TTC Capital Spending Priorities

Lost in all the debate about the TTC’s Operating Budget and fare increases for 2016 was the approval of the 2016 Capital Budget and 10-year plan out to 2025. There wasn’t much debate because the Board was worn out from the fare issue, but a few comments were worth noting before a very perfunctory approval of a $9-billion budget.

This is a very big, complex budget (see my previous article for some details). The Board only knows about it at the broadest possible scope – the really big projects and the major “state of good repair (SOGR)” budget lines – but there’s a lot more under the covers.

For the gory details of each project’s actual content and purpose, one needs to read the two-volume “Blue Books” which have not yet been published for the 2016 cycle. In past years I have included extracts from them in articles to give background info. The Board members will each get a set, eventually, but one requires a strong constitution to read through the equivalent of two Toronto phone books. Having done this for many years, I have the advantage of needing to look only for what has changed, but someone coming to this as a novice wouldn’t make it even part way through the first volume before the amount of detail bored them to sleep.

I do not expect my readers to look at every line of the budget, nor do I expect this of the Board members. Even I do not read every line.

One of the big challenges to a reader is knowing which parts to look at first: big ticket projects, projects that have a high profile, projects which, from past experience, are worth keeping an eye on. This takes experience, and TTC Board members don’t have the time to acquire it, let alone a guide saying “start here”. There is no trail of cookie crumbs through the budget forest.

To their credit, the Board agreed with a proposal by Commissioner Joe Mihevc that they should do a “deep dive” into capital plans in 2016 before the 2017 budget cycle starts. How far down they will get depends to a great deal on how well TTC management can package the budget in a way it can be clearly understood without undue simplification. This really is an iterative process needing a broad view, and then deeper passes through the details highlighting critical parts of the budget. It is not a session for a Councillor who only cares about his pet project and queries every penny in every other budget line as if it were a waste of previous taxpayer dollars (i.e. not being spent in his ward).

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