This would leave Toronto with the most expensive part of the transit system — the surface routes — while responsibility for the major links, the rapid transit lines, would be entirely out of Toronto’s (or any other municipality’s) hands.
Again, the white paper claims:
Solving GTHA gridlock requires leadership with a clear vision and plan of action, particularly when it comes to public transit. We believe in public transit, but inadequate access and poor quality service are forcing people to stay in their cars.
That’s an odd way to look at things, particularly considering that the lion’s share of people forced to stay in their cars live in the 905 where congestion is an epidemic throttling the region. A focus on subways as the only technology, and then only when funds are available (whenever that might be), condemns the entire region to a status quo on transit. The White Paper says nothing about improving transit in the 905, nor does it explain what effect, if any, shifting the subway network to Metrolinx will have on travel outside of the 416. There isn’t a word about better funding for local 905 transit, nor for the substantial improvements to GO rail service that would benefit the Tories’ suburban constituency. They may “believe in transit”, but there’s no real commitment. This is leadership?
The surface system in Toronto carries more people than the subway, and it is essential as a delivery and distribution system for the rapid transit elements in the network. Hudak is silent on the role of rapid transit systems built with provincial money in the 905. Why, for example, is VIVA not part of his regional network? Is it one of the bus routes Metrolinx might grab? What about Mississauga’s, Hamilton’s and Kitchener-Waterloo’s LRT plans? Just dump them in the garbage?
Arguing for integration, the White Paper states:
Contrast this approach with the current situation. The TTC is building a subway to York Region. Metrolinx is building the underground LRT line along Eglinton Avenue. Two levels of government, two owners, two approaches to delivering service.
If Hudak would bother to check, he would know that the TTC is building the Spadina extension into York on behalf of four governments — Toronto, York, Ontario and Canada — who collectively agreed that TTC should be their agent in this work. York is so shy of actual commitment that it won’t even pay for the subway’s operation in its territory, only for maintenance of the interchange stations with its transit system. Toronto gets the marginal revenue and the rest of the costs which will be substantial.
On Eglinton and the other Transit City lines, it’s a 100% provincial show although that was not always the case. Part of this is a result of accounting hocus-pocus, and part is due to the very love for 3P deals that is the centre of Tory philosophy. We have yet to see whether Infrastructure Ontario can manage a project on this scale or write loophole-free contracts that won’t leave future transit riders open to profit grabs and inferior service.
On a regional basis, the Tories would invest in “new transit and highways”, but there are no details. As for the 416:
Our expansion priorities in Toronto will be new subways. Simply put, world class cities build underground. While surface-level LRTs may make sense in more sparsely populated communities, in heavily populated areas like Toronto they are a second best option that permanently rip up road space available for cars without offering the speed and convenience of subways.
I won’t bother listing the “world class” cities with LRT (and even streetcar) routes, and it’s unclear just how sparsely populated a community must be for the Tories to consider LRT appropriate. World class cities build underground to the degree it is practical and affordable. Somehow, there is a thriving industry building vehicles for LRT and subway systems showing that there is a place for both modes. Does Tim Hudak consider Mississauga “sparse”?
Unlike LRTs, subways stimulate job creation with new commercial activity and residential construction along their entire corridor.
That’s just flat out wrong. Rapid transit of any kind stimulates development most strongly, if at all, at stations. The further apart the stations, the less development. Toronto is littered with stations surrounded by low density either because the neighbourhood is stable and upzoning would be political suicide, or the area is unattractive for development.
There’s a reason all the condos are going up downtown even though there hasn’t been a new subway there for over 40 years. Liberty Village, Queen West, the “Two Kings” neighbourhoods, these are all on streetcar lines which could badly do with more service. St. Clair is beginning to see redevelopment, and other neighbourhoods will follow. The stimulus is the location, not the transit route. Yes, Sheppard Avenue has its share of development, but it also has the 401 nearby. Given the predominance of demand on Sheppard originates from buses at Don Mills Station, just how many of those new condo residents actually use the subway?
By contrast to their approach to regional transit planning and management, the Tories believe firmly in local control for local transit. How much they would contribute is uncertain.
… it is also critical that assets that are local should continue to be managed locally. Local bus and streetcar routes should continue to be determined by local communities and their transit boards. If you want a bus stop 50 metres from a new shopping plaza, you shouldn’t have to go to Queen’s Park to get it.
The contrast in attitudes is perverse. On one hand local control (and by extension, fragmentation of local service across the region) and local responsibility are “critical”, but if you find yourself on a “regional” line like Eglinton, it’s the Tim Hudak show all the way. Don’t bother asking for a station at Oakwood, or extensions to Malvern and UTSC because Big Brother will make that decision without the pesky difficulties of local responsibility.
Tim Hudak’s Tories have certainly been listening to the Rob Ford team. Never mind the real situation in transit, invent a story and a collection of problems, then claim that the world will end without your personal intervention. Keep details to a minimum, and hope that the voters won’t notice the Emperor’s new clothes are a tad threadbare.
There may be disagreement about what to build, but Queen’s Park is the most meddlesome player in a Liberal or a Tory world. The only difference is which party’s promises we might believe.
Astute readers will notice that I have not mentioned the NDP in this article. This has nothing to do with my own political leanings, but more with an absence of specific policies from that quarter.
If I have one overriding piece of advice for any party, it is that good transit is an end in its own right. Transit is not a jobs creation program, nor an industrial development strategy, nor a way to turn swampland into gold with the magic of a new subway. Good transit exists to provide mobility and, with it, access to jobs, shopping, schools and recreation for all manner of riders with all manner of trips. Pervert transit from its true role and you destroy its credibility as a transportation system.